• Upset with being made political tool
• Wants sexual violence, rape culture discussed
• Feels sorry for soldier’s family
lifted from 3news.co.nz
The woman at the centre of the Malaysian diplomat case has spoken out about what she feels is a mishandling of the case and a symptomatic breakdown in how New Zealand treats victims of sexual violence.
Tania Billingsley, 21, has voluntarily had her name suppression lifted so she could share her thoughts on the case with media.
“I guess that I’m someone who has something to say about this assault,” says Ms Billingsley. “It happened to me and throughout this whole process, especially once it’s become so public, my voice hasn’t been heard. And I do, obviously, have a lot to say about this. I’m not just a bystander.”
“Because I’m hoping that in revealing who I am and having a face to put to this alleged victim that I’ll be able to help address some of the issues around sexual violence in this country.”
“In making myself too public I am making myself quite vulnerable to people who see this differently than me and also just being so visible is quite a scary thing.”
Ms Billingsley says she first became aware of Rizalman’s diplomatic status on May 11, which is also her birthday. “So I spent the morning of it in the police station being told that he was a diplomat,” she says. Official meetings followed and just two weeks later a diplomatic escape route was taken – Rizalman left New Zealand.
“I found out that he was going to leave the day that he left. Up until then the police had been really great at keeping me informed, but even they didn’t know what to tell me. I got this call and it was like, ‘Yeah, you know we just found out that he’s leaving today.’
“Obviously I was frustrated and I was angry because I had from the very beginning said that I wanted him to stay in New Zealand and be held accountable here.”
Her wishes, though, counted for nothing, and Rizalman’s controversial departure was kept quiet.
“[It was] as though what happened to me is just backdrop to the political drama instead of a really real and traumatic experience. Of course it’s that thing of it’s only become a real issue when it started to inconvenience them.”
What transpired is Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully was briefed when the charges were laid and did nothing. “It’s just not appropriate for ministers to get involved too closely in this process,” says Mr McCully.
But Ms Billingsley is upset the minister, in his weekly meetings with officials in those seven weeks before this became public, didn’t ask them about the case.
“Clearly he doesn’t know how to do his job properly,” says Ms Billingsley. “He obviously doesn’t take sexual assault as a serious thing to consider.
She says she wants more than just an apology.
“I would take them actually committing to address rape culture and to being just more engaged in this stuff as an apology instead; if they want to swap an apology for them starting to deal with this stuff then I’m okay with that.”
She says Mr McCully should resign.
Ms Billingsley’s quest for accountability doesn’t stop with the Foreign Minister. She’s outraged too at what she feels is dismissiveness of her case, from the very top.
“I just really think that we as a country, and especially the Government, needs to start not just reacting to sexual assault but working to prevent it.”
No longer does she feel comfortable walking the streets of Wellington at night. Ms Billingsley can’t talk about the man accused of her attack; the legal process has still to play out.
But already she has a capacity for thinking beyond herself, about victims of sexual violence. But her compassion extends also to the family of Rizalman.
“They’re also victims in what has happened and I can’t even imagine how hard the last couple of months have been for them. They’re probably not watching this but I hope the message gets back to them that I’m thinking about them as well and hope they’re being supported where they are because I think that people aren’t really acknowledging that this has probably been horrible and life-changing for them as well as me.”
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