Protester and performance artist Jazmine Rose Phillips talks to Anke Richter about the assault and police inaction which led to her naked protest on Karangahape Road.
NB: The following images contain nudity
Last week, performance artists Kyah Dove and Jazmine Rose Phillips stood naked and covered in fake blood in front of St Kevin’s Arcade on Karangahape Road. In January, Phillips and her partner (not Dove) had been assaulted by a man on K Road. She says police ignored their 111 call and later sent her partner away who wanted to report the crime.
Since her public protest, the 26-year-old – who’s in the Auckland Fringe Festival this month performing her show Rosemary – says she’s suddenly been treated like VIP by police, including a chauffeured trip to the station on Tuesday where she finally filed a report. An internal investigation is now underway.
People from as far as Iceland have contacted you since your photo ran internationally. Did you anticipate this kind of attention?
Not at all, although I’ve done activism and performance art before. This protest was not about me or us, but about all the women who don’t have the means to speak up. I thought the police would come and arrest us, I’d get one article written about it, and then they’d look really silly.
No-one arrested you. Did you get St Kevin’s Arcade behind you beforehand?
You don’t ask for permission for political action! [laughs] Never ask! We did it on K Road because that’s where the assault happened, and there’s a lot of vulnerable people there. We had a support team of friends with us for our safety and to be our ears and eyes for the public.
And you had your performance partner.
Yeah, I got pins and needles from holding Kyah’s hand so tight for so long. There were moments when I was angry and moments when I cried. Because even though this was a performance act, I was carrying the weight of my own trauma on the back of it and had not given myself enough time to heal over those last weeks. I was feeling the violence towards all women – all the stories I heard from friends, from my mother, where the police weren’t responding to domestic violence, some resulting in serious injury and death. All of the responses came too late and or were not dealt with in the way they should.
What exactly happened to you and your girlfriend on 21 January?
We were walking back from a restaurant at about 10.20 pm. I stopped on a street corner to point out the moon and hugged my partner. A van pulled up at eye level next to us and the man in there began doing lewd gestures, really disgusting. So I slapped his window to stop him. He got out and hit me on the back of my head. He was very aggressive, so we had to run away. Then we called 111.
That call was ignored?
The police never showed up (police said they would contact them that evening or follow up the next day). Then they told us they would follow it up with CCTV footage but didn’t. So my partner went in, trying to be supportive even though that was challenging for her, and was turned away because I wasn’t there [as well]. It got to a point where I thought: “I don’t think I can even deal with walking into a police station and have this kind of abuse”.
But on Tuesday, you finally went in.
After the protest, the police were really eager. They came and picked me up from my work in a car and took me to the station. I’ve never filed a police report before. It’s actually an awful experience, even though it wasn’t about a rape or a major injury. Still, it took two hours and was really traumatic. I had an investigator and a sergeant there. You have to go over and over everything in this very sterile room, which makes you feel a bit crazy and doubt the things you know. I can’t imagine doing that after a violent sexual assault. In most cases, the police report goes into a file that doesn’t get explored because it’s too hard.
The problem is that most victims never get to that point.
I only got to that point because I stood naked in the streets and had five articles published with my picture.
Is it a double-edged sword to use nudity to highlight sexism and violence?
I wanted to have a really clear message that exposed the police’s mistakes and showed violence against women in a way people could relate to, hence the words and the blood. Nudity is not just shock factor but can pull on some heart strings. I don’t like that my body is political, but it is. It was necessary to do that to get the police to listen to me. And it’s impossible to share these images of us in a sexist way, even in the Daily Mail.
What was it like standing naked and still for an hour, being looked at so closely?
The reactions were really beautiful. I felt 100% support on the street – people coming up to us in tears and thanking us. A few women came and held my hand. I had an elderly man come and look me in the eye. That made me cry.
No lewd or aggressive comments?
There were a lot of men going past in cars, who had distance from us. As a woman, you can feel the difference between a man walking past and nodding at you to take a picture of your protest and share it – or a man taking from you by taking a picture in that way. All the people who were up close were so confronted that they couldn’t respond in a negative way.
How were the reactions online?
Pretty overwhelming. So many people telling me their stories, their frustration about not being heard. I received a message from a woman whose ex-partner showed up at her home and held a shotgun to her head. When the police came after her emergency call, she received no support. An officer said to her: “If he wanted to kill you, he would have”. She asked me how she could get any answers, any action happening. That was heart-breaking. The systems around this stuff are so broken.
The police have now announced an internal investigation into your case.
When they work with me on that, I want people who actually understand these issues. Not the police publishing statements like they did this week, saying: “We are working very hard to solve any problems”. They’ve said that for years. I want them to actually look at what’s wrong with their system.
Just to make it clear: I’m not being paid to stand in the street naked asking for them to be better. I’m not being paid to have these discussions and interviews. The police are an organisation made up of billions and billions of dollars, and while I want them to change, it’s a little bit laughable that all of a sudden it’s my responsibility that they do their job.
Do you feel better now that you’ve filed a report?
It didn’t give me great satisfaction. I don’t know what the usual procedure is – in my case, having a 111 call ignored so the trauma gets so great that you never go back, right? I only got picked up and driven to the station because I responded so publicly. And that’s not ok. Like the woman who contacted me the other day, that hasn’t happened for her. And she’s still living in fear. That’s not okay either. I’m not in my home scared. At least for me, it was a stranger.
Can your attacker now be caught?
There’s some confusion about his license plate number being deregistered last year. We don’t know if he was in a stolen vehicle or whether we didn’t give the correct number on the 111 call since we were still under shock and more concentrated on getting away from him. That’s the issue with following something up a month later, isn’t it?
Do you have more protest in you?
Kyah and I are certainly not the first women to speak up on this. We aren’t more victim or hero than anyone who’s experienced abuse, but we use our voice. For every feeling person, it’s exhausting to hold the pains of the world and see the things that are wrong. It’s a relief to share that grief and hopefully strike up conversation for a solution. So, yes, I will do more.