A Life of Safety, Dignity and Connection: How Victim-Survivors of Sexual Violence in Aotearoa New Zealand Conceive of Justice

Brady-Clark, Megan Alison
Waring, Marilyn
Julich, Shirley
Fairbairn-Dunlop, Peggy
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

The lack of justice for victim-survivors of sexual violence is widely recognised, and is an ongoing cause of reform. However, the discourse and resulting developments have largely been constrained to legislative and formal institutional mechanisms, particularly the criminal justice system.

Throughout all this activity, the fundamental question of how victim-survivors conceive of justice has been persistently overlooked, with the discourse predicated on presuppositions about what is and is not relevant to justice, and what it is that we are trying to achieve when we seek to "improve justice" for victim-survivors. Although there has been major work undertaken in the areas of sexual violence prevention and therapeutic redress, the term "justice" is not used in relation to these initiatives, reflecting a framework that regards prevention and healing as distinct from justice.

This thesis explores a single question: How do victim-survivors of sexual violence conceive of justice?

At the heart of this research is the epistemological claim that the experiences of victim-survivors are epistemically relevant for understanding justice in the context of sexual violence. To address the research question, I used culturally-appropriate methodologies to speak with adults who had experienced sexual violence. In phase one, I used a narrative inquiry methodology to speak with five Pālagi participants. I am included amongst those five participants. In phase two, I used a talanoa methodology to speak with six Pasifika participants. The thesis is built around these two sets of individual participants and their accounts of justice. Both phases of my research drew on the Fonofale model to develop and frame the semi-structured interview questions for narrative inquiry and the guide for talanoa.

This research found that participants held conceptions of justice that were broad, holistic, and connected to all aspects of their lives. While there was individual variation and nuance, their accounts described justice as:

- Transformational: enabling victim-survivors to live full lives, with safety and dignity, connected to and respected by their communities.

- Personal: responsive to the particularities of the sexual violence and the personal justice interests of the victim-survivor.

- Expansive: taking into account all the aspects of victim-survivors’ lives that were and continue to be affected by sexual violence, including with regard to healing and practical needs.

- Everyday: manifested both in dedicated spaces and in victim-survivors’ day-to-day lives and relationships.

- Proactive: preventing sexual violence by acknowledging and addressing the underlying political, social and cultural conditions in which sexual violence occurs.

- Communal: necessitating a community response.

- Dignifying: recognising and reaffirming the dignity of the victim-survivor, including respecting their integrity and power.

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