Malaysian diplomat assault case: “I have a lot to say,” says Wellington woman

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News from TV3
The Wellington woman at the centre of the Malaysian diplomat case has spoken out about what she feels is a mishandling of the case and a symptomatic breakdown in how New Zealand treats victims of sexual violence.

Tania Billingsley, 22, has voluntarily had her name suppression lifted so she could share her thoughts on the case with media.

Sexual assault-accused Muhammad Rizalman bin Ismail was a staff assistant for defence at the Malaysia High Commission in Brooklyn, Wellington, and is understood to hold a military rank of second warrant office.

He was arrested on May 9 and charged with burglary and assault with intent to rape after allegedly following Ms Billingsley home.

“I guess that I’m someone who has something to say about this assault,” says Ms Billingsley. “It happened to me and throughout this whole process, especially once it’s become so public, my voice hasn’t been heard. And I do, obviously, have a lot to say about this. I’m not just a bystander.”

“Because I’m hoping that in revealing who I am and having a face to put to this alleged victim that I’ll be able to help address some of the issues around sexual violence in this country.”

But speaking out is not as straightforward as you might think. Complainants in sex attacks, for good reason, are granted automatic name suppression. Ms Billingsley – with her lawyer – had to apply to the courts to have that protection lifted so she could talk.

“In making myself too public I am making myself quite vulnerable to people who see this differently than me and also just being so visible is quite a scary thing.”

Beginning with the May 9 attack, Rizalman was arrested and appeared in court the next day, charged with burglary and attempted rape.

Ms Billingsley says she first became aware of Rizalman’s diplomatic status on May 11, which is also her birthday. “So I spent the morning of it in the police station being told that he was a diplomat,” she says.

Official meetings followed and just two weeks later a diplomatic escape route was taken – Rizalman left New Zealand. “I found out that he was going to leave the day that he left. Up until then the police had been really great at keeping me informed, but even they didn’t know what to tell me. I got this call and it was like, ‘Yeah, you know we just found out that he’s leaving today.’

“Obviously I was frustrated and I was angry because I had from the very beginning said that I wanted him to stay in New Zealand and be held accountable here.”

Her wishes, though, counted for nothing, and Rizalman’s controversial departure was kept quiet.

“[It was] as though what happened to me is just backdrop to the political drama instead of a really real and traumatic experience. Of course it’s that thing of it’s only become a real issue when it started to inconvenience them.”

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News from TV3
The Wellington woman at the centre of the Malaysian diplomat sexual assault case speaks to reporter Paula Penfold in an exclusive interview on 3rd Degree tonight.

According to the woman’s wishes, a submission was made by her lawyer this week to have her automatic name suppression lifted. Suppression will lapse at the commencement of 3rd Degree tonight.

She has so far remained silent as politicians, commentators and pundits have debated the way the case has been handled.

“It’s not just the way the case has been bungled that she wants to talk about – although she certainly doesn’t hold back,” says Penfold.

“More importantly to her, there are things she wants to say about how what has happened represents wider problems around sexual violence in New Zealand. It’s a powerful, compelling interview.”

3rd Degree, tonight at 8.40pm on TV3. The programme will be available online via 3NOW and www.3news.co.nz immediately after screening.

News from NZ Police
Police are continuing to support Tania who has applied to the court to vary the automatic name suppression given to her based on the charges involved. Police did not oppose this course of action as we wanted to support her wishes.

The process to facilitate Muhammad Rizalman bin Ismail’s return to New Zealand is continuing with the support of MFAT.

As the matter remains before the courts, it is not appropriate for Police to make any comment about the circumstances of the offences. We continue to encourage other commentators on this matter to be mindful of the potential implications on any legal process. Any speculation on the likely outcome of the prosecution process ahead of the alleged offender appearing before the court is premature, unhelpful and risks prejudicing any forthcoming judicial process.

 

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