On desperation

30 Jun

While politicians of various bents have found it expedient to weep in the Parliament these last days, what is absent in the asylum seeker policy brawl is an indication that the majority of them have any understanding at all of the desperation that drives the global movements of refugees.

And it is a global movement and we must eventually accept that we are not the only developed country stateless peoples look to for refuge, and indeed, we are so un-beleagured as to make us the laughing stock of nations whose borders are crossed by thousands of asylum seekers every week.

What I’m about to write about desperation may be unsettling, and may act as a trigger for some people. It is my experience of desperation, and it’s an experience that gives me the authority to speak on the topic.

As a young girl, from the age of about seven, I lived in very dangerous circumstances. I was beaten with hose pipes, fishing rods and my stepfather’s bare hands. I was tied up, always after I’d been ordered to remove my clothes. On many occasions until I was fifteen, I was threatened with death by this man who wielded a loaded gun that he fired into cushions. I was regularely absent from school because of my injuries.

I was first raped when I was ten. These rapes continued at regular intervals until I was fifteen. I cannot talk about these rapes more than to state their occurrence.

My stepfather was a doctor, and he performed various medical procedures on me in the surgery that was attached to our house. I cannot talk about these.

He also photographed me, posed and naked from the age of ten.

There’s nothing to be gained for either me or my readers in attempting descriptions of these events, and I am barely able to write this much. I am trembling. I am sweating. I am weeping. My heartbeat is loud and irregular. I feel nauseous. My body hurts everywhere. The pain in my head is appalling.

During those years  I told at least seven adults what was happening to me. Every one of them sent me back.  Every time I arrived home I was beaten, tied up, threatened with death if I did it again, and raped. I never stopped telling people, even though I knew the next telling might cost me my life.  In retrospect this seems to me something of a miracle. I love my young self, I love her with all of my heart, for her determination to help herself survive, for her willingness to risk death in the attempt to have her life.

So what does this have to do with asylum seekers? As Judith Lewis Herman wrote in the introduction to her book “Trauma and Recovery: From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror:”

This is a book about restoring connections…it is a book about commonalities: between rape survivors and combat veterans, between battered women and political prisoners, between the survivors of vast concentration camps created by tyrants who rule nations and the survivors of small, hidden concentration camps created by tyrants who rule their homes…

One of the things we have in common, those of us who survive the small, hidden concentration camps, and those of us who survive political terror, is our experience of desperation. Desperate to escape. Desperate to live. Desperate to experience the ordinary. Desperate to feel we can sleep safely in our beds at night, whether we fear the invasion of soldiers, or the stealthy night time visits of the rapacious stepfather. Desperate to be allowed to eat and drink. Desperate to live like a human being, untrammelled by the kind of primitive terror that reduces everything to a question of day to day survival.

The will, not just to live but to live a decent life, is inexpressibly powerful. Death can seem preferable to suffering the tyrannies of the imposed will of another, tyrannies that strip one of all integrity. This much I know. I know it with the full authority of my experience, and my survival.

One does not have to suffer in order to appreciate desperation. One does not have to experience prolonged terror and coercive methods of control. What is required for understanding is emotional intelligence and imagination. The majority of our politicians would seem to be seriously lacking both. Instead they appear to be, in the words of philosopher Martha Nussbaum  …people whose imaginations are blunted, who simply refuse the acknowledgement of humanity.

The odious tears of the sentimental who weep for the cameras yet support policies that will condemn the desperate to even more desperation, are deeply offensive to me as a survivor.  Your emotions count for less than nothing, when deterrence is your only answer to desperation.

The leaders of this country are behaving as did those adults who sent me back to the dangerous hell that was my home. I do not think those people were evil. I think they didn’t want to become involved. I think they were incapable of imagining the circumstances I was attempting to escape. I think they wanted more than anything to maintain the equilibrium of their lives, and I was a child who could disturb that forever. They moved me on, out of their sight and mind. They were cowards.

The concept of a human right to ask for help and protection seems barely to exist in our world. Such requests are viewed as impositions, and those who make them, importunate. The implication of our treatment of asylum seekers is that they are sub-human, and that seeking asylum is a criminal offence. We deny any recognition of a priori suffering, and instead focus on maintaining an abstract construct of national sovereignty.

Those who denied me asylum did so to maintain their domestic sovereignty. They could not let me in, for fear of the ruptures dealing with my suffering would provoke.

I can never forget desperation. I can call it up in an instant. When I see it in another I have to respond. Try as I might, I find it very difficult not to despise those who wilfully close their ears and eyes and hearts to desperation. I have even wished it on them, that they walk a mile in the shoes of the desperate and know what it is to be turned away, when all you are asking is help to conduct a decent life.

Thank you for reading this. I give the last word to Emmanuel Levinas:

To shelter the other in one’s own land or home, to tolerate the presence of the land-less and homeless on the “ancestral soil” so jealously, so meanly loved – is that a criteria of humanness? Unquestionably so. 

109 Responses to “On desperation”

  1. Elisabeth June 30, 2012 at 9:54 am #

    Thank you for giving us such a clear view of desperation. Throughout this debate I have wondered how we might put some more compassion into what can seem like a dry old argument about should we or shouldn’t we.

    Hannah Arendt’s words on ‘the banality of evil’ come to mind and by this expression as I understand it she means something akin to what you write here. The failures of empathy and imagination that ordinary folk practice when they cease to allow themselves to connect with others and to recognise the nature of desperation, such as you have described here.

    Thanks for the courage you put into telling us where you come from in this discussion. If others might think about their subject positions, too, however bland or banal they might seem, they also might begin to recognise that life is not so simple or black and white as they might like it to be.


  2. Ray (novelactivist) June 30, 2012 at 10:18 am #

    Hi Jennifer,

    As you are well aware, the survivors of abuse suffer various degrees of post traumatic stress disorder. There are patterns of behaviour linked to PTSD, some of which lead the victim to themselves become an abuser. I’m very interested in this area and admire the work of Dr Robert Sapolsky into the neurobiology of stress. He studied Baboon societies and found that the alpha males used trauma and stress as a control mechanism. He uncovered this due to an extraordinary event. The troop he had been studying came across a food dump and, true to form, the alpha males went first and ate infected meat. The result was that all the alpha males died. What happened next was very interesting – the females and beta males took over but did not repeat the pattern of abuse.

    The lesson here is that we need to tackle the cause of abuse where it first occurs. Why are these refugees fleeing in the first place?

    But once it happens we now have a good idea of how to deal with PTSD and it takes some effort. If PTSD is not resolved the pattern of abuse may be easily repeated. One of the symptoms is anger and a lack of control. To be frank, in Melbourne, we now have a problem with gangs of Sudanese boys traumatised by that conflict causing problems (rape, violent assault, etc). They are not getting the help they need.

    This is where we crash into a harsh reality. We do not have the infrastructure to adequately deal with PTSD in the Australian born community, let alone the indigenous (who are massively traumatised).

    It is not enough simply to offer refuge, you must be able to offer healing. If you don’t you simply import future social problems.

    But there’s another problem. Overload. Healing takes time and care and the healer must be careful not to overload – because then they get sick and are unable to help. Every healer limits the number of patients they see. Doctors do it, it’s called triage.

    Unfortunately there is no easy solution. I don’t see the push factors easing up. In fact I see them getting worse. There will be more refugees soon, coming from Syria. As the world’s population increases there will be more economic and environmental refugees. If the global economy collapses, and it is teetering, then it will get worse.

    Can we really afford an open door policy? Yes, we can take more, but how many more? And once you reach the limit, what do you say to those still knocking at your door?l


    • Jennifer Wilson June 30, 2012 at 10:38 am #

      I would like to see regional “processing” centres where people can be speedily moved on to countries that offer asylum, not only Australia. What is required is global action.

      We can train people to work with survivors of trauma, political and domestic, to a far greater degree than we do now. We can also pay them better. This is an investment both in the present and the future. As you say, the push factors are likely to get worse, and we ought to be realistic about that instead of focussing on deterrence as a answer because it isn’t. We should be preparing ourselves to deal with traumatised people, in our own interests. There is no way we are going to be able to just keep people out. So how much better to accept that, and do everything we can to offer healing and a life rather than be faced with intolerable social problems from people who are left traumatised.

      I think this applies to how we deal with traumatised people in our own population as well as refugees. We simply do not have enough professionals to cope with the numbers, and it is costing us enormously, not least in the loss of human potential.


      • Marilyn June 30, 2012 at 8:51 pm #

        Regional processing centers exist, we just can’t be bothered accepting anyone from them.

        and in our context regional means out of sight and out of mind, do not bother us.


    • Hypocritophobe June 30, 2012 at 10:48 am #

      Acknowledging the push factors would be a good start.
      Something Labor struggles with.
      Something the coalition denies.Denial is their forte.


      • paul walter June 30, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

        They know the push factors full well, both sides. To name these push factors means risking incurring the wrath of the 1%- the real causes of the wars are less to do with “protecting freedom” than a desire to control strategic resources and locations.
        We are in Afghanistan fighting with the USA, as with Iraq previously, not out of concern for human rights and the building of a new civilisation, but for the sorts of reasons that our satraps dare not acknowledge.
        Elizabeth, Elisabeth’s US friend, points to the same problem in the ‘states: to yield on influxes from south of the border is to admit a historical problem going back generations and the chequered history of US/ Latin American relations.
        Another settler society, Israel, shows how both the ‘states and Australia would react, if there wasn’t an ocean to protect us from the consequences of our indifference to the “coolie” cultures of post colonial Asia or a desert and a dominant North European culture able to absorb to some degree the Latino influx across the desert into the US.
        In the end, the reality of the West is represented in Israel or Apartheid South Africa.
        It’s the “laager mentality”, the sense of the (comparative) rich being under siege; of the privileged retreating to the castle keep as the black plague and famine ravage the masses beyond the walls.
        Jennifer, I can’t comment on your disclosure, all I’m capable of is an angry fantasy involving your step father, hot needles and hot pokers.


        • Hypocritophobe June 30, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

          “We are in Afghanistan fighting with the USA,” I know it’s pedantic Paul but I think we are fighting ‘for’ the Yanks.We always do.The cause is always outweighed by an enshrined and insane duty,which increasingly imperils us.
          (Politically and spiritually)
          Loyalty needs to be more than payback.It must come with the principles and values of our people, (currently being trashed by the media and politicians) and always underpinned by basic humanities.
          Iraq was/is the exact opposite, and I suspect the same could be transposed onto Afghanistan.
          A waste of lives.I cannot imagine any ‘honest’ person in or out of the military praising our involvement there.Even proud WW2 vets are insulted by this misadventure.

          “In the end, the reality of the West is represented in Israel or Apartheid South Africa.” Very poignant and fully applicable.


        • Ray (novelactivist) June 30, 2012 at 2:05 pm #


          Why do you isolate this problem to that of the rich West versus the rest? Sometimes there are internal conflicts that have nothing to do with Western colonialism. The Hazara of Afghanistan aren’t fleeing to Australia because of the Western invasion but because of persecution by the Pashtun.

          If the West is such a bad place why do refugees want to come here? Sure, our wealth certainly has a good deal to do with it, but it is also because we are actually more accepting and tolerant.

          Btw, how many South Vietnamese collaborators fled when America lost the war?

          I am also unsure of the meaning of your Israel reference. If I recall my history correctly militant Palestinians violently objected to accepting Jewish refugees, with some vowing to push them back into the sea. Is that how we should treat refugees?


  3. Hypocritophobe June 30, 2012 at 10:39 am #

    Firstly I am deeply sorry for your pain Jennifer,but enormously proud of who you are,which is testament to your spirit. Your ‘self’.That girl.

    That girl has become a healer and teacher,herself.You.

    I think that those who experience these unacceptable,inhumanities,assaults crimes and victimisation are often seen standing up to the bullies, and standing up for the down trodden,underdogs etc.

    I have this theory that there are far more heinous life experiences in our community, than our society would know.
    And as you have demonstrated in your life ,there are far more brave and heroic teachers and healers who are the ‘equal and opposite’ to that pain.
    (Not many in our Parliament)
    Be proud little Archie!
    Keep up the good fight JW.
    You are not alone.


  4. Elizabeth June 30, 2012 at 11:34 am #

    I am visiting from Elisabeth’s blog. As an American, I am ignorant of the asylum issues you have so eloquently spoken of here, but I’m assuming that they are similar to the constant, hideous debate in our country about immigration. I find your writing here — your comparisons and explanations — extremely persuasive and powerful and hope they will find a wide, supportive audience. It takes an incredibly courageous person to so beautifully express an intensely painful personal story and then send it outward so that others may not just share it but actually be witnesses and, perhaps recognize in your plight the plight of others. Thank you.


    • Jennifer Wilson June 30, 2012 at 12:18 pm #

      Thank you for visiting and for your words.


      • hudsongodfrey June 30, 2012 at 12:52 pm #

        There is warmth in yours why would I not wish to visit 🙂

        The same warmth we could be understood to wish extended perhaps?


  5. Jacinta O'Callaghan June 30, 2012 at 12:03 pm #

    Ohh my goodness is that YOUR story?? Whoevers story, it is both heartbreaking & courageous. And yes you don’t have to live another prtson’s life to have compassion you just need emotional intelligence & imagination. Inspiring stuff.


  6. hudsongodfrey June 30, 2012 at 12:09 pm #


    It does not suffice to say how sorry I am to hear of what was done to you. And it strikes me as both unfortunate and necessary that we should need somehow to gain some kind of perspective on the relative degrees of trauma that mankind bestow on one another in so many different circumstances.

    Much as we’re often loathe to dwell on it the nature and prevalence of serious trauma in people’s lives is I think under-acknowledged in a society like ours that seems too want to shove it aside and get on with things while matters are never fully resolved. How we like to watch those predictably paced police dramas where the bad guys always get caught. How many of us have the lived experience of an injustice that others never see. I have often been touched as now by the survival stories of people whose past I’d no idea about..

    A Chinese family who fled the Japanese and then the Communists survived by eating roots and leaves.

    A kindly older woman at the market whose tattoo is occasionally visible.

    A friend and colleague who came here by boat witnessed cannibalism.

    A Japanese family who survived Nagasaki.

    Maybe trauma is relative and omnipresent in each of us who makes our own mountains out of molehills. A generation or more of Billions lived and continues to live with the threat of nuclear annihilation, so we know all too well the trick of putting aside our fears and horrors as we must in order to remain functional in the presence of ordinary reassuring mundanity.

    Are we then inured to the plight of others? That is the question well asked and morally answered by you. The need to help others being the symptom of empathy and recognition in that sense that it helps ourselves with our own traumas, be they large or small.

    And it is with that in mind that I get the feeling Australians are perhaps a little too fortunate to understand the meaning of these things, and too complacent as a result. It comes across as bigotry and selfishness but the truth may be that we never see such a person or group without recognising that absence of empathy that is so thoroughly pitiful and pitiable. It is a shame for them as it is for those they would have us put out of sight and out of mind.


    • Jennifer Wilson June 30, 2012 at 12:20 pm #

      Thank you HG. I count myself privileged to have friends such as you and others who come here to Sheep.


    • Ray (novelactivist) June 30, 2012 at 4:41 pm #


      There is much evidence that trauma has become normalised. Sometime back in the neolithic people discovered they could prosper by raiding other people, stealing their food and enslaving them. We are looking at thousands of years of cruelty, war and trauma.

      We are now just beginning to understand the neurophysiology of stress and trauma. It ‘objectively’ damages us in many ways, physically, emotionally and psychologically. One of the effects of sustained stress is damage to brain cells.

      The thing that helps heal the damaging effects of the cocktail of stress hormones is the steady release of the pleasure hormones. This is objectively measurable.

      One of the psychological effects of trauma is a loss of empathy. People who suffer from PTSD can become very hard and unsympathetic.

      My view is that the patterns of abuse and trauma are deeply embedded in our culture and most of us are affected and neurotic as a result. Such a society despises the very thing that will reverse the trend – pleasure.


      • annodyne June 30, 2012 at 5:16 pm #

        Ray, in support of your point ‘People who suffer from PTSD can become very hard ‘ :
        and the Meat & Livestock Board is very happy that refugee Sudanese machete wielders have adapted well to work at the abbattoirs of Victoria’s Western District.,
        and children with rough drunken parents become crims, and
        the very young men who went away to WW1, WW2, and the American War on Vietnam, came back really screwed up, and
        I saw a cartoon commenting on post 9/11 New York City –
        “I just can’t deal with anyone who isn’t on anti-depressants”;

        but my own PTSD has manifested in the opposite direction. Very like the mood one has after getting a Positive cancer test result – love everybody, be kind to losers, give away even clothes off your own back to help anyone in need. not Christian, but definitely Hippie. peace and love man.


        • paul walter July 2, 2012 at 10:42 am #

          How did I miss this?
          Brutally, impeccably put, annodyne.
          You make a lot of sense to me, a lot of the time.


      • hudsongodfrey June 30, 2012 at 6:06 pm #

        I think I saw something on TV the other day that back that up Ray. A treatment for PTSD that involves getting patients to write their stories down in detail and then subsequently attend sessions where they’re given a some kind of calming drug and asked to re-read their story in effect reliving the remembered events. The patients reported that it was marvellously effective. Which if true only goes to show how we’re still learning about the human brain.

        Mind you I used to think that the brain was the most interesting part of the human body, but then I realised….Look what’s telling me that!


  7. Hypocritophobe June 30, 2012 at 12:27 pm #

    I know it’s not Cohen,but this song comes to mind when I reflect on our shallow and hypocritical parliament on display this week,and pretty much ever since Abbott darkened our lives with his caustic misery.

    XTC- Senses Working Overtime
    Songwriters: PARTRIDGE, ANDY

    Hey, hey,
    The clouds are whey.
    There’s straw for the donkeys,
    And the innocents can all sleep safely,
    All sleep safely.

    My, my,
    Sun is pie.
    There’s fodder for the cannons,
    And the guilty ones can all sleep safely,
    All sleep safely.

    And all the world is football-shaped
    It’s just for me to kick in space
    And I can see, hear, smell, touch, taste
    And I’ve got one, two, three, four, five
    Senses working overtime
    Trying to take this all in.
    I’ve got one, two, three, four, five
    Senses working overtime
    Trying to taste the difference
    ‘Tween a lemon and a lime
    Pain and the pleasure
    And the church bells softly chime.

    Hey hey,
    Night fights day.
    There’s food for the thinkers,
    And the innocents can all live slowly,
    All live slowly.
    My, my,
    The sky will cry
    Jewels for the thirsty,
    And the guilty one’s can all die slowly ,
    All die slowly.

    And all the world is biscuit-shaped,
    It’s just for me to feed my face,
    And I can see, hear, smell, touch, taste,
    And I’ve got one, two, three, four, five,
    Senses working overtime
    Trying to take this all in.
    I’ve got one, two, three, four, five,
    Senses working overtime
    Trying to taste the difference,
    ‘Tween a lemon and a lime,
    Pain and the pleasure,
    And the church bells softly chime,

    And birds might fall from black skies,
    And bullies might give you black eyes,
    And busses might skid on black ice,
    But to me it’s very, very beautiful ˇ
    (England’s glory!)
    Beautiful ˇ
    (A striking beauty!)

    And all the world is football-shaped,
    It’s just for me to kick in space,
    And I can see, hear, smell, touch, taste,
    And I’ve got one, two, three, four, five,
    Senses working overtime
    Trying to take this all in
    I’ve got one, two, three, four, five
    Senses working overtime
    Trying to tell the difference
    ‘Tween the goods and grime
    Turds and treasure
    And there’s one, two, three, four, five
    Senses working overtime
    Trying to take this all in
    I’ve got one, two, three, four, five
    Senses working overtime
    Trying to taste the difference
    ‘Tween a lemon and a lime
    Pain and the pleasure,
    And the church bells softly chime.


  8. hudsongodfrey June 30, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

    A second thing I could comment upon though I know little of the psychology behind it is the apparent disinterest victims often take in their tormentors, when at some point a line is crossed beyond which notions of revenge and justice seem to pale.

    We ought at least to say somewhere that there are people waging wars or attempting genocide against these refugees. And that these behaviours ought to be stopped somehow.

    Not only that but it seems more important to prevent this and better where possible to restore what damage we can by providing a framework whereby some people can return whence they were displaced if it becomes safe to do so, provided that they want to.

    We could give up fighting wars and get rid of religions tomorrow if only we could agree….

    In the meantime and in practical terms we have no asylum seeker crisis, just a crisis of conscience and some terrible maritime tragedies as a by product of our little boat phobias. If we are ashamed of this as we should be then we are perhaps not alone in this shame. It should be shared by Indonesia, and by every other nation including those whom these people fled from in the first place. And yet we are singularly well placed to help in a way that others may be unable or have been unwilling to.

    The figures are clear. I feel like I want to get Abbott and Gillard to an old fashioned Mafia clam bar sir down with a round table concealed weapons and a baseball bat. There are maybe 4,000 plus known refugees and 10,000 more. We process them where they are in Indonesia and we take them, because we can, and because its the right thing to do, and because who knows they may just work out okay as migrants. We did !?


    • Jennifer Wilson June 30, 2012 at 6:40 pm #

      This is an important point for survivors – when we realise we have no interest in the perpetrators, no desire for revenge, nothing. We have left them to their fate. It takes some time. But it feels so good to say “I leave you to your fate.”


      • hudsongodfrey June 30, 2012 at 6:54 pm #

        While acknowledging of course that we can’t leave others to the same fate at the said of such perpetrators, as far as the victims go I agree wholeheartedly. In fact its one of the great problems with any legal system to avoid holding out the prospect of revenge to victims because of the time it takes to pursue justice through the courts and the delay that often means to victims need to heal and get on with the rest of their lives.


  9. Ann O'Dyne June 30, 2012 at 12:46 pm #

    enormous love from me dear JW. I understand every single word you wrote, more than you would think.
    I have noticed frequently that those in need of nurture themselves, are the ones who can give it so willingly.
    I am in favor of accepting the strong brave refugees who risk everything to escape their horrors, and would not want to turn away a woman, just because of some Sudanese teens who have not assimilated (their violence no worse than plenty of INexcusable violence from teen Whiteys btw). I have seen The Lost Boys film, and taken part in Victorian Sudanese assimilation personally. Faults on both sides I assure everyone.


  10. 8 Degrees of Latitude June 30, 2012 at 2:07 pm #

    What shits me most (after the dumb-bell-like political response to the problem from both sides of politics) is that a whole “crisis” has been manufactured out of a very finite number. We are encouraged to take the view that Australia is under siege. As an exercise in crass small-mindedness it just about takes the cake.

    And I know it’s rare on your Blog, Jennifer, but I state this for the record and in the hope that randomly passing persons of the same persuasion might pause and think about all this: I’m a conservative, politically.

    Thank you for writing on this topic and in so confronting a way. A noise must be made.


    • Jennifer Wilson June 30, 2012 at 6:35 pm #

      Yes, a noise must be made in the best way we can find to do it, Richard. Thank you.


  11. annodyne June 30, 2012 at 2:12 pm #

    CRIKEY SUBSCRIBER / Richard Farmer / Friday, 29 June 2012

    If the good prospect of drowning is not a sufficient deterrent to stop asylum seekers trying to reach Australia by sea I find it hard to think what would be


  12. Mindy June 30, 2012 at 3:21 pm #


    firstdogonmoon says it well (www.crikey.com.au/firstdog Title of cartoon is ‘then where will we be’)

    @Jennifer, I can’t imagine the courage it took to survive that and to talk about it now. All I can offer is (((hugs))) if that is okay. You are an incredible woman.


    • Jennifer Wilson June 30, 2012 at 6:34 pm #

      I just love this firstdog cartoon.It says everything.
      Hugs are lovely. Thank you.


  13. doug quixote June 30, 2012 at 5:05 pm #

    Oh, Jennifer what can one say? I knew that you had had a dreadful childhood, but the details are truly frightful. You have of course my best wishes and support. I think you are courageous and resilient beyond words to express. My eyes are wet.


  14. hudsongodfrey June 30, 2012 at 6:37 pm #

    George Carlin on PTSD in another context


    I don’t like words that hide the truth. I don’t like words that conceal reality. I don’t like euphemisms, or euphemistic language. And American English is loaded with euphemisms. Cause Americans have a lot of trouble dealing with reality. Americans have trouble facing the truth, so they invent the kind of a soft language to protect themselves from it, and it gets worse with every generation. For some reason, it just keeps getting worse. I’ll give you an example of that.

    There’s a condition in combat. Most people know about it. It’s when a fighting person’s nervous system has been stressed to it’s absolute peak and maximum. Can’t take anymore input. The nervous system has either (click) snapped or is about to snap.

    In the first world war, that condition was called shell shock. Simple, honest, direct language. Two syllables, shell shock. Almost sounds like the guns themselves.

    That was seventy years ago. Then a whole generation went by and the second world war came along and very same combat condition was called battle fatigue. Four syllables now. Takes a little longer to say. Doesn’t seem to hurt as much. Fatigue is a nicer word than shock. Shell shock! Battle fatigue.

    Then we had the war in Korea, 1950. Madison avenue was riding high by that time, and the very same combat condition was called operational exhaustion. Hey, we’re up to eight syllables now! And the humanity has been squeezed completely out of the phrase. It’s totally sterile now. Operational exhaustion. Sounds like something that might happen to your car.

    Then of course, came the war in Viet Nam, which has only been over for about sixteen or seventeen years, and thanks to the lies and deceits surrounding that war, I guess it’s no surprise that the very same condition was called post-traumatic stress disorder. Still eight syllables, but we’ve added a hyphen! And the pain is completely buried under jargon. Post-traumatic stress disorder.

    I’ll bet you if we’d of still been calling it shell shock, some of those Viet Nam veterans might have gotten the attention they needed at the time. I’ll betcha. I’ll betcha.

    Frankly while I feel that the term PTSD is totally appropriate to survivors on domestic abuse and don’t want to stray off topic in that sense there is an objection here that Carlin is making to the use of what he sees and weasel words centring on around the idea that when we send our soldiers out to serve our nation we ought at least to take some responsibility for the consequences that has for them. I wonder if people might feel similarly that the traumatisation of Afghan people in particular has something to do with a war we participated in over there in pursuit of our “national interests”.

    The weasel words we use today are different. We call them irregular or unauthorised boat arrivals or try to characterise applying for asylum as an illegal act. Hell we even lock ’em up for it. But if we called them victims of Taliban, or former allies seeking refuge maybe that would frame a different rhetoric…I’ll betcha. I’ll betcha.


    • Elisabeth June 30, 2012 at 8:41 pm #

      In response to George Carlin’s quote, I agree, with him and HudsonGodfrey, we’ve normalized trauma with all our weasel words. We keep on doing it and I feel shame at my own failure to rise above it.

      Alan Young writes about the history of PTSD and the ways in which such notions have evolved out of our understanding of trauma, particularly in response to war trauma.

      Young offers a telling example of the treatment of traumatic symptoms arising from such pathology after the First World War. He quotes the neurologist, Lewis Yealland who was ‘interested in wills rather than minds’. Yealland believed that a higher intelligence in the doctor should do battle with the lesser power of the symptom in the patient, which he considered not in emotional but in somatic terms.

      In 1918 to support his claims, Yealland wrote a detailed account of his work with a twenty four year old private. This soldier who had already gone through nine major encounters on the western front later became overwhelmed by the heat while fighting in Salonika and fell unconscious for several hours. When he woke up he was shaking all over and could not speak. For nine months the soldier was treated in a variety of ways ‘including electricity, hypnotism and “hot plates” applied to the back of the mouth’.

      Yealland reports in detail on a bout of such treatment. He took the soldier into the ‘electrical room’, then locked the door with a key, pulled the blinds shut and closed off all the lights, except a dim glow from the battery bulbs. First he attached one electrode to the soldier’s spine, then another onto the back of his throat. Next Yealland said to the soldier, ‘You will not leave this room until you are talking as well as you ever did; no, not before.’ Then he applied a current to the back of the soldier’s throat.

      The force was so great the soldier leapt from his chair detaching the wires. Yealland continued the treatment for four hours during which he repeatedly applied electric shocks to the back of his patient’s throat, commanding him each time to say ‘ah’. Eventually the soldier was not only able to do this, he could in fact repeat the names of the week, months and year. By now Yealland reports his patient had been ‘pleased with himself’ and was ready to leave, but the neurologist persisted: ‘Remember, there is no way out, except by the return of the proper voice and the door. You have one key, I have the other; when you talk properly I shall open the door so you can go back to bed.’ With a smile he [the soldier] stammered, ‘I believe you have both keys – go and finish me up.’

      Yealland’s report to me reads like a torture trial. The reader is left wondering whether the patient’s smile at the end of treatment is not one of relief, but of compliance, like that of a person suffering some version of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’, a condition whereby a captive person becomes identified with his captor, not as his enemy but as his friend.

      Presumably, at a conscious level, Yealland believed his treatment was appropriate, helpful and humane. The inherent difficulty in such treatment, over and above its cruelty, rests in the assumption that trauma can be cured.

      Sorry for this long diversion but I want to make the point that often our attempts to help those who have been traumatised can be more abusive than helpful, in part because we can’t bear to recognise the truth of that experience and so, as HG suggests, and as Jennifer illustrates, we invent words and ways of getting around our abuse in the face of trauma.


      • hudsongodfrey June 30, 2012 at 9:06 pm #

        Thanks Elisabeth,

        What a thoughtful reply. Elsewhere in this page Ray and I discussed some more modern and helpful treatments, but if you want the ethical take on it then in my view its always wrong to think that if something can be cured then risking exposing people to injury is somehow made okay.


  15. doug quixote June 30, 2012 at 6:55 pm #

    Of course they are desperate and of course they will keep coming. BTW not all of them are from Afghanistan, many are Tamils, many are from Iraq, Iran and Pakistan; quite a few of those are pretending to be Afghans, and many are rejected.

    That doesn’t mean they are not desperate, just that they probably will not qualify as refugees under the convention.

    There are no good solutions, only less-bad ‘solutions’.

    Part of the frustration of the left is that the right are blocking any reasonable efforts at a less-bad solution, and the Greens sit on their hands on the high ground, and reject all half a loaf compromises; virtuous, but totally impractical. So what is new?


    • hudsongodfrey June 30, 2012 at 7:02 pm #

      I think that what is new is that we have an ostensibly left government who are resisting an egalitarian position, and favouring a version of watered down Hansonism.


      • Hypocritophobe June 30, 2012 at 7:19 pm #

        Quite so.
        And look what labor said of Howard’s policies, and how differently they would do things.They have had years to find their hearts,They have failed because of their dream of an alliance with voters who would never cross the line in their direction.Blaming the greens is a cop out of the highest order I’m afraid.
        If it looks like a football,smells like a football and is filled with air,it is probably a football.In this case a green one.


        • doug quixote June 30, 2012 at 8:46 pm #

          The salient point is that governments adopt the bureaucracy’s position, and that does not change unless there are mass sackings/sideways promotions, at the very least at the top.

          Rudd failed miserably to change any of the top bureaucrats : witness the likes of Godwin Grech. Some, like Ken Henry were probably worth keeping. The entire ABC Board should have been sacked and senior management as well, to reverse the Howard intervention, which is Howard’s lasting legacy.

          May we suspect that something similar exists in the Department of Immigration? With a minority government the reforms and sackings required are probably in the too-hard basket. The administration needs a thorough shake up.

          Don’t expect silk purses from sows’ ears.


          • Hypocritophobe June 30, 2012 at 9:04 pm #

            Those observations are probably correct DQ.
            But blaming the greens (that is not levelled at you personally) is a convenient cop out for those who have sat/do sit on very fat,very cold hands.

            There was a time when Labor treated political expediency (bureaucratic dictatorship) with constructive disdain.
            I am sure the right wing media has not helped, but sometimes standing up for what you believe in resonates, empowers restores connections.Labor has partially (in a very small way) achieved that.But they are morphing into something which is more Liberal than Labor.

            If the fair go WERE a football, who do you think has hold of it at this moment?
            Or as many of us think,did Howard kick it over the fence?
            Personally I think the greens went and fetched it, and are doing their best to patch it up.(while Labor eyed themselves off in the mirror with their flash new Canberra Chameleons guernseys) Only as we know,this is really not a game, at all.


      • doug quixote June 30, 2012 at 8:35 pm #

        Which egalitarian position is that?


        • hudsongodfrey June 30, 2012 at 8:56 pm #

          Well if I had to guess…the one that says…
          An accident of birth shouldn’t be the main determinant of privilege in the world.

          If I had to pick people politically closely aligned to this, then Ellis, Burnside and others have their hearts in the right places I think.


          • doug quixote June 30, 2012 at 9:39 pm #

            We’ll have to agree to differ on this one HG. I think that we are entitled to our birthright. My parents and grandparents and their parents helped to build this country, and to defend it in time of war. They paid their taxes and so do I and I say that we Australians shall decide who comes to Australia and the conditions under which they come and not otherwise : Not while there is blood in my veins and breath in my body.

            If that sounds like Howard, it is coincidental as he sought to tap into a rich vein of patriotism and nationalism.

            Ask the citizens of any wealthy country whether the citizens of the poor country next door should be able to walk in and access their hospital and health system, get their public housing and use their libraries and take their jobs.

            And then get back to me.


            • Hypocritophobe June 30, 2012 at 9:59 pm #


              I wonder what the ‘abos’ thought of your ancestors good work and you current philosophy on birthrights?


            • hudsongodfrey June 30, 2012 at 10:42 pm #

              If the disparity is maintained by means that are basically inequitable as is often the case then I think that there’s a case to be made for levelling the playing field on any number of ;levels that don’t have to be exploitative.

              Otherwise we’re not just taking advantage of an accident of birth that fails to promote meritorious endeavour, we’re actually perpetuating it to our great shame.


            • hudsongodfrey June 30, 2012 at 10:57 pm #

              Anyway Doug, one of the overriding factors in this debate is really the numbers. The fear that many more than we could take are liable to respond to so called “pull factors” is unfounded. And if ethics mean anything then saving people from drowning is paramount, and the best way to do that in the short term isn’t to deter but rather to facilitate safe passage.

              Maybe at least we can agree on that much, because I think the numbers are likely to simply exhaust themselves in our region provided we process the backlog. One can never be 100% sure but when we’re talking 4200, UNHCR recognised plus another 10,000 in camps in Indonesia I think its a do-able thing that’s going to go at least some way to restoring Australia’s credibility as a regional force for good and a domestically multicultural success.


              • doug quixote July 1, 2012 at 7:15 am #

                I’m happy to let say 20,000 a year in, so long as they are properly vetted and are willing to abide by our laws and customs, in due course.


                • hudsongodfrey July 1, 2012 at 9:22 am #

                  The facts are Doug that they only really have to abide by our laws. Customs to me are a matter of culture and basically I think we benefit from multiculturalism even if a few regressive types do tend to talk it down of late.

                  As for the numbers, we take 180,000 odd people per year in the overall migration programs, and we know that we took numbers up to 20,000 a year as far back as the 40’s, and again in the 70’s when the Vietnamese refugee crisis happened. Our population having grown 20,000 is now a proportionally modest number. But being far larger than the compliment of people awaiting some kind of resolution to their status in Indonesia I agree it would make a very good start.


                • Marilyn July 1, 2012 at 3:17 pm #

                  What a self righteous wanker you really are Doug. Vetted? What like frigging horses?

                  We don’t vet the 13 million other people who come here every year or the 50,000 or so who forget to go home because they like the weather.

                  How though can you expect anyone to obey our laws when we consistently try to break them.

                  Who the hell do you really think you are? You don’t even get to choose who lives next door.


                  • doug quixote July 1, 2012 at 3:27 pm #

                    vetting : “Vetting is a process of examination and evaluation, generally referring to performing a background check on someone before offering them employment, conferring an award,”

                    Please do me the courtesy of learning the language before accusing me of something.


                    • Marilyn July 1, 2012 at 4:30 pm #

                      But they are no applying for a fucking job, they are asking for protection from persecution in other countries.

                      Don’t try to be cretinous.


                  • Jennifer Wilson July 1, 2012 at 4:43 pm #

                    I don’t want to cramp your robust style, Marilyn and I hope every one else isn’t too offended by it. If you are, please say so. 🙂


                    • doug quixote July 1, 2012 at 4:57 pm #

                      Not at all, Jennifer; Marilyn and I are rather like siblings arguing the toss. I know she means well, and that is a lot. There are some out there who are merely destructive.


            • hudsongodfrey June 30, 2012 at 11:17 pm #

              And if Clive Palmer can get it right….?



              • Hypocritophobe June 30, 2012 at 11:33 pm #

                The ‘Greens are CIA puppets’ Clive Palmer, HG?
                Vote shopping is alive and well.
                The jury is well out on this blokes motivation/integrity.


                • hudsongodfrey June 30, 2012 at 11:41 pm #

                  I’ve no doubt that’s true from what I’ve ever seen of the guy. His behaviour around the QLD election in particular was disgraceful. But we you can’t give some modicum of credit where it is due then we’re just not thinking for ourselves, and this is NPFS after all 🙂


            • Marilyn July 1, 2012 at 12:10 am #

              Oh my god, what facist garbage.


              • doug quixote July 1, 2012 at 10:13 am #

                No, not fascist, though the fascists try to exploit and pervert patriotism and nationalism for their own ends. I would support the nationalisation of most of the important industries and services which have been outsourced over the years – is that communist? I don’t think so.

                I am under no necessity to be consistent; I’ll leave that can of worms to the politicians to enjoy.


    • Marilyn June 30, 2012 at 9:14 pm #

      No, you didn’t understand what they were actually debating.

      They were debating the ministers right to dump these people in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Sri Lanka and others under the pretext that these countries attended Bali conferences.

      No legal rights, no right to apply for asylum and no explanation ever given.

      Go to Eureka Street and see Frank Brennan”s break down of it.

      It was a bill to allow mass murder.


  16. Marilyn June 30, 2012 at 9:11 pm #

    there is a massive epidemic of what Jennifer describes in homes all over this nation where 1 in 3 girls are abused and 1 in 5 boys, it is in the churches, the salvos, the schools and everywhere one looks. Look at three teenage girls together and one will have been abused.

    In my family there are three girls. One was acceptable as the oldest and spoilt rotten, the third was considered too ugly and unimportant to worry about too much and was largely ignored.

    The middle one made the mistake of daring to be born without a dick, daring to be smart and rebellious against all restraints. Her first question was why, she never simply accepted what she was told and so the suffering was all hers.

    Her mother was a pill junkie narcissist who spent her entire life inventing new diseases she needed new pills for and hurting that middle girl, the girl who also the smallest. She pushed her out of a high chair at 18 months and split her face open, she slammed all her fingers in car and cupboard doors and they all now face north by northwest because the breaks were never set. X-rays showed the small finger on the left hand had been broken and not set 15 times before she broke it playing netball when she was 16.

    When she got her first job with a chiropodist he x-rayed her feet to why the toes were all bent and discovered that every toe had been broken multiple times by the mother jumping up and down on them and then telling the neighbours she was clumsy.

    My mother did this to me, she drove us when she was pilled off her brain with uppers and downers, she had munchausen by proxy with my younger sister and almost killed both of us by inventing different diseases for us to suffer. She had this lovely habit of waiting until dear drunk daddy came home to whinge about all our misdemeanours and then laughed like a loon when he beat us all over our bare arses just in case we needed it.

    My father was a cruel man. He started to molest me from the time I was 5 but I didn’t understand until I was 8 and tried to fight him. My mother caught him, instead of protecting me she stayed in that home. He beat her unconscious that night and many others, he molested and finger fucked me until I was almost 13.

    He beat us with razor strops, with belt buckles, golf spikes, his fists and anything else he could get hold of and then kicked us all out of home at 15 to fend for ourselves.

    That would have been fine but with me my parents sent me to board with a total stranger after telling them I was a liar and thief who made up stories.

    The times I tried to tell? I told the headmaster when I was 12 and his only response was to force me home for lying and swearing.

    I told the Anglican priest and he said my father was good because they played golf together on the course my father helped to maintain with inheritance money stolen from my mother.

    The police man was doing the same – in fact the entire town knew and most of the fathers were diddling their kids.

    My father only stopped when I was almost 13 and he offered to show me how babies were made because he loved me the best and didn’t want some boy to do it.

    In those days it was standard practice – I went to a party with a boyfriend when I was just turned 17 and his father turned up and told that boy to dump me because I rooted my father.

    So while not as repulsive as Jennifers story, I have certainly got a great deal of experience of torture.

    Hundreds of us were asked at a refugee meeting one day if we understood or had every suffered torture and I was even scoffed at by the audience for putting up my hand.

    When I see the flint filled hateful faces of Morrison, Gillard, Bowen and co I see my screaming psycho parents.

    My mother left me alone when I handed her a bottle of pills and told her to take them because I did not care about her anorexic blackmail or death threats anymore.

    So essentially I have been alone since I was 5 without one person ever giving a damn.

    My older sister bewails my abuse, not because she cares but because it didn’t seem fair because she was as pretty as me.

    My younger sister denies it while telling me about how our grandfather used to finger fuck her while driving around the sheep.

    He did that to all of us, my nana took to him with a stock whip when I was 10 and he never touched any of us again.

    So that is my family, lovely aren’t they?


    • doug quixote June 30, 2012 at 9:47 pm #

      A pity your nana hadn’t taken to your father with the stockwhip as well. You have my sympathies, and it happened all too often. Do you see an improvement these days? It seems to me that children are more readily believed and the pedophiles are being weeded out more effectively.


      • Marilyn June 30, 2012 at 10:38 pm #

        Not really, it still goes on in homes all over the country – it’s only against aborigines that they send in the army though when it is the pest holes in the city suburbs and small towns who need to have the army sent in against them to round the fuckers up and deal with them.


        • Hypocritophobe June 30, 2012 at 10:50 pm #

          The indigenous ‘out there’ are sitting on resources and potential nuclear waste sites.


      • paul walter June 30, 2012 at 10:46 pm #

        They are both revolting stories.The wonder is they turned out at all, let alone as the people they are.


    • hudsongodfrey June 30, 2012 at 11:13 pm #

      I’m terribly sorry to read that Marilyn it seems all too common to find that its the people who’re supposed to love us who hurt us the most.

      This reminds me of an anecdote from Billy Connolly’s book. A small aside from an abused childhood was that he was six or so and in school and I think gave him a kiss. It was the first time he could recall being shown any affection whatsoever by another human being.

      To imagine a childhood so utterly without affection seems so utterly desolate as to be simply beyond belief. No wonder he’s so funny, you either laugh or you die under those circumstances I’d imagine.


    • Jennifer Wilson July 1, 2012 at 7:15 am #

      I can’t speak for you, Marilyn, but for myself, even though it’s hard to speak/write about these things, every time I manage it I feel as if I’ve liberated myself from a powerful societal ban that says even though I was the innocent I’m tainted by the vile actions of others, and shouldn’t talk about them because they reflect badly on me. Well, fuck that. I don’t have to live in the shame of another’s actions.

      I also think it is marvellous that both Marilyn and I can put our experience of desperation to good use in our understanding of and campaigning for asylum seekers. Turning our muck into something a little more like gold. We bear witness, for ourselves and others.

      Interestingly, my mother and half sisters also treated me horribly, as if I had somehow taken away their husband/father’s attention away from them! Family dynamics.


      • Elisabeth July 1, 2012 at 10:14 am #

        ‘I can’t speak for you, Marilyn, but for myself, even though it’s hard to speak/write about these things, every time I manage it I feel as if I’ve liberated myself from a powerful societal ban that says even though I was the innocent I’m tainted by the vile actions of others, and shouldn’t talk about them because they reflect badly on me. Well, fuck that. I don’t have to live in the shame of another’s actions.’

        I’m with you both here Jennifer and Marilyn. I write about my father abuse as I witnessed it against a sister and every time I speak/write about it people ask whether I have the right to mention her. She has told me she wants me to tell the story but others say I must not bear witness to her experience or my own for that matter without violating some law.

        I cannot fully understand why it is that others who have been abused should somehow, as you say Jennifer, bear the stain as if they are the abusers and yet it happens again and again.

        Whenever you write about your experience of such terrible events that happened to you, others react as though they cannot bear to hear. As if they do not want to know.

        We talk about asylum seekers and we talk about child/sexual abuse in one breath because we are in some senses abusing them buy our behaviour.

        It might seem a simplistic connection but I think about the way people turned a blind eye during the second world war to the plight of the Jews and the homosexuals and the gypsies and the handicapped, those who were at that time deemed inferior. The way we do now. It scares me.


        • Hypocritophobe July 1, 2012 at 10:55 am #

          there is a bit more to it than that,I believe.
          I can feel a genuine pain when I hear of these events because of my own, and my families life experiences, and I hope through empathy.In my case, I also fear a secondary impact as the victims revisit the events.(It may be an unfounded fear,it seems.)
          That is not to say I am saying people should suppress their stories, but as my clumsy way of wanting to limit ‘further’ possible harm.

          There may of course be those who simply don’t want to hear these things at all, (stories of true desperation) and the refugee debate confirms there are many,that way inclined…
          What I do know is that there is a consistent theme in the victims of these events,(as described here-and who ‘do’ speak out) whereby the victims almost always,act out of,protecting others from sharing the same fate.(Not for revenge) Offering a preventative measure,to counteract the protection they never got.?
          It is a hard subject for me(probably many others,too) to articulate.
          What these (cathartic ?) outs do is way behind selfless and generous IMO.
          It does/must have a rippling healing effect.I consider that your stories will change people for the better.Some, more than others.

          The stories of your journeys, as hard as they are to read, are in some ways a priceless gift to the reader.A catalyst.

          Thank you all.


          • Jennifer Wilson July 1, 2012 at 4:40 pm #

            No, it isn’t an unfounded fear, Hypo. I think it can be terribly damaging for someone to be forced to revisit trauma. That should never happen. But one of the things I’ve learned is that the world won’t change to protect my sensitivities, and I always have to make the choice to deal with what distresses me or hide away, depending on how strong I am at the time. I’ve done a good deal of hiding away till I could face something. Still do!


        • hudsongodfrey July 1, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

          It is an interesting and difficult juxtaposition we make when comparisons are drawn between human rights violations that for the most part speak to physical abuses and the overwhelmingly psychological impact of sexual abuse. Which is not to say that trauma after the fact is anything but psychological in both cases. In fact it is and I think they’re possibly more similar than we think because of that fact.

          It seems clear that cultural taboos and other aspects of other people’s attitudes are massively unhelpful towards the victims of sexual abuse. I wonder that in some parts of the eternal debate around migration in Australia that has lately focused on asylum seekers there aren’t similarly a range of ingrained social stigmas that disrupt people’s natural inclination towards sympathising with the victims of traumatic events.

          I wonder if we aren’t for the most part somehow more sympathetic with the nature of what is wrong with physical abuse. Whereas sexual abuse of children is incomprehensible to many people on a level that we probably find hard to understand. It becomes difficult to sympathise with the victim in part because we can’t empathise with the perpetrator in the sense that we may need to in order to comprehend the true nature of the crime and its motives.

          Similarly if we bury our heads in the sand around the asylum seeker issues then I think we’re creating the mindset for ourselves that facilitates our selfish urges to ignore their plight.


        • Marilyn July 1, 2012 at 3:20 pm #

          Up until I was 36 my fucking mother was still accusing me of stealilng her husband and deserving to be finger fucked and abused because I wore skimpy clothes after she bought them when I was 8 years old.

          I have not willingly spoken to the woman since and refuse to let my own daughter and grand daughters have anything to do with her because she is as evil as he is.


        • paul walter July 1, 2012 at 3:52 pm #

          I agree with you Elisabeth. We have to “wear” it as long as the ones we couldn’t or wouldn’t protect “wear” it.
          Injustice can’t be allowed to pass unremarked.


          • Elisabeth July 1, 2012 at 4:41 pm #

            And here I might put in a plea for the desire for revenge, given I’ve just finished a PhD on the subject. I reckon vengeful feelings are not always bad. We see them in the cut and thrust of argument among these comments. Someone says something that hurts us and we want to hit back – with words.

            I’m not talking about enactments of revenge that go into violence and destruction, but more allowing ourselves to know about our traumas, our pain and hurts, our shame and rage and letting ourselves turn the tables as it were – if only in our imaginations – on those who have hurt us.

            The psychiatrist, Salman Akhtar argues that some revenge is helpful for the ‘victim’- I use the word guardedly – in so far as it redresses the imbalance. Through a desire for revenge the victim is able to shift from a position of helpless passivity to a more active one, leading to an increased sense of mastery.

            I suspect that’s what we do when we write about our experience of being abused. We expose the emperor as having no clothes. We upend the usual conspiracies of silence brought about through social taboos, stigma and the sort of inertia which HG so beautifully describes, that causes us to turn a blind eye.

            Folks like asylum seekers are so helpless, they probably can’t even dwell on their vengeful desires, because there’s nowhere to take them – even in their imaginations I suspect. They’re most likely hell bent on survival. They’re desperate, as Jennifer writes.


            • hudsongodfrey July 1, 2012 at 7:36 pm #

              Hello Elisabeth,

              Perhaps we have to be careful of revenge if only because should we act upon it or even dwell on the desire to do so then I’ve seen it eat people up and redouble the consequences of being a victim who might otherwise have been innocent. And I’m thinking here of those cases I may have mentioned of people who wait years for justice to eke its way through the courts, particularly from what I’ve seen of US capital cases.

              And anyway should anyone actually act upon it for example to reciprocate what another person has done to them then the only thing that separates the one who retaliates from a psychopath is the fact that we can understand what motivates them. The consequences of their actions however would seem to me to be equally bad.


        • Jennifer Wilson July 1, 2012 at 4:36 pm #

          I don’t think its a simplistic connection, I think it’s the same thing now as it was then. There seem to be humans who need to devalue others in order to be able to value themselves. Thus the scapegoat, whether in private or public life. The scapegoat is a great bonding mechanism. The scapegoat can unite very disparate interests.

          For a long time I did feel tainted and damaged by what was done to me, as if having been in the presence of such vileness couldn’t help but dirty me. I don’t think that anymore. More and more I feel in contact with the person I was before these things happened, before my thinking and emotions were skewed by events. It’s a long, long process. I was lucky to have had seven years of great love and nurturing before these things happened to me. It would be much harder to have never known anything else.


      • paul walter July 1, 2012 at 3:43 pm #

        That’s EXACTLY right Dr Jenny Wilson. YOU weren’t the criminal. Maybe you, Marilyn and other survivors survived on a clear conscience, how should you suffer, when others committed the gross crimes or were complicit in them.
        If I do wrong, my conscience gives me hell, If not, I am at peace.
        The tormentors either have no conscience and are beneath consideration as human, or spend their waking days assailed by their consciences, god willing.


        • Jennifer Wilson July 1, 2012 at 4:45 pm #

          In my experience the tormentors were psychopaths. I mean that as a clinical description.


          • hudsongodfrey July 1, 2012 at 7:25 pm #

            Hello Jennifer,

            Whatever it is there are probably gradations of it because there seems to be a lot of it about and you’d wonder that so many people with the symptoms of a full blown psychopath would otherwise go so unnoticed in society.

            I’d also add that regarding a certain set of behaviours as a disease possibly requires a response involving the development of a cure. But in the meantime the last thing it should do if offer the bastards an excuse to hide behind.

            It seems to me to be going too far to make the mistake of saying that because we cannot understand and therefore empathise (not to sympathise, but to mirror an emotional understanding) with the way these people think , then we say they exhibit a reciprocal incapacity for empathy as an explanation for behaviour that we’d otherwise recognise as purely criminal but for the lack any apparent motive. Whereas I think a failure to empathise does not imply a failure to understand the existence right and wrong or the consequences thereof.

            The idea that we hate what we don’t understand is critically different from whether we need to understand the hateful things others do. Because hatred is such a strong emotion and it is only our own emotions that directly affect ourselves. Unless we feel for and thus try to empathise with someone then their emotional states will always be less important to us than their actions towards us.

            And that’s what makes all your stories all the more heart rending, because far from being able to logically separate the perpetrator and his crimes from your own psyche, like so many of these cases, the tormentors had been family close family members with emotional ties. In other words people you depended on for physical support as well as wanting the emotional connection that was obviously lacking.

            It makes me want to at least hope this isn’t psychopathy that is so widespread within our society, because then at least might be somehow possible to militate against it. The truth is I don’t know, but if it means anything that I sincerely wish that I did then maybe if that desire is genuinely shared some kind of progress will eventually result.


  17. Nick July 1, 2012 at 5:16 am #

    I’m beyond words, Jennifer.

    The positive is that we live in an age – the first ever – where we can talk about all these things freely.


  18. Nick July 1, 2012 at 5:37 am #

    Maybe then we’ll know how we’re supposed to feel.


    • paul walter July 1, 2012 at 3:48 pm #

      We know how we (onlookers) should feel, revolted and ashamed. We have to share their humiliation and pain as best we can, in the hope that this longer rests so heavily on the shoulders of the most innocent, but it is a fitful hope.


      • Nick July 2, 2012 at 2:04 pm #

        Indeed, paul. I should have said learn ‘how to feel’.

        We already know what we should be feeling.

        But we’re like a bunch of badly programmed robots.

        And our politicians are the worst programmed robots of all.

        Witness the explosion of CSI style forensic dramas in the US in the 00s. This from a country currently engaged in war and the wholesale slaughter of 100,000s of human beings overseas…

        What we got, in one of the most perverted artistic responses to murder and rape culture I’ve ever encountered, was hyper-clinical, state-of-the-art-CGI fast-forwarded close-ups of the wounds post-mortem – unfelt and unfeeling, no attempt made to depict the suffering and bleeding of a person still alive – by so-called professionals cracking jokes about each other’s virility and whether they’ve had their morning coffee yet.

        This was no Mash. People barely struggling to hold it together and compensating for their shell-shock through absurdism (hackneyed or not). Nor was it the spooky glamorisation of 1930s flashbulb murder photography. How much back story is allowed in due to the necessity of a long-exposure time…

        It was pure denial. An inability to even recognise that was there something we should be feeling in the first place.


  19. Marilyn July 1, 2012 at 3:21 pm #

    Watch 4 Corners tomorrow night.


  20. Marilyn July 1, 2012 at 4:48 pm #

    And Doug,with all your whinging about vetting would you vet Jennifer and I before you offered help or would you try and catch us out in lies as an excuse to push us away?

    Or the tired old claim that others somewhere else are worse off so we can’t be helped?

    Because 70% of female refugees have been raped and women are 50% of the wórld’s refugees who you think should be vetted or pushed away.

    How about the kids and babies, vet them too? They are not even legally allowed to make an asylum claim on their own behalf, vet them?

    I wonder how many Australian racist facists would pass the vetting processes in other nations.

    I wasn’t going to watch Dumb, Drunk and Racist but am glad to be doing so – it’s devastating.


    • doug quixote July 1, 2012 at 5:07 pm #

      No Marilyn : I’d rather hug you, and Jennifer as well.

      But can we let everyone in? There were 16 million (16,000,000) refugees in 2009 according to the UNHCR. And numbers are not going down.

      For arguments’ sake, say that all 16 million were found a new home. I would bet that another 20 million would replace them straight away as the opportunity was perceived.

      We are a nation of 23 million, and any sort of orderly process requires that we vet the asylum seekers and try to limit their access.

      Anything else is counterproductive and possibly suicidal.


      • hudsongodfrey July 1, 2012 at 6:06 pm #

        Yes Doug but the notion that they’re in numbers any greater than three orders of magnitude smaller than you mentioned is simply apocryphal. Its 16,000 not 16,000,000 that we’re currently looking at.

        What I think that you’re saying about increasing numbers possibly refers to something like Parkinson’s law of demand. So either you’re positing that demand comes from more acts of persecution or you’re simply quite wrongly blurring the line between refugees and migrants. The simple fact of the matter is that the one thing we can do to reduce the presence of refugees in the world today is to act against persecution. Because it remains highly unlikely that any country is going to admit people who aren’t genuine in their need for protection.

        So if you want to take some kind of bigger picture then the first thing I urge you to do is allow us to deal with the current problem of deaths at sea by processing people at the points of embarkation in order to avoid the dangerous sea journeys. And the second in relation to the overall geopolitical picture is to look at how borders sometimes functions quite arbitrarily as delimiters of privilege. We ought to be looking to what opportunities we have either to help or at least to ensure we’re not exploiting others by being in any way repressive when we conclude that we’re unwilling or unable to promote equity in the world.


      • Marilyn July 1, 2012 at 6:07 pm #

        As only 54,000 people applied to come here last year why do wankers have to carry on about the millions who might want to come here?

        13 million come and go every year.

        And here is a newsflash Doug – we do not own this island.


        • doug quixote July 3, 2012 at 7:06 pm #

          No; it is rather like the fleas arguing over who owns a dog. But our Australian fleas currently have possession of this particular canine.


          • Hypocritophobe July 3, 2012 at 7:21 pm #

            Fleas from European rats carry all sorts of nasty things.As bad,if not worse than the home grown ones.The ticks are a worry.
            They ‘mine’ their way into your heart.

            Speaking of this ownership thing, is flag waving Chinese flags every Oz Day as we whirl around in foreign cars, a sign we are heading in the right direction DQ?
            Should the latest batch of imports join in?


            • doug quixote July 3, 2012 at 9:48 pm #

              Everything is relative. It all depends on your perspective.

              The logical extension of the ‘no borders whatsoever’ claque is that it does not matter who owns what, the majority rules and the relatively uneducated and ignorant peasants of Asia, Africa and South America should control the world and determine what you or I do – right now. They have the numbers.

              You know it makes sense.



              • hudsongodfrey July 3, 2012 at 10:27 pm #

                Hello Doug,

                Take a look at this map and tell me that the majority are still uneducated. There are a lot in the middle who are under educated, and Africa is a real worry, but overall I think it may be a closer run thing than you think.

                The other thing to ponder if the people’s of the world were to mix together increasingly, as they’ve tended towards over the course of our history, is whether education wouldn’t generally tend to be spread from the learned to the ignorant rather than there being any need to concern ourselves that ignorance might triumph.

                I’m not saying that you don’t have something of a point there in the sense that sudden seismic shifts in the balance of things are usually disruptive, but you do seem to me to be overly cocky about something that might have seemed assuredly so even a few decades ago, but which I think could well be changing

                Ironically the nature of the change coupled as it usually is with improved living standards may well be the one answer that makes sense in terms reducing the need for economic migration first and repeated waves of refugee crises along with it, because peace often follows prosperity.



                • Hypocritophobe July 3, 2012 at 10:45 pm #

                  This entrenched nationalism is, “I think”, more about not sharing what we don’t really own, than preserving something that never existed never will.
                  It must be driven by fear and ignorance,because I have yet to hear a logical argument.It’s naive and selfish.
                  The true beauty of the human species abounds when we DON’T know,don’t feel we need to know, a persons ‘bloodline’.
                  Only ‘true’ multiculturalism can deliver such diversity.
                  Religious fervour is the issue, and politics is often another branch of religion.


                • doug quixote July 4, 2012 at 6:11 am #

                  Nice map, pretty colours. Perhaps in another fifty years we might revisit this issue; put it in your diary, it’s already in mine.


                  • hudsongodfrey July 4, 2012 at 9:34 am #

                    May as well bury our heads in the sand then!

                    At any given time we should act on the best credible information that we have. It would simply be irresponsible to wait for 50 years while the rest of the world changes around us. If Australia carries on as it has done believing we can remain a white enclave of privilege in the Asian region then we’re the ignorant ones.


              • Hypocritophobe July 3, 2012 at 10:38 pm #

                “You know it makes sense.”

                Have you considered stunt doubling for Sam Kekovich,DQ?


  21. paul walter July 2, 2012 at 10:36 pm #

    Well, Marilyn..
    You certainly were right about 4 Corners.
    4 Corners tonight dealt with matters virtually identical to ones described by victims of abuse at this thread.
    The episode dealt with the organised cover up of abuse within the Catholic church, involved in “altar training” of altar boys by priests (at least this was the description apparently offered by a priest to a nun who caught the individual in flagrante dilecto, perpetrating this “training” on a young boy).
    The incidents were hushed up; the lads turned from good kids into troubled souls who ended up suiciding in a couple of cases, and the church, right to the very top, maintained a furtive silence about these crimes.
    I know its all been told before, but at one stage I got up and walked out after a young bloke told of his experience of being forced to perform oral sex on one of the priests.
    And the bastards who committed these crimes walk free today or are ushered off shore to avoid questioning.
    “Suffer the little children to come unto me…but for one who offends such as these, It would be far better for them if a millstone be tied about their necks and they drown at the bottom of the sea”.


    • Julia July 4, 2012 at 2:03 pm #

      The neck is not where I’d tie the millstone….try lower down.


      • Hypocritophobe July 4, 2012 at 2:12 pm #

        I think you will find they probably have retractable balls.(Not weather or arousal related.It is likely to be based on self preservation.)
        Perhaps neutering upfront may be a worthy policy to install in church employees, where celibacy is expected.Or chemical castration.Or tracking devices.Prevention is better than cure,no?

        Mind you the link between expected celibacy and actual celibacy are probably worlds apart.But religion is a superstition.
        And paedophilia is not just breaking a vow.It is a criminal offence.So is aiding and abetting.


      • paul walter July 4, 2012 at 3:39 pm #

        Yeah. Depressing, isnt it?


  22. samjandwich July 4, 2012 at 2:08 pm #

    Hi Jennifer.

    After having had a little time to think about it, all I can really usefully say is that you have my unconditional support. Your words and your faith in humanity are teaching people to think, and for my part, inspire me both to focus on what I can do to bring small parts of the wonderful potential of this planet to fruition, but also to be aware of my own limitations and to ensure that I try not to over-extend myself in ways that might cause harm to others – which is always a possibility.

    And I just think, this is probably the way you have always been. You are not your experiences – and neither is anyone who has been abused. What happened when you were younger may have been a catalyst for a lot of what you have done, but I get a strong sense that it hasn’t touched the core of who you are. Thank you so much for putting yourself out where others can find you.


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  1. An army of ants | Sixth in Line - September 5, 2015

    […] And for a heart stopping take on this, especially from paragraph four down, I send you back to Jennifer Wilson’s latest post on quiet desperation.  Some of you will understand this well.   Posted in Uncategorized | 42 […]


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