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Information about sexual violence

Sexual violence can take many forms, including harassment, stalking, domestic or dating violence, sexual assault and rape. Responsibility for the event lies with the person who chooses to harass, stalk, abuse, assault or rape. It never lies with the survivor.

If you have experienced any form of sexual violence, we encourage you to seek the support of Te Whare Tāwharau. Our commitment is to provide a safe and warm environment where you can discuss what has happened, how it’s impacting you and your studies, and what kind of support you want. If you’re hesitant, we understand. You may want to ask a friend to come along. Whatever the case, we welcome you.

We offer support for friends, family, partners and whānau of survivors, because we know that sexual violence impacts communities as well as individuals.

This page is designed to provide you with information on a range of topics related to sexual violence, including:

Definitions and examples
Information about alcohol and substance use in relationship to sexual violence
Common ways that survivors react
How to support a survivor and respond to a disclosure
Special topics for takatāpui and the LGBTQ community
Special topics for Māori students
Special topics for Pacifica students
Special topics for students with disability, impairment, and medical conditions
Special topics for students with mental illness
Support flowchart

Definitions and examples

• Sexual consent is voluntary, affirmative, conscious and mutual. It involves words or actions which clearly communicate an agreement to engage in a particular sexual activity. It is freely given; eg saying yes, nodding yes, asking permission, reciprocal touch.
• Consent is NOT inferred by silence or a lack of resistance. It is not assumed in the context of an ongoing relationship or previous sexual activity between partners. It is free from force, pressure, coercion, or intimidation. It requires being conscious and having the capacity to make the choice to engage in sexual acts. Consent cannot be given where parties are asleep, or passed out from intoxication from alcohol, drugs or medication; eg coming on to someone who is asleep or unconscious, having sex with someone who is drunk, threatening to end a relationship on condition of engaging is a specific sex act.

Dating violence or domestic violence
• Dating violence involves being physically, emotionally or sexually harmed by someone with whom you are dating. It may be the first date, or you could be in a romantic relationship, but you are not living together. It includes injury or the threat of injury, in person or via the internet or text.
• Domestic violence involves these types of harm, but in the context of a relationship, partnership or family situation in which people live together; eg physical violence, controlling who you can see, monitoring your devices or surveillance, saying harmful, degrading or derogatory things.

Retaliation involves harm or the threat of harm towards someone for filing a complaint or seeking support. It can be done by an institution, organisation, or individual. It can be done in person or online; eg revenge porn, threats, attacking or defaming one’s character.

Sexual Assault and Rape
Sexual assault is unwanted, nonconsensual sexual contact, including touching, kissing, fondling, penetration, and rape. It may or may not include physical force, violence threats, or intimidation. It may involve the use of alcohol or other drugs to render a target incapacitated and unable to resist; eg grabbing someone’s breasts or bottom, penetrating someone’s mouth, vagina, or anus with fingers, objects, or a penis, oral/genital contact. Threats, force or intimidation could involve physical restraint, threatening harm to you or your family, blackmail, or threatening job loss or academic repercussions for refusing sex.

Sexual Harassment
• Sexual harassment involves making request of any other person for sexual intercourse, sexual contact, or other form of sexual activity which contains an implied or overt promise of deferential treatment or an implied or overt threat of detrimental treatment.
• It may be by the use of language (whether written or spoken) of a sexual nature, or of visual material of a sexual nature, or by physical behaviour of a sexual nature, to subject any other person to behaviour that is unwelcome or offensive to that person (whether or not that is conveyed to the person complained about); and is either repeated, or of such a significant nature, that is has a detrimental effect on that person; eg a boss suggesting you may lose your job if you don’t go on a date with them, a lecturer threatening damage to your academic record if you refuse sex or a kiss, making sexual comments about someone’s body or sexuality, groping.
University of Otago Ethical Behaviour Policy

Stalking involves two or more acts which cause fear for one’s safety or the safety of others, or otherwise cause emotional distress. It could involve monitoring, observing, surveilling, lying in wait, or threatening. It might involve repeated and intrusive communication, including messages or gifts. Threats to harm may be directed at you, your relatives, your pets, or damage to your property or reputation; eg repetitive text messages, unwanted gifts (whether innocent in nature, or else overtly sexual or threatening), monitoring someone’s devices or phone, threatening to spread rumours or cause physical harm.

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Information about alcohol and substance use in relationship to sexual violence

Alcohol and other drugs are related to two aspects of sexual violence: (1) they may be used or leveraged by a person with violent intentions to incapacitate another person, and (2) they may be a coping mechanism used by survivors to numb or otherwise deal with the emotional consequences of experiencing sexual violence and, possibly, related trauma.

(1) Many people regularly consume alcohol and other drugs, and many people frequently pair them with romantic settings or sexual liaisons. Checking in with your partner/s, verbally or nonverbally, especially when initiating a new sexual activity, is a good practice for ongoing consent.

When either person is very intoxicated or unconscious it is not an appropriate time to initiate sexual activity. Both partners should understand and be aware of the nature of the activity. It is best practice to initiate sex when you are ready to hear and respect a “no,” “not now,” or other verbal or nonverbal refusal. If one person is too intoxicated or reckless to discern another person’s consent, they are not in a position to ask for it: drunkenness is not an excuse to for overlooking someone’s refusal to have sex.

Drinking or using drugs, even to the point of incapacitation, does not render a survivor responsible for another person’s choice to act violently toward them. A person initiating sexual behaviour of any kind has a responsibility to ensure everyone is on board, that consent is freely given and conscious.

(2) Experiencing any form of sexual violence, domestic or dating violence, harassment, or stalking can have a harmful effect on a person’s emotional and psychological well-being. Many survivors engage in a range of both confronting and numbing or avoidance strategies to cope with and process what has occurred.

The use of alcohol and drugs is one avoidance strategy by which some survivors might seek to cope; but it can have negative consequences, including the development of substance dependence or abuse, or engagement in risky behaviours (eg driving under the influence).

If you recognise substance use increasing or getting out of control — either your own use or the use of a survivor you know — there are resources available to help you. Counsellors and specialists can aid in developing healthier coping strategies and working through the difficult emotions that accompany having experienced some form of intimate or sexual violence.

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Common ways that survivors react

There are lots of ways people respond to sexual violence. Some survivors react immediately, others may take days, weeks, months, or years to react to the incident or series of incidents. Major life changes, including starting university, can bring up past traumas. At Te Whare Tāwharau we offer support students who are dealing with incidents that are recent or predate their university enrolment.

All survivors will present differently when telling someone about their experience, and how survivors present is not associated with the severity of the event or its impact, for example, a failed rape attempt can lead a survivor to seek support. Presentations can also change with time.

Survivors may:

• Seem fine and undisturbed
• Be in shock
• Cry uncontrollably
• Engage in excessive bathing
• Say it isn’t a big deal
• Be angry or enraged
• Engage in self-blaming

Survivors may also have a range of reactions during the assault, including fight, flight or freeze. Freezing is an extremely common reaction by survivors to the shock of sexual violence. Freezing is especially common when assailants are known to survivors, since violation by a friend or partner causes shock and disbelief. There is no right or wrong way to respond to sexual assault, and it is never your fault.

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How to support a survivor and respond to a disclosure

Survivors often tell friends before telling family, reporting to the police, or even seeking help from a counsellor or rape crisis centre. Many survivors feel shame and doubt about what has happened, and fear a negative response; as a result, one in three will keep the assault a secret.

If you are hearing a disclosure of sexual assault, it’s normal to have your own feelings or to not know what to do. You may need to talk about it and get support — after all, someone you care about has been hurt, and hearing about sexual violence can be confronting.

What to do:

1. Listen
Often what people need most is someone to just listen to what happened. It may feel like you are not doing much, but just listening is the most important thing you can do.

2. Believe
Those who experience sexual violence can doubt their own interpretation of the experience. It is really important to those disclosing that we believe what they tell us. It is also helpful to tell them that it is not their fault.

3. Respect their decisions
You may offer them the option to accompany them to Te Whare Tāwharau or another support or reporting agency. Once you make the offer, respect their decision about what they want to do.

Remember that the most important thing is for the survivor to make their own decisions as a way to reclaim their power after experiencing sexual violence. While it is understandable that you may want them to take their healing journey in a certain direction; e.g. reporting to police, outing the perpetrator or going to counselling, it is important to remember whose healing journey it is. If you are struggling with your friend, partner or family member's choices or attitude about their healing journey it is important that you voice them separately so as not to silence their decisions.

What not to do:

1. Speak for the survivor
It is important for the survivor to define the experience for themselves as a way to process what they have been through and claim their own story. It may also lead to them questioning themselves if their experience is mislabelled by the people around them.

2. Ask probing questions
It is up to the survivor to share their story in their own time, not for the supporters to investigate or know the ‘whole story.’ Some survivors may never tell their friends and whanau all the details and that is their decision to make.

3. Imposing your views
Sometimes you may feel anger and frustration at the perpetrator. If this does occur you may want to seek your own support so you do not place that burden on the survivor. They need to focus on their own healing journey and having to comfort or talk down their supporters will not make them feel heard.

Responding in a caring and compassionate way can increase the chances that your friend, partner, or colleague will continue to seek help and support. Te Whare Tāwharau is available to supporters as well. If you need support please come in or call, we are happy to listen to anything you feel you need to discuss.

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Special topics for takatāpui and the LGTBQ community

University is a vital and exciting time when people explore and grow more fully into their sexuality and gender identity. That journey can be complicated by experiencing sexual violence, whether past or present.

Sexual violence is a gender based phenomenon. Takatāpui, fa’afafini and people of minority genders and sexualities are disproportionately impacted by sexual violence. Within rainbow relationships, there can be unique forms of violence, and different stakes. Maybe an abusive partner is the only person who has affirmed your gender identity. Maybe assault has been minimised as “normal queer sex.”

Te Whare Tāwharau, celebrates and affirms Takatāpui, fa’afafini, lesbian, gay, trans, gender fluid, bisexual and queer identities and relationships. Our staff are thoughtful and trained to provide informed support for anyone of any gender or sexuality. We see you, we believe you, and we want to support you as best we can.

Power and Control Wheel for Rainbow Relationships

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Special topics for Māori students

Tēnā koutou and welcome
Te Whare Tāwharau understands and is committed to providing a safe and culturally sensitive space that will ensure that you receive the utmost care and attention to help navigate the turbulent jouney that you may be experiencing due to sexual assault. Te Whare Tāwharau understands that when Māori suffer the impacts of sexual violence negatively it not only affects the mana of individuals but also that of their whānau. Therefore Te Whare Tāwharau strives to ensure that you have tino rangatiratanga – autonomy in your decision making and in deciding the best course of action for your circumstances.

If you wish to bring a friend or whānau as support when you visit us that is fine and if you wish, we can contact Pearl Matahiki and her caring team at Te Huka Mātauraka – The Māori Centre who have dedicated counsellors and can further offer support for you.

Te Whare Tāwharau is committed to the University of Otago’s Māori Strategic Framework and to its obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi.

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Special topics for Pacifica students

Talofa Lava and warm Pacific greetings
Te Whare Tāwharau understands how Pacific ethnic group’s diverse and multicultural vibrancy enriches Aotearoa populations and we wish to offer you a service that not only acknowledges this diversity but offers support in an inclusive and culturally sensitive way for you.

We understand how hard it is to access services that are often taboo in different cultures, but if you are reading this please be assured we will do our best to support your needs in accessing help. We will ensure your safety and confidentiality, and support you in being able to access the support needed to help you through this difficult time.

Te Whare Tāwharau can also call upon the guidance and support of Tofilau Nina and her team at the Pacific Islands Centre to offer support if this is requested by you. We understand that this will be a traumatic time in your life and that it is easier to overcome when support networks are put into place.

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Special topics for students with disability, impairment and medical conditions

We recognise that intimate forms of violence disproportionately impact people with disability, impairment, and medical conditions. We also recognise that these impairments could provide barriers to support seeking, and so we strive to meet your specific needs and remove what barriers we can in order to offer you informed and caring support.

The Te Whare Tāwharau centre is awaiting their permanent accessibility ramp, but have a temporary ramp that can be set up, so it is important that you make an appointment if possible so that we can accommodate you. We welcome communication by phone or email, and are available to come to you by appointment, if that better suits your needs and abilities.

All survivors are welcome to bring along a support person. Please let us know if there is anything we can do to foster your access to our centre and support services.

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Special topics for students with mental illness

We acknowledge that persons with mental illness are disproportionally impacted by sexual violence, and that sexual violence can impact people with mental illness in unique ways. Mental illness can complicate the coping process, and pre-existing mental illness can also be compounded by experiencing sexual violence.

With this in mind, we provide informed support for survivors who are also managing mental illness. This can involve collaboration with disability services and student health, especially mental health services, and community referrals.

You are not obligated to tell us about any pre-existing mental illness. However, if you feel it would be helpful and relevant to do so, we offer a safe and accepting space and will support you in accessing resources specific to your wants and needs.

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Support flowchart

This flowchart is designed to clarify what happens when you come through the door at Te Whare Tāwharau.

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