The Stella mug is classy, stylish and sleek. More importantly though she tells a story about her experience going through the restorative justice system in New Zealand after she was assaulted by someone she trusted. Full story can be found in our 'Stories' page
Warning: This article contains descriptions of sexual assault and may be triggering to some people, to find information on support services in New Zealand please visit our 'Where to Get Help' page.
Restorative justice is most often found lingering at the end of news reports. Usually it’s mentioned in the final couple of paragraphs - something like “the victim declined an offer to engage in restorative justice”, or “Family holds restorative justice meeting with [murderer/attacker] of [family member]”.
Less often, reports will mention the judge took the defendant's engagement in restorative justice into account when deciding the sentence. But rarely are we treated to any exploration of the process itself, apart from the occasional mention in the dregs of talkback radio when it’s used as a byword for New Zealand’s supposedly soft, ineffective justice system.
When I wanted to talk to someone, I didn’t know who to call—why would I? In New Zealand, one in four females and one in eight males have encountered a form of sexual assault; up until that point I hadn’t encountered anyone who had experienced it. But now, I was that one in four. I never fully appreciated how hard it would be to find the information I needed when I had to try and deal with what happened.
I called Victim Support and spoke to a very nice, very worried man. “I’m sorry, I’ll stop you there,” he stuttered. “Did you say sexual assault? Would you rather speak to a woman?” I was fine, and he stopped me again on my rambling.
“Where are you?” In a room at work. “No, which city?” Wellington. “Well you need to call HELP, they deal with this thing down there.” His final words as I hung up seemed odd — “Good luck”.
I didn’t know there was anything I could do, let alone that there were places I could seek help.
So I made the phone call, and was connected with Wellington Sexual Abuse HELP Foundation. The woman I spoke to initially was fabulous, but unavailable for the following two to three weeks, as she was supporting another survivor (a term I can’t get used to) in court.
This hit home — would I go to court? What were my options? Was it a crime? I was overwhelmed by things I never considered I would need to, well, consider.
I was lucky. I am lucky. I have amazing friends who have supported me through this. I’ve had amazing flatmates who have shared their stories. One had been through a court process, and one realised she could have done something about similar incidents that she experienced—these experiences have become too common, but our conversations about them are only just starting.
Two of my friends discovered what happened to me in a drunken breakdown of mine, and I had to stop them going to beat him up.
I knew that was not how I wanted justice. I wanted to be in a room and tell him exactly how his actions had changed me, I wanted to witness him realising that he had destroyed seven months of my life and six years of friendship.
We had a history. I mean, we have a history. What happened doesn’t stop that history existing, it just doesn’t mean anything to me anymore. There was a short time when it meant everything. I’m not sure if people knew about it, but that’s really not the point of my experience. In writing this I wanted to say you may have a history, you may not. You may read a sign, which may or may not be there.
But a person, drunk or sober, asleep in your bed because they trust you and believe in the friendship you hold, is not grounds for any sexual advances on your part without expressed permission.
To read more of Stella's story and her experience with the Restorative Justice System, visit our 'Stories page'