9 Feb 2016
By the time Louise Nicholas reached the end of seven gruelling court cases held to investigate allegations that several police officers had raped her, she had become the public face of an issue that had been largely hidden in the past.
Louise would have been justified in choosing not to have anything else to do with the issue of sexual violence after the court cases were over. Instead, the Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year finalist has dedicated her life to supporting the survivors of sexual violence.
“I chose to speak out because of the other survivors who made contact with me and said, ‘Can you help?’ I didn’t want anyone else to go through what I’d been through,” says Louise, who works as National Sexual Violence Advocate with TOAH-NNEST (Te Ohaakii a Hine - National Network Ending Sexual Violence Together).
“People gloss over the issue of sexual violence, but I believe in speaking the truth.”
Her motivation comes from the survivors she works with. “They inspire me to keep doing what I’m doing, even when it’s hard.”
Dr Kim McGregor, a long-time advocate who helped create the National Sexual Violence Survivor Advocate role for Louise, says Louise is likely to have achieved more for people affected by sexual violence than any other single individual over the past three decades.
“When Louise started in her role, she was a survivor of sexual violence who’d experienced injustice from the justice system, and was speaking out for other survivors of sexual violence who’d been similarly let down. What made her special was that she refused to keep silent and kept speaking out on behalf of others,” says Kim.
“Louise is absolutely tenacious. Whatever she sets her mind to, she won’t stop until she achieves it.”
“Louise has guts. She is strong and courageous and she doesn’t give up when she sees something worth fighting for.”
Attitudes towards sexual violence have changed in the decade since the court cases. Louise says sexual violence is no longer a taboo subject, but change is happening too slowly.
“I think the biggest issue facing women in New Zealand is about not having a voice. Society tends to silence women quickly, especially when it comes to the issue of violence,” she says.
One positive change, Louise believes, has been the vastly improved attitude of the New Zealand Police towards sexual violence.
She is involved in police training and sits on a steering group with Superintendent Tusha Penny, National Manager: Prevention. Superintendent Penny says Louise is proof of the difference one person can make.
“Louise keeps it real. She tells her story in a way that makes people in position of power and influence begin to question how they do things,” she says.
“Traditionally, police have been offender-centric. Now, because of Louise, we’re victim-centric. But no-one who knows Louise would consider her a victim - she is a survivor with a capital S.”