Tania Billingsley has come out publicly as the woman who was assaulted by Muhammad Rizalman bin Ismail, a staff assistant at the Malaysian High Commission. She chose to have her name suppression lifted so that she could speak publicly about the case, and about the government’s failure to address sexual and intimate abuse.
I’m awed by Billingsley’s courage and strength. I’ve seen the kind of backlash that survivors of abuse have to deal with. If I was in her shoes, there’s no way I’d have the guts to stand up publicly like this. She’s made it very clear that she’s doing this not just for herself, but for every person who’s ever been sexually assaulted. In a public statement she said:
I don’t want anyone to have to go through what I have gone through. And if my idea of justice means ensuring the safety of women and others, then it cannot stop at the prosecution of this man. Violence does not occur in a vacuum. There are very real reasons why sexual assault is happening in our country every day. This is because our society normalises, trivialises and in both obvious and subtle ways condones rape. This is called rape culture.
I’m also furious that it’s come to this. I’m outraged that a woman had to out herself as a survivor of assault in order to be heard and taken seriously. I’m livid that sexual violence still isn’t seen as a political issue. I’m mad a man decided to exploit his diplomatic immunity to assault a woman, because he knew he could get away with it. I’m angry that bureaucrats and politicians decided that the pain and trauma that Tania suffered, her right to accountability, and other women’s right to be protected from assault by the same man, were less important than maintaining good diplomatic relations. I’m particularly disgusted by Murray McCully’s lazy, cowardly and self-serving response to everything that’s happened.
I’m struggling to type this because I am literally shaking with rage.
New Zealand has a serious problem with sexual violence—especially violence against women. Over and over and over it’s been made clear that the problem is not a few violent, abusive individuals—it’s an entire culture that normalises abuse and punishes the victims instead of the perpetrators. I know this from my own experience. I know it from the experiences of women in my life.
Tania Billingsley has taken an incredibly courageous stand. She’s taken this stand for everyone who’s ever been sexually assaulted, for everyone who lives in fear of being sexually assaulted, for everyone who loves someone who’s been sexually assaulted. We owe her our gratitude, and we owe her our action.