Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Rape crisis services ‘Standing Alone’: Policy-making as problem representation: The response to sexual violence in New Zealand 1983-89

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posted on 2021-11-22, 15:40 authored by McDonald, Heather Lee

After more than 30 years of feminist activism in New Zealand the government policy response to sexual violence continues to be highly contested. This thesis draws on archival material (both official and community records) to trace the competing discourses and agendas within the early policy development process. This process involved the pākehā and Māori women’s rights movements seeking to influence the ways in which the problem of rape was represented and responded to by government within the social policy context. Using Bacchi’s “What’s the problem represented to be?” methodology, the analysis of these discourses identifies the silences and assumptions, as well as the privileged government agenda that redefined, individualised and sought to professionalise the services for rape victims/survivors. I explore the perspectives of feminists involved in the movement and how tensions with the state may be seen to be reflected in the policy process, particularly through the emergence of neo-liberalism, the interplay between liberal and radical feminist views and in the highly contested area of rape education and prevention. Further, I consider how the problem of meeting cultural needs through social policy responses stalled, despite seeming state support for such responses through the 1980s and what it may be about the issue of rape itself and its connection to gender inequality that has contributed to a muted government response to the issue of sexual violence. In a postscript I briefly review current policy discourse and comment on how the focus on rehabilitation, the financial instability of services, lack of adequate provision of appropriate services for women and communities continue to be features of the sector today. I argue that a specific focus on rape education and prevention, critical for reducing the incidence of rape, continues to be severely under attended to, and that this in part reflects continued reluctance to address both the nature of rape and the need for wider structural change in addressing it.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Social Policy

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970116 Expanding Knowledge through Studies of Human Society

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Social and Cultural Studies


Harrington, Carol; Jordan, Jan