Warning: Frank discussion of sexual abuse.
Lachlan Mitchell has a conversation with Kate Gordon about her powerful upcoming documentary Hurting to Heal, and what influenced her to tell the story of Sarah, the central individual in this documentary. Kate is a greatly empathetic figure with a strong drive towards helping our collective whānau with her skills as a filmmaker and an advocate for sex abuse survivors; we also discuss her views as an advocate, and include some advice and resources for any who might need it.
KG: Although a difficult watch, it is informative and emotionally moving. Hurting to Heal is a short documentary that describes one woman’s journey from childhood rape to healing, recovery and happiness. It takes us to the darkest day of Sarah’s life and sheds light on the long-term effects of sexual abuse and the difficulties of dealing with the judicial system. It also shows the light after the darkness and the powerful woman Sarah is today.
KG: Sarah also studied at South Seas Film & Television School and we quickly became friends. Her story stuck out to me because it was not just deeply saddening, but powerful seeing how far she has come and what an amazing human being she is today. She is not a victim; she is a survivor. I believed her story could help other survivors and for those who have not encountered sexual abuse, I hope they walk away with a greater understanding of the truly devastating nature of sexual abuse and how it goes on without retribution or consequences to the perpetrator.
KG: Hurting to Heal will be free to watch on the DocEdge website between 12 June – 5 July 2020. You can follow the link or search “DocEdge”: https://festival.docedge.nz/film/hurting-to-heal/
KG: As it is a documentary, Hurting to Heal tells Sarah’s story and her experience with sexual abuse and mental health issues. The reason I personally wanted to make a short documentary on the topic of sexual abuse is to combat injustice, bring attention to an issue many New Zealanders face yet little is done about, and to show how there is light at the end of the tunnel, as there was for Sarah. It was important for me that watching Hurting to Heal was, as much as possible, not triggering for survivors while still giving justice to the gravity of the situation.
A big part of the reason Hurting to Heal was made, and Sarah told her story, was to reach sexual abuse survivors. To anyone who has experienced sexual abuse, recently or further in the past, it is not your fault. You are not weak, you are not “used”, or worthless. It does not matter if you were drinking. It does not matter what you were wearing. It does not matter the time of day you were walking down the street. It was not your fault, it was wrong, and I’m sorry that somebody did that to you.
Do not bottle up these tough feelings, talk to a trusted friend or family member. I would also encourage you to find a counsellor to talk things through with.
KG: I am just filled with anger. Anger at the injustices that have occurred to me, to my friends, to my family and to the ones that will occur in the future. Anger that 10% of sexual abuse crimes are reported, 3% get to court, and 1% of all cases get a conviction. Unlike other crimes, when sexual abuse occurs, it’s often the survivor that stands in judgement, not the perpetrator. “What was she wearing?”, “Was she sexually active?”, “Had she been drinking?”, “She gave him her phone password.” A court exhibit of a black G-string of the survivor as evidence of consent.
Anger that I have to justify my position against one of the greatest violations of our human rights as horrific, rather than, “boys will be boys” or “as a woman, you don’t understand testosterone and how it feels.” Rape culture is alive and well in New Zealand. The issue of rape is not a burden of the survivors, but every single New Zealander. To learn more about rape culture: https://rpe.co.nz/what-is-rape-culture/
KG: My dream career is to continue making documentaries and films about injustices. Some of the topics I am most passionate about are the right for animals to live in humane conditions, pollution of our natural environment, queer rights, mental illness awareness, te reo Māori use in New Zealand, disability rights, and many other human rights issues. When one issue is brought up, a common theme is to say that there are more important issues somewhere else, however I believe if people do their best, and make small changes, we can truly make the world a better place. Whether that be a meat-free Monday, buying more local products, or saying “Hey, are you, okay?” to a friend who is acting down, small changes made by everyone can make a big impact. Coronavirus has taught me, and New Zealand, the power of taking a stand against loss of life for our most vulnerable and we have achieved so much together. I’m not saying everything will be happy and rosy all the time, just that people need to realise their impact matters, which is what I want to express through my films.
KG: The effects of the #MeToo movement, although they are far from the most ideal outcome, have made such big waves all over the world and changed many people’s lives for the better. I think this is the biggest success of the #metoo movement, bringing this topic into public discourse. Sexism and sexual abuse are so fused into the culture of film-making that will take more time and effort to see the big changes that need to happen. I believe that having more women in positions of power will help to ensure this change. The New Zealand Film Commission’s “50% of directors to be female” goal is setting us on a path to change. Although these issues are highly politicised, it comes down to basic human rights that are not being met, and that is undeniable.
KG: Although I’m late to the party, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, on Netflix, was an amazing watch and under-rated. It is a mind-bending trip into an absurd but hilarious world where “everything is connected.”
The book I’ve been reading lately is the 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. Like Dirk Gently, it has a ridiculously long name, and also follows a hilariously absurd storyline.
A movie that I really enjoyed recently was the animated film April and the Extraordinary World, set in an alternate reality of 1941 France. I really enjoyed the steampunk style and April’s amazing hide-away.
On YouTube, a channel that is sure to bring a smile to your face is Daily Dose of Internet as it is light and wholesome. It compiles short clips of cool things on the internet for example, “Bobcat Makes Really Long Jump Look Easy.”
KG: There are many free counselling services, if you’re at the University of Auckland there is counselling services: https://www.auckland.ac.nz/en/on-campus/student-support/personal-support/student-health-counselling/counselling-services.html.
There is a helpline dedicated to sexual abuse survivors, calling: 0800 044 334. Texting: 4334. YouthLine has a fantastic service, either in person or on the phone. Mental Health Crisis 0800 800 717 (operating 24/7). If you are in crisis, call 111, otherwise reach out to your local doctor who can refer you for further treatment. Do not accept it if they do not refer you for treatment and immediately change doctors as, in my experience, most are not well trained in mental health or sexual abuse issues.