Violence against women
Violence against women was one of the most important issues confronted by the women’s liberation movement in the 1970s and 1980s. The three main responses to the issue were women’s refuges, rape crisis centres and the anti-pornography movement.
Before the 1970s, there was little public discussion of rape and domestic violence. Their extent was largely unknown when the first rape crisis centres and women’s refuges opened.
Several Christchurch women’s groups set up the first women’s refuge in 1974. Although they had been intended to house homeless single women, the desperation of women and children fleeing violent partners and fathers was overwhelming.
When the National Collective of Independent Women’s Refuges was formed in 1981 there were 11 refuges. Another 20 opened between 1981 and 1985. In the mid-1980s refuges provided emergency accommodation, long-term support, personal visits and telephone advice to about 22,000 women and children each year. By 2009 there were 50 refuges in cities and towns around New Zealand, including 12 kaupapa Māori refuges, two Pacific refuges and one Asian refuge.
In 2010, refuges remained committed to empowering women who came into refuges. They encouraged participation in decision-making, and ran their organisation collectively – a reminder of their origins in the women’s liberation movement.
The first permanent rape crisis hotline was set up in 1978 in Auckland (funding and personnel shortages had forced earlier hotlines to close). Rape crisis work included counselling, gathering information on rape, which was rarely reported to the police, and educating women and the general public about this crime. Groups also pushed for change in police and legal procedures. With the passing of the Evidence Amendment Act 1977, a rape complainant’s past sexual history became inadmissible as evidence.
Violence sometimes provoked militant action. One raped woman knew her attacker and the public bar he frequented. Members of the local rape crisis group went there and accused the man, at first whispering, then shouting. He left the bar. So did the women, thrown out by the furious manager.
Te Kākano o te Whānau, which represents Māori rape crisis services, was formed in 1985; the National Collective of Rape Crisis and Related Groups of Aotearoa, which represents non-Māori services, was formed in 1986. The Pacific Islands Women’s Project also provides services for survivors of rape and sexual abuse. Like the National Collective of Independent Women’s Refuges, the three groups share resources on a basis that acknowledges the tangata whenua status of Māori.
Women Against Pornography
Women against Pornography (WAP) was set up in 1983. WAP argued that rather than being a harmless fantasy, pornography legitimated acts of violence against women. It was concerned with gender inequality, violence and exploitation rather than depictions of sex.
Through the group’s activities, pornography became an important feminist issue in the mid-1980s. WAP members undertook studies of pornography in New Zealand in 1986 and 1988. There were protests against dairies and video shops that stocked pornographic titles, and hotels that showed pornography or held wet T-shirt or jelly-wrestling competitions. WAP also lobbied politicians and sought alliances with other women’s groups, such as the Women’s Electoral Lobby, the Labour Women’s Council, the YWCA and the Women’s Division of Federated Farmers.
The Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act was passed in 1993. While this was done partly because existing laws and regulations were unwieldy, it was also a response to community activism, including lobbying by WAP. The new act included degrading or demeaning sexual activity, sexual violence and the sexual exploitation of children in its definition of objectionable material.