COMMENT: I was angry before Grace Millane's death and I'm seething now.
In the days following Grace's death, I tried to explain this feeling to the men in my life, to tell them why many women felt so upset by her killing.
"It could have been any of us," I said. "It is a reminder that we aren't yet equal. She was just a kid. She was just trying to live her life."
I watched them grapple with this idea, to try not to get defensive. I wondered how it must feel to be on the other end, to be told that you have the power to be frightening. I felt sorry for them, these men who I love. Right now, however, I'm too tired to make it okay for them. It's been a long year. I'm tired of explaining. I'm tired of feeling second-class. And I'm tired of being angry. It's a burden none of us asked for.
After every article, more women came forward to talk to me about sexual violence and their experience with the justice system. For a while, I became part reporter, part counsellor. I didn't mind. Journalism is as much in the listening as the telling. But unlike with previous projects, this time the stories stayed with me, waking me at night, leaving a deep aching in my chest around my heart. Sometimes, I felt sick, my throat constricted. Worst was when I felt the deep chill of recognition settle in my bones.
It was deeply confronting to realise these women's long-held secrets were so similar to my own. As I listened to them, memories long-repressed began to bubble to the surface. Small things, like unwanted touches or sexist comments. Bigger things, like sexual coercion or a lack of consent. Other things. Cowering in corners. My favourite photo frame smashed on the floor.
With the lid lifted, it felt like I was viewing the world through a new lens. Everywhere I looked was rape culture, the dominance of the patriarchy, ingrained misogyny. Once you see, I said to one victim, you can't unsee. She said, "I wish I could. I don't want to be this person." Same, I said. It's exhausting. As the year went on my heartache shifted to anger. In June, after a nasty incident at a bar, I wrote a furious column about male entitlement, begging men to think about their behaviour. In response, I got emails threatening rape. My anger twisted to despair.
The only thing that saved me was the kindness of other women. In the year of #MeToo, it was a grim comfort to find I was not alone. Everywhere there were others going through the same awful dawning as me, asking themselves the same questions - Why didn't I report it? I did report it - why did nothing happen? Why won't anyone believe me? Why is it so unfair? And more importantly - why does no one seem to care?
My friend, another journalist also reporting on rape, answered the question best.
"If it feels hard, it's because it is hard," she said. "You are fighting against hundreds of years of structural inequality. It's like a brick wall of oppression that we are banging our heads against."
Her words were a balm for my growing apathy to the cause. I repeated these phrases to victims, believing in the power of the collective, the greater good. I also saw a counsellor, paid for by my employer. I gained new motivation. "If only I can tell the perfect story," I thought. "Surely something will change."
In August, in my search for the answers, I began to look into domestic violence as well, wondering if I could link the two types of crime against women. Specifically, I wanted to know if the same downward trend I'd discovered in the resolution rates for sexual assault was also present in the family harm statistics.
Unsurprisingly, it was. Or at least, I think it was. The police data can be unreliable, with changeable reporting methods meaning long-term trends are exceptionally difficult to discern.
Despite that, I could see something in there. Around 2011, resolution rates for both domestic and sexual violence began to fall. Some of this could be attributed to a change in police coding practices, and some to increased reporting rates, but the academics I spoke to felt certain there was another cause too. They believed changes to the prosecution guidelines were behind the lack of arrests, and the falling proportion of cases that were going before the courts.
For three months, I attempted to find if there was a truth in that theory. "Did we cause this?" I asked experts. My hypothesis was that cost-cutting, combined with a higher threshold for prosecution - a requirement that if cases go to court they have a reasonable chance of success - led to fewer offenders going before the courts for abusing women. It seemed both logical and far-fetched. In the end, no one - not the police, not lawyers, not politicians - could tell me the answer.
I grew angry again. I complained to Jane Drumm, the head of the domestic violence agency Shine, that women weren't even considered valuable enough to measure. She knew what I meant.
"There is no justice for women in the justice system," she said. I put that line at the top of my notes file and highlighted it in red.
In August, the thing I knew was bound to happen, happened. I got an email from a colleague about a man I knew well. He was charged with a sex crime so horrific, at first I didn't believe it. I called the court to check. As the registrar confirmed, I felt dizzy. I put my head on my desk. "Are you still there?," she said. I hung up and walked to the bathroom to be sick. Afterwards, I sat outside, shaking. Another one, I thought. I wasn't even surprised.
In November, I wrote what I thought was my final rape story for the year. The complainant was just 18. She alleged two men had assaulted her after a party. The police didn't lay charges. For her, the experience with the system was almost as traumatic as the incident itself. I thought it was a compelling story about the way we view sexual consent in New Zealand - and how hard it can be for women to say "no". But, as soon as the story was published, the victim-blaming began. "She shouldn't have been drinking," they said. "She should have left if she didn't want it."
It made me feel so tired. For all the structural problems with violence against women in New Zealand, attitudes within society still seem the highest hurdle we have to overcome. There is no lack of solutions for our outdated laws or rigid justice system.
If we wanted to change them, we could. But the will isn't there. As one academic said, when it comes down to it, the bottom line is that we don't care about women enough. Sometimes I wonder if it's because half of us simply cannot understand. Most men do not know what it is to be afraid, to feel weaker, and to realise if your worst fear comes true, there is nothing you can do.