LARA'S AMENDMENT: Give Consular Service for Sexual Assault/Grooming Victims Now!
- Senator the Hon Marise Payne, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade
The British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA) is calling for the current Consular service strategy for victims of sexual assault, and grooming to be investigated, analysed and reformed by Australia and other nations with which they have consular service agreements so that this never happens again.
In 2018, Australian citizen, Lara Hall found herself the victim of a predatory online groomer who was related to some local Aussie friends from Pakistani origin. The man, lured her to Pakistan on false pretences, confined her in his family's dilapitated home in horrible unhygenic conditions, and with the full support of his family members sexually assaulted her on a daily basis, with other relatives attempting to do the same. He attempted to force her to convert to Islam by marrying him - she refused. Her captivity extended past her Visitor Visa renewal and she became an overstayer. Lara did not receive appropriate help from consular officials who rather amplified her isolation.
This petition contains a further explanation of her story in line with the policy and procedures of "The Consular Charter" and "Smart Traveller's Guide" which indicate sexual assault victims will be given consular support and assistance to report crime and get medical attention in their time of need. Messages and Emails between Lara and the Consular staff were reviewed by a third party and assessed against these statements of citizen services.
Rape and grooming victims are often asked, "What were you thinking?" - it is time for the Government of Australia and the Consular Officals to answer the same question!
Australian Consular Service “assistance” is offered to victims of sexual assault, but Ms Hall was denied Consular Service in her time of need.
The charter clearly says there will be instances in which consular services will be limited, however sexual assault does not read as one of them. The experience of Ms Lara Hall contradicts the reassurances in the Charter that “sexual assault is not the victim’s fault” as every time she sought consular help, she felt blamed for her situation. Regardless of fault. She did not have the means to remove herself from the situation, and became completely dependent on strangers to help her.
Here are some details for sexual assault victims on the website
Lara was repeatedly told what the consular officials could not do, but was she was not asking them for something out of their assigned role as victim of sexual assault. As copied and pasted from the website:
Australian consular staff can:
• support you in seeking medical assistance and reporting the crime to the police
This is exactly what Ms Hall was requesting, and this much needed support did not happen. The consular staff’s idea about what the words “support” and “assistance” mean do not reflect what the general expectation or understanding of a regular citizen abroad - especially one who has been essentially kidnapped, raped and is being held as a prisoner with no visa.
Now add the trauma and violence of being repeatedly sexually assaulted and confined in a strange, unhealthy environment. Moreover, consider having OCD or another common ailment such as an anxiety disorder which would make it hard to make a decision and cause you to second guess every move you make. In this situation you would need assurance about the steps you need to take in a methodical fashion and not just to be given a number with an organisation name for “counselling” but counselling for what? – in fact the Charter does say that part of consular service they would “give you the steps” but this would suggest really guidance -in an ordinal sense - a first you do this and then next…, but this was not Lara’s experience.
The consular officials repeatedly gave her the Lifeline number but did not really seem to explain exactly what services it provided, had she called that number would they have supported her in contacting Lahore police and taken the fear of the unknown away? She needed help reporting the crime to police and this was well within the scope of consular staff – this would have been a huge comfort that the station knew her embassy knew about her problem and she was not alone.
“We urge you to consider your personal security and make arrangements to keep safe…,” is advice Lara was following by calling her Consulate and asking for help – she needed a little help calling the police.
The warning on the Australian Foreign Affairs website that in some countries reporting sexual assault, means danger for the victim, and that filing a complaint could put a foreigner at risk – in a bitter irony the information on the website and in the Charter reinforced Lara’s decision to delay calling the police until, in one of his rages, he targeted objects of her affection in a death threat saying he would “delete [her] and [her] precious cats”.
Given the fact we know that her rapist had linked his phone to hers and was accessing her information for some time, can you imagine the smug amusement he must have had at the circular sermonising of the Australian Consulate? All he had to do was make it worse to leave, to revive every terror, and remind her that - She was in Pakistan now.
[The fact is the warnings listed about Pakistan police are valid at some station houses. Jan 2019, there is a Station House Officer under investigation for allowing the torture a young woman at his station in Faisalabad]
It did not sound like staff were willing or possibly able to engage with her on explaining the Charter. Which begs the question, whether they were lacking in communicative or cultural competence to engage a citizen at all short of clipping from the Charter. They ostensibly had no listening skills. Lara had an expired visa, because she had overstayed while being held against her will.
Yet they gloriously suggested that she “ensure her Travel Visa to Pakistan remains up to date” or that she “consider returning to Australia”, despite her informing them that because she was confined to the house and repeatedly raped that she was not able to leave on her pre-booked flight or extend her travel visa in Islamabad. So, while she no longer had a visa and was being confined and restricted in her movements, they further said:
“If you are feeling any threat to your security, we advise you to move to a safer location.” Email
We remind you that Lara had arranged to travel and stay with people known to her online and through family she had known in Australia for circa 6 years. She understood and expected them to be safe, but later discovered they were not. Far from helping, the consular officials reinforced the fear that leaving her rapist’s home would result in further or worsening violence.
“We understand you are in touch with your sister” [in Australia] – ask her to help you. Asking family to help is a cop out – when family may not have the skillset necessary to assist, what can they do back home?
The current policy and practice are inadequate for responding to grooming victims and perpetuates myths about sexual violence.
Lara was thoroughly traumatised and when she asked questions, she was simply told to refer to the Charter and read it for herself. As I read her emails, I could hear her inquiries being met with disregard.
Tips to avoid becoming a victim of sexual assault are clearly posted on the website and demonstrate the turned blind-eye perpetuated by groomers set to prey on vulnerable victims – the stereotype of being pulled into an alley by a stranger or slipped a sedative in your beverage at an eating establishment pervades the inadequate advice listed. “Be cautious of unsolicited invitations from strangers “and “do your research” must have mocked Lara as she fell in to the despair of her increasingly untenable situation: with no visa; no protection.
The Charter dutifully notes that sexual assault can happen due to “manipulation”, and also reminds citizens abroad that they cannot intervene in “family matters”. What does consular service look like when the rapist is trying to force a woman to change her religion and perform a marriage ceremony? It needs improvement! In is not usual for forced marriage victims to be held by their rapists because of forged documents.
Australians (and other country nationals served in absentia of their consulates) deserve to know what The Charter really means with regards to their promised assistance for victims sexual assault. Consular officials need to amend archaic judgements towards survivors and ensure that compassionate and helpful policies and prodecures are enforced.
We the undersigned ask the Australian Foreign Affairs Office to review their policy and procedures on assistance to sexual assault victims and their training of embassy staff to properly advise all Consular of Australian standards for evaluating the gravity of sexual assault.
Recommendations such as;
-Provision of safe houses for victims who escape confinement
-How to enact a proper local police investigation when reported by a vulnerable victim.
-How to engage with victims in a state of panic or with a mental condition or impairment.
-Options to help citizens who have lost their passport and other travel documents including, consular, diplomatic and financial assistance.
-and other important factors...
Should fuel the discussion and implemented changes.
To review and account for the global phenomena of grooming which has dire consequences for victims and their communities. Especially in countries such as Pakistan which has a clear propensity for such crime.
We ask for a review of the policies and procedures that call in to question Australia's committment to end gender-based violence and religious oppression.
We ask them to do as they have communicated in their own documents, to train their staff to be more competent with citizens traumatised by sexual violence.
The LARA'S AMENDMENT: Give Consular Service for Sexual Assault/Grooming Victims Now! petition to Senator the Hon Marise Payne, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade was written by Wilson Chowdhry and is in the category Gender Rights and Issues at GoPetition.