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The Impact Statement Podcast - Hon. Golriz Ghahraman

The Impact Statement Podcast - Hon. Golriz Ghahraman

Yellow Image card - The Impact Statement with Hon. Golriz Ghahraman

Petrina Hargrave:

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 the Green Party's Justice spokesperson, Honourable Golriz Ghahraman. Golriz Ghahraman, thank you for joining me and welcome to The Impact statement.

Golriz Ghahraman (00:41):

It's nice to be here.

Petrina Hargrave (00:42):

So you've been watching victims’ issues closely as a former lawyer and in your current role as well. So in your mind, why do victims matter?

Golriz Ghahraman (00:51):

Well, victims essentially are the whole purpose of our criminal justice system. But more than that, and I think we sometimes pretend like the criminal justice system is somehow going to restore people magically, more than that - victims are in our communities, their lives go on. They won't be defined by their victimhood ideally. And so we do have, in my mind, that responsibility to acknowledge that every system that we design has to have at it's heart, that idea that whether it's the justice system, the healthcare system, education, our social welfare system, that there will be victims of trauma who have to interact with those systems and be served well by them.

Petrina Hargrave (01:41):

Exactly. So you said, yeah, victims at the heart, there's often a lot of political talk about victims at the heart and being victim centric. So what does victim centric mean to you?

Golriz Ghahraman (01:52):

So I find it really shocking the way that victims are constantly referred to in speeches in the house, for example, where we are not in fact talking about how to best support victims. We are talking about the other thing, which is about punishment. And that definitely has a place, I guess, in our justice system, but that bit of it is just so not about victims.

And so that idea of being victim centric, I believe, means listening to victims in a holistic way. So it of course means knowing how the criminal justice process from the point of the police getting involved, all the way to the very end, including sentencing, has a voice of the victims and has the needs of the victims involved. But it also means that we acknowledge that these are whole people, that we actually do need to support them through mental healthcare, for example, housing, whether they need time off work, and whether that will be a liveable option for them, whether or not they want to call the police. That should be the case. Whether or not they want to go through that whole big justice process, they are victims.

So how do we create a victim centric approach that takes account of the whole person and their whole life, including their whānau, including mums that come through our justice system, have kids, and the dad? And so how do we listen to victims in a way that actually supports them and restores them eventually? That should be the purpose, right? Absolutely. It's not a tick box. It's a process of hopefully restoration.

Petrina Hargrave (03:57):

Absolutely. I agree. Yeah. Listening to victims, allowing victims to have a voice. And just picking up on what you said before about even if victims don't report the crime, they're still victims. And that's an issue that we face at Victim Support is that we're actually there for victims, even if they don't report the crime.

Golriz Ghahraman (04:14):

Well, this is it. It's not. Yeah, because it's a tough thing to go through the criminal justice system. And the criminal justice system has a purpose. It's trying to adjudicate the guilt of the particular person in front of the court in a fair and transparent way. This isn't actually that restorative thing that victims need. So to focus solely on the criminal justice system not only leaves out all of the victims who actually just want to do other, get on with their lives and don't feel strong enough to go through the justice system, don't feel the need, but have other needs. But it also doesn't particularly serve the victims that do go through the justice system because its purpose isn't restorative, it's an adjudication tool. It's a very limited, it's precious, but it's very limited for victims.

Petrina Hargrave (05:11):

Yeah, exactly. So it sounds like victim centric in your mind - there could be a lot more that could happen within the justice system to be more restorative for victims, but also outside the justice system also, particularly for those who choose not to report.

Golriz Ghahraman (05:25):

That's it. I just want us to acknowledge that victim centric, it's not going to be achieved through the justice system alone, even if you get the result that you wanted, there's a moment of victory, but after that, the ongoing impacts are there, as you will well know. There's two questions. It's how do we have a victim centric justice process, but then how do we call ourselves a victim centric community and society? And there's a lot more in policy to my mind.

Petrina Hargrave (05:59):

And it's not just looking at the justice system, it's actually looking at the responses in society to victims, and we're doing a piece of research at the moment on victim blaming. And victims are not only finding that they're blamed in the system, but often the hurt, biggest hurt, is being blamed by their own family and friends and those closest to them.

Golriz Ghahraman (06:17):

Yeah, you have to be the perfect victim, don't you?

Petrina Hargrave (06:20):

Yes, exactly.

Golriz Ghahraman (06:21):

To get the support that you need.

Petrina Hargrave (06:22):

Yeah, it's about expanding our view. And I think also about taking responsibility as an individual in society for victims' needs. So often I think we think, oh, that doesn't happen to me. That never happens in my community. It doesn't affect my people, people I know, but actually anyone of us could be a victim at any time. And there are victims walking amongst us who don't feel safe enough to report. So they haven't even had a voice and perhaps haven't even shared what's going on.

Golriz Ghahraman (06:50):

No, of course not. And I mean, I think the other thing is that we keep tinkering with is the trial process. And again, there's a lot that probably does need to be tinkered with, but that isn't going to mean that all the victims who don't report are going to report because the reality is that they're not silenced because they know the rules of cross-examination or whatever. They're actually silenced by a whole lot of other things that are going on in our society.

It may just be that they don't feel strong enough with their mental health yet, and we don't have access to mental health care in New Zealand before you have a full crisis. That's a huge fundamental failure for victims because who accesses mental healthcare? Something's happened. I mean, we all need to, but -

Petrina Hargrave (07:39):

Exactly. So those are some of the key issues that you've identified just right there in that conversation, I think that are facing victims right now. Anything else that's top of mind for you that you think is really a priority for victims at the moment?

Golriz Ghahraman (07:53):

So an accused person comes into the justice system and has access to a lawyer from the first contact with police, which is again, as it should be, but victims don't. And quite often that first contact that lawyers have with their client is actually about explaining the process, and it certainly is about explaining their rights, which can be a really, I mean, it's a complex and scary system for both sides. Victim Support is obviously there for that emotional support and also just that support going through the whole thing. But victims, and you often read their statements, and I always thought if someone had explained to her rights and the process, this would've been, and I know it's, maybe it's a legalistic way of coming at it, but I wish that we had legal aid for victims from the point of contact with police. So it just always seemed like a massive gap to me that there was no legal aid access for victims if they need it.

At that point of coming to the police, I work with Marama Davidson, who is obviously the Minister for Domestic and Sexual Violence. And in that context, we see all of the missing bits of the community led solutions for people. So again, that not necessarily an alternative to the justice system, but the bits that kind of run parallel. And so that people don't, and especially with gender-based crimes.

So where people are in a home that they can't leave because they don't have a liveable income, and until it gets to the point of a really serious crime, and we go through the justice system and she has got these kids and she's been, and then at that point, she's not the perfect victim because she has stayed. I just can't quite stress enough how much those other supports are letting the lack of those supports in terms of a liveable income in terms of healthcare, that anyone in society can properly access with cultural appropriateness, mental healthcare, addiction treatment, all of those things are actually leading to so much escalation and crime and escalation of victim trauma because they're not able to leave dangerous situations. And when they do, they're not able to get the support they need to kind of get back on their feet, restore, rejoin, the community, all of that. So victim centric definitely needs to be holistic.

Petrina Hargrave (10:42):

It's a great definition actually, isn't it, of being victim centric. It's really looking at the holistic needs of a victim and the whānau.

Golriz Ghahraman (10:52):

And I mean, I keep saying this word, but we do need to have a restorative approach. It's not a tick box. It's not one size fits all.You call the police, you go through the trial, you get the conviction, we send them away for life or whatever. People who talk about tough on crime always bring up victims. And that idea that, oh, well, he went away, so now you are restored. It's just not right. That process has just put that victim through extra trauma, right? So what are we going to do now for them?

Petrina Hargrave (11:32):

Yes, they're quite possibly worse off at the end of the trial than they were before they entered the justice system. And it's a cop out to think that the sentence or the verdict is closure. And that's another word that I think grates a lot of people up there with victim centric. There's actually no such thing. I mean, that's what we see on the ground at Victim Support.There's really no such thing as closure. And it's convenient to think that there might be, but in reality, yes, the victim journey is a different part of the journey is just beginning.

Golriz Ghahraman (12:03):

It's a journey. That's exactly it. And actually, the more serious the crime, the more serious the sentence, the less likely you are to suddenly have closure because actually you are very seriously harmed and the journey will have to continue.

Petrina Hargrave (12:22):

So if Greens are in power, what would be your priorities for helping victims?

Golriz Ghahraman (12:28):

Well, like I say, our priority is to say that New Zealand needs to ensure that everyone who needs to access support at any point in any policy area is supported and that the most marginalised are prioritised. So we’re releasing packages as we go forward to the election. And like I say, because we have the Minister for Domestic and Sexual Violence sitting there at the table, we are always thinking of, okay, where do those victims fit in? And so one of the things that, I mean, I think I'm the most proud of is that package of liveable incomes for those who access social welfare. But for everyone, actually, whatever has happened. So to say that we will not have anyone fall through the cracks at that point, so no one will have to worry that they can't leave a violent situation.

Things like that fit together to say that actually we will be a society that will take care of victims, not keep pointing at the sentences, which I lose so much heart when I see every party constantly point at imprisonment as if that's somehow doing something for victims. Just as they're talking about tax cuts that would take away healthcare and mental healthcare and liveable incomes and housing crime is reduced through having all of those same things that we've talked about, having people with access to mental healthcare and with drug and alcohol treatment and with inclusive education and all of the things that help victims actually do, keep everything safer. And I certainly know that nobody is restored when that sentence comes down, and it's a harsh one. 

It's actually Victim Support that make the difference there. So for people to have had a conversation with someone that's on their side, going through that process is probably going to be the thing that makes the difference, rather than the sentence itself. The people that go through the justice system, without that support when they win, so to speak, they feel just as bad. And the people that go through with the support and with the explanations feeling like their voice has been heard, even when they lose, so to speak, feel much more happy. Right?

Petrina Hargrave (14:54):

Absolutely. Yeah, and there's plenty of research to backup exactly what you just said. Great. Thank you so much.

Golriz Ghahraman (15:00):

No worries. Thank you for what you do. It's just so important.

Petrina Hargrave (15:05):

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.