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The Impact Statement Podcast - Hon. Ginny Andersen

The Impact Statement Podcast - Hon. Ginny Andersen

Yellow Image card - The Impact Statement with Hon. Ginny Andersen

Petrina Hargrave (00:09):

Welcome to the Impact Statement, Victim Support's conversation series where we bring victims and survivors issues into the public spotlight and challenge narratives around the impact of crime and traumatic events. I'm Petrina Hargrave, and in this special election series of The Impact Statement, I'm talking with our three main political parties about the key issues for crime victims and what their party would do for victims if it were in government.

Today I'm joined by Honourable Ginny Andersen, Minister of Justice. Minister Anderson, thank you for joining me and welcome to The Impact Statement.

Ginny Andersen (00:26):

Thank you very much for having me along today,and kia ora.

Petrina Hargrave (00:29):

Kia ora. So as we near the election, there's always lots of talk about crime, but I'm conscious and we are conscious at Victim Support that behind every crime there's at least one victim. So political parties are telling us that victims matter leading into the election and I'm just wondering in your own words, why do victims matter to you? 

Ginny Andersen (00:49):

Well, victims profoundly matter. They're at the heart of every single justice issue. And the more that we can have a justice system that puts victims at the centre, then our justice system will improve. I guess a victim centric approach also holds the key to better align our justice system. I've been able to sit around of those big tables where we have Corrections, Police, Courts, Justice, all of those different departments which all have their own kind of brain for want of a better word, and their own goals and their own outcomes that they're pursuing. And I think that the key to having a more efficient, a more effective justice system, is that if we put victims in the central, then that's one language that all of those different departments are able to recognise and speak. So it's not only important just for victims’ rights, but I think it's also important for our whole justice system.

Petrina Hargrave (01:50):

Yeah, I agree with you. Because victimisation doesn't just impact one aspect of a victim's life, it actually impacts every aspect. So the more agencies that you've got involved in that victim's journey,the more impact you can actually have.

Ginny Andersen (02:06):

Yeah, definitely. And we know that empathy and support for victims, it not only helps a victim to heal through what they've been through, but it also helps restore trust in our justice system,and that's what we have to do.

Petrina Hargrave (02:20):

Exactly, because trust is quite low at the moment in the justice system, would you say? The latest New Zealand Crime and Victims Survey, only 19% of crime was reported. That's dropped from, it's always been hovering around 25%, which was quite low anyway. So what do you think we can do for victims that would improve that reporting of crime and improve that trust and confidence in the justice system?

Ginny Andersen (02:46):

Well, essentially it's to improve their experience through the process that they've engaged in. And so court delays is just one area that we've been working to try and speed up those delays. We're still not caught back up after the backlog from Covid, and we know that that long drawn out process just increases the trauma for victims. Saying that too,we've made some really good changes that have tried to improve the experience, particularly for areas like sexual violence, where we know that the process itself can be really traumatic for women having to relive the experience,having to be questioned and cross-examined.

So some of the changes we've done through the Sexual Violence Legislation Act enables those complainants to use alternative ways of giving evidence, including pre-recording. So they're not in that situation where you are being hard cross-examined in a situation. And it also makes sure that evidence about someone's past sex life is off limits unless it's really critical to the case. So quite often you see women being cross-examined about their sexual history, which just as far as I can see, is not relevant to what the court is actually examining at that point in time. So Ithink while they're small changes, we've really been focused on improving the experience of people who are going through that system. And I really hope that if we continue to improve that experience, that in itself will help to increase the rate of reporting that we are seeing now. 

Petrina Hargrave (04:23):

Yeah, that's right. And with the Sexual Violence Legislation changes that have been made recently, I was just speaking to a sexual violence victim recently and she said, oh gosh, I wish that that was the case when I went through the court system. She actually said even though what had happened to her was absolutely horrific, she said her court experience was even more distressing and traumatising than the actual event itself. And that's really saying something. And so for her, had she have been able to give her testimony pre-recorded and not have to sit there and face the offender that would've made the world of difference. So yeah, that's definitely something really meaningful.

Ginny Andersen (05:04):

Another thing that is just being announced this afternoon, so hopefully you won't screen this recording, so otherwise I'll get in trouble for letting the cat out of the bag.

Petrina Hargrave

No, we won't be.

Ginny Andersen

We're actually going to take a good look at consent. So we know that the issue of consent in our legislation is quite outdated compared to some other jurisdictions. And the way it's framed in our law currently is in a negative way. So what is not consent. So we want to frame it up as what is consent and modernise our consent law. So that's just another way that we are continuing to take a look at is our law fit for purpose? Is it encouraging people to want to come forward and report? And are we enabling them to have as many protections as possible going through what is a really challenging time in the courts?

Petrina Hargrave (05:39):

Yeah, that's right. So looking at procedural justice for victims when they're in the justice system itself, they're in court making the experience - this sounds crazy, but I was at a forum recently with some young people and we were given problems, real world social issues to look at, and our group was given the issue with the justice system and these young people, they were teenagers, said, we need to make the courts a fun place to be so that kids and young people actually want to go there. And I just thought those words, I mean, courts might not ever be fun, but kind of just a place where you feel that the system is on your side rather than against you even that would make a huge difference.

Ginny Andersen (06:35):

And I think it goes to the heart that our court system is an adversarial one. It's the idea of holding something up to the light and challenging it in order to establish getting a sense of what has happened and to do that. And so the nature of the system itself does not assist victims to have a positive experience. So we really need to take a good look at some of those fundamental ways, ensuring access to justice, ensuring people get all the rights that they're entitled to, but at the same time, putting a real lens over all of those steps to say, how does the victim feel in this situation? How would you feel if this had happened to you and you were sitting in that spot? And so to continually go, take a step back and put yourself in the victim's shoes is what we should be doing every step of the way.

Petrina Hargrave (07:22):

Exactly. And that to me sounds like a great definition of what it means to be victim centric, would you say?

Ginny Andersen (07:28):

Yeah, it would. Yeah. Yeah. No, I'm really passionate about making improvements and I know it's a really difficult area to make sure we get that balance, but I think we've got a whole lot more things that we can do. I'm really proud of Te Aorerekura, that's a piece of work that Marama Davidson has been the minister responsible for, but that's actually for the first time enabled some of our community NGOs who do that great work in preventing sexual violence and preventing family violence to be resourced enough to be able to do that good work in the community that we need to make sure that if people are reaching out for help, that they're getting that. So Te Aorerekura is really enabling our community to take a greater ownership over addressing some of these long-term issues that typically it's more women and children have been at the end of those.

Petrina Hargrave (08:25):

Yeah, exactly. So the government, Labour's been in power for quite some time, so you've had the opportunity to see lots of changes. And you've mentioned the Sexual Violence Legislation and there are a couple of bills before Parliament at the moment also, which are going to potentially make things better for victims. So if Labour was reelected, what do you think would be the next step then for victims and how we can continue to support them?

Ginny Andersen (08:54):

We've just said that in the last week or so,we would like to explore the ability of a new offence for stalking. We know that there's been instances where there's been continual harassment of women,and it's quite difficult in law to be able to prove that. So other jurisdictions have been successful in introducing a law or an offence specific to stalking. So we've undertaken to do that work.

The one I just mentioned earlier, modernising our consent laws. We've had really strong advocacy from some groups at our justice committee coming forward and presenting a petition.We know that there's strong support and the community for modernising our consent laws. So that's something else that we will do. And then there's another one that we're taking a look at that's going to be announced shortly,and that's establishing a formal class actions regime. So for victims of crime in other countries, they're able to take a class action. And this is really useful in situations where it's kind of like the small person can't fight the big company. So enabling a whole bunch of people to - one would be potentially something like leaky homes or something like that where there's been a big issue and a lot of people have been affected, and it can actually work in instances in a whole range of areas. So having the ability to take class action further empowers people who might be disempowered by the justice system prohibited through cost or for other reasons.

Petrina Hargrave (10:21):

Absolutely. Exactly. And that's a huge thing to think about really. And just giving victims that option is important.Wherever you've got options for victims, I think that's also being victim centric.

Ginny Andersen (10:32):

Yeah. The other one I just want to add in, because I'm quite proud of this one is, and I find it really interesting that generally in the conversations around law and order, there's a lot of emphasis on let's get tougher and let's have longer sentences, or let's do this. And the natural conclusion is because this is good for victims, but there's not a lot of discussion about what's actually being done for victims. And then when we go to talk about it, I just find it's really hard to get a level of interest out there sometimes about some of the good things that can be done to really improve things for victims.

One of the heartening things I've seen is since we've introduced giving sexual violence victims more control around the processes of name suppression, is that I've seen women deciding to that I don't want name suppression and I want the offender named as well. That's a huge thing to be that strong to say, yes, this happened to me and this is who I am,and it's that person who did it. And so I think that's really empowering for victims and to be able to own that and to tell your story and your victim impact statement and to have that story told. And I've been really encouraged by the number of female journalists who are really actively reporting on when that is happening. And trying to give that a bit more air time.

Petrina Hargrave (11:57):

Yeah, yeah, exactly. Exactly. That's excellent, isn't it? Because it's getting away from that idea that by default, victims don't want to have their names suppressed, sorry, do need to have their names suppressed because it's almost insinuating perhaps that there could even be some shame associated with this victim blaming, victim shaming. And again, it's just about choice. And for many victims, they may never want to have their name associated with that crime, which is absolutely understandable. But what about having a choice? Because you don't have a choice when you're a victim of crime, you just don't. And so whatever follows that, it makes sense that wherever you've got an option for a choice that that should be allowed, that should be encouraged.

Ginny Andersen (12:36):

Yeah, that's exactly right. If you don't want, that's fine, if you don't want, but if you do, it shouldn't be automatic name suppression and someone else is, again, taking that power away from you.That's your right to be able to say who you are and what happened to you if you want to do that.

Petrina Hargrave (12:50):

Exactly. Yeah. So just one last thing. I mean, you mentioned before tough on crime, and that's the rhetoric that we hear a lot of going into any election, and I'm sure it's the same in any country. Where do you think victims fit into that piece of that conversation? Getting tough on crime?

Ginny Andersen (13:10):

Well, if a victim of crime always, it's hard to speak without, if you're talking about a specific crime, people are always going to have a huge amount of pain. And a natural outcome from being a victim of crime is wanting to see punishment or retribution of the offender who has done this to you or your family. So it's a natural reaction. And so I think it's really important to state that as a government, we haven't changed any sentencing. There seems to be this kind of rhetoric going around that we've somehow made sentences different, but the penalty for rape is exactly the same, the penalty for manslaughter and murder is exactly the same. So we haven't changed in sentences, but what we have done is bringing a range of measures that not only support sictim support by increasing the funding to Victim Support, but also the Victim's Assistance Scheme.

So enabling more counselling, more support, more advocacy by empowering victims and having access to those services that enables victims to have far more power and control over a process that can be typically disempowering. And I think it's quite, I have to point out that while some of those parties who are advocating for being even tougher on crime, when they were in power, they cut funding to Victim Support, the amount of funding going to those services decreased. And so that's not serving victims of crime to stop them having access to all of those good services that should be putting victims at the centre of any decision making process.

Petrina Hargrave (14:46):

Yeah, yeah. Well, I'm not sure whether this has been shared with you, but in our latest Victim Support consumer evaluation, we actually found that 37% of victims said they likely would've dropped out of the justice system if it hadn't have been for the support they had from Victim Support. And so if you really want to get tough on crime, another approach to take is give victims more support so they actually feel supported to go through the justice system. That conviction often can't happen if the victim isn't party to that, if they're not participating.

Ginny Andersen (15:20):

That's right. And I think that every victim that goes through that journey and goes through the system, I think that makes it that much easier for the next victim. So while it's a tough experience, the more that people go through that, the more that we can tell those stories and encourage other people to step forward and report when otherwise, they might've carried that in silence.

Petrina Hargrave (15:44):

Yeah. Fantastic. Minister Anderson, thank you so much for joining me today.

Ginny Andersen (15:50):

Thank you very much. It's a pleasure. And thank you for all the awesome work you do. You do a great job.

Petrina Hargrave

Thank you for joining us today for Victim Support’s election series of The Impact Statement. I hope that you'll tune in for the next conversation.