Rape and racism: one Aboriginal woman’s stand for justice

Issue 
‘If I was a white woman, it would have been different. I reckon they would have gone and got him that day’.

Lani’s Story
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Review by Sanna Andrew

The documentary, Lani’s Story, follows the incredibly brave and courageous story of a young Aboriginal woman who not only endured and survived life threatening violence from her partner, but who goes on another harrowing journey long afterwards to bring the man to justice.

The story is sensitively told, recounting both the harsh brutality of near-death violence and the complex human emotional vulnerability that makes this experience so difficult to understand. It shows why women appear to accept this behaviour and why rape often goes unreported.

It also tells the story of community life and reveals mores that covertly facilitate violence and lack of reporting.

Lani’s pain, shame and fear is the collectively shared and intrusively damaging affect on the psyche of those who have lived with someone in a relationship initially, based on love, that turns to brutality.

On a personal level, there is psychological incredulity about senseless violence in an intimate relationship. This lead leads to such an intense state of shock and debased sense of self that is difficult to comprehend, and even more difficult to tell.

Lani’s Story will ring painstakingly true for those who have been there and will go a long way to help those who have not understood the complexity of the experience.

Lani’s account would likely have remained untold had it not been for the love and strength of her new partner, a softly spoken young Aboriginal man appalled at the injustice of such violence going unreported and the damaging aftermath of living in the silence of survival.

Collectively, the community members and family within this story tell of a level of acceptance, of not getting involved in “personal” matters and under no circumstances going to the police.

This can only be understood in the powerlessness felt by the Aboriginal community in the face of a justice system that does not work for them.

Lani did leave her violent partner, but was tricked into a situation where she came into contact with him. Because of the extreme violence on this occasion, Lani was certain she was going to die. She managed to call her father to rescue her after an entire night of rape and violence.

Even though he would not generally trust the police to act, the severity of the violence pushed her father to take her to the police. Charges were neither laid nor pursued.

Lani continued on with her life until she met John, her new partner. She did not tell John, but he worked out that something terrible had happened to her because of her intense nightmares. It was John who urged her to go to the police again and supported her to pursue justice.

The people close to Lani had not heard of the level of brutality she had endured until her life was laid out in court. Collectively, they shared their sense of shock and subsequent shame for what had happened to her, and for not finding out or doing anything about it.

The court process itself was peppered with a sense of distrust, which is how the justice system in general is experienced by the Aboriginal community; Lani also feared her ex-partner would be acquitted and might seek retribution. Throughout the trial, Lani, heavily pregnant (she gave birth during the course of the trial), again relived the horrific experience.

Lani’s ex-partner was found guilty on numerous charges and will spend many years behind bars.

The closing segment of the documentary probably best sums up the frustrating and difficult experience for Aboriginal women pursuing justice. Lani said: “If I was a white woman, it would have been different. I reckon they would have gone and got him that day … walking in on Boxing Day, the way that I was battered, I was black and blue, if I was a white woman, I still believe they would have gone and rushed out and got him instantly.”

[Sanna Andrews is the Socialist Alliance candidate for Fremantle.]