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What I want to say

27 Feb

I was prescient, it’s not a skill peculiar to survivors of childhood sexual abuse but it is one many of us acquire as an aid to survival.

In this instance, I said to my dear person on Monday afternoon, what’s happened with Pell? Shouldn’t we be hearing about it by now and less than twenty-four hours later, we heard that a jury had found him guilty of sexual offences against children.

Almost immediately, the parade of aggrieved, disappointed, distressed, shocked, disbelieving, sad, angry Catholics and other Pell supporters began moving like a sullen, offended beast across the media, in unedifying protest at the guilty verdict. Their contempt for the twelve women and men who arrived at this decision was palpable. Despite the complainant’s evidence and demeanour being inaccessible to the public, despite the jurors having made a decision informed by evidence denied to any other commentators, the parade of righteous outrage clearly considered itself superior in knowledge and judgement to just about anybody else.

Like many other survivors, I am used to though not at ease with the involuntary emotional, psychological and physical reactions provoked in me whenever there is public discussion of the sexual abuse of children. These reactions can vary, according to what is being discussed and how, whether I have been able to prepare myself or am taken unawares, and whether or not I’m in safe surroundings when I have to deal with their intrusion. I’m pretty good most of the time. I recognise what’s happening and can implement my self-soothing rituals until the distress eases. But today, I have been utterly, utterly undone.

It didn’t take me long to understand why today is different. It wasn’t hearing the details of Pell’s crimes, hard as they are to bear. For us survivors, these are not simply upsetting descriptions of vile acts. They are vile acts many of us have lived through, in my case, for five years. It wasn’t listening to the heart-rending statement of the living victim, and it wasn’t grief for the victim who is now dead, though the impact of both enormous sorrows had me sitting on the lid of the toilet with my head in my hands, howling.

No, what has brought me to my knees this morning is the reaction of people such as Miranda Devine, Andrew Bolt, and Father Frank Brennan who are perhaps the most prominent of those I think of as The Deniers. Both Devine and Bolt strenuously and stridently defend Pell, denying any guilt on his part and expressing their implacable disbelief of the survivor’s narrative. In their story the survivor is a liar and Pell is a noble man wrongly accused, martyr to a witch-hunt perpetrated against his church by non-believers. Their assessment appears to be based on little more than the notion that Pell is, in their terms, a good man whom they respect, and their unshakeable belief in the infallibility of their own judgement.

Brennan is more subtle, and considerably more labrythine as befits a Jesuit, however his unspoken message is equally clear: the allegations are highly improbable, the circumstances unbelievable. This Prince of the Church is the victim of a terrible zeitgeist, the survivor a liar or, sadly for all concerned, a fantasist in need of treatment.

I’ve been unable to read these commentaries without experiencing the return of what I can only describe as the soul ache of being disbelieved. This is the complete powerlessness of being disbelieved. It is the hopelessness and despair of being disbelieved. It is the realisation that nobody is going to help you, because they don’t believe you. It is the understanding that your perpetrator has won everything because they believe him, and not you. These are things you think when you are fifteen years old, and you’ve been thinking them, or variations of them, since you were ten. It gets so you hardly believe yourself. You hardly believe these things are being done to your body because everyone else says they aren’t.

If you are very lucky, and I was, somebody does eventually believe you and you are taken away and it stops. And then you spend the rest of your life, even when you’re the grandmother of babies you would die for, reminding yourself that you didn’t lie, you aren’t a liar, you told the truth and you are, remarkably, living a life.

That life, however, is never entirely free of what was done to you. You learn how to manage the psychological, emotional and physical quirks that sometimes cause you to hide in your bedroom, snarl at people who care for you, drink too much, withdraw into silence, cry, ache, shiver, and, if someone has taught you how, hold with tender love the child inside who is still fearful, uncertain, untrusting, and alone.

While I won’t ever say the disbelief is as bad as the abuse, it is, for me, second on my list of wounds I cannot heal, wounds that I live with, wounds that in the main lie dormant until something or someone picks the scabs off and they start bleeding again.

This time, Bolt, Devine and Brennan have torn the scabs off my wounds.  I know I’m not alone in this. I know there are many, many survivors right now reliving their own dark time of being disbelieved, because of what Bolt, Devine and Brennan have just done to us. I hope that everyone of us can remember that this too will pass. That while Bolt, Devine and Brennan may have caused us an anguish we do not ever deserve to feel, this is a temporary situation. We’ve got this far. They are less than nothing in the scheme of things. We have survived far worse than they can inflict on us and while their disregard and contempt for us mimics what we knew when we were young, it is only a pale, pale shadow, and we will prevail.

If you are reading this and you are suffering today, I send you love and strength and hope, from my bedroom where I’m holed up until this dark time passes.

Jennifer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Schooling Senator Hinch

19 Jan

 

In the early hours of Wednesday morning, January 17 2019, the body of 21-year-old Palestinian student Aiia Maasarwe was found next to a Bundoora shopping centre in Melbourne.

Police described her murder as “horrendous as you could get,” and refused to release further details out of respect for Ms Maasarwe, her family and friends.

Later that day, Senator Derryn Hinch posted a tweet that contained a most horrific detail, allegedly leaked to him by a “police contact.”  I will not repost his tweet.

Hinch’s tweet provoked an immediate and furious backlash on social media. He responded to this reaction by doubling down, and insisting that “the stark details were included to warn women in the area what this monster, still on the loose, is capable of.”

He followed this up with:

 To all the do-gooder tweeters attacking me for telling the gruesome truth about the Bundoora rape/murder. This brute is still out there. My tweet was for the memory of Jill Meagher and Eurydice Dixon.

Hinch’s posts are deeply unsettling from a number of angles. There is the legal question of publishing details of a crime, and how that may influence subsequent prosecution. His account is also unsubstantiated: we only know that he’s been told some details of the crime by an anonymous someone else. For reasons that are not immediately apparent to me, Hinch believes himself worthy of our trust on these matters.

 

Most important of all is what it must do to Ms Maasarwe’s family to see that the extreme harms inflicted on their beloved are the subject of a politician’s self-seeking tweet, dashed off in seconds, posted on a global social media platform only hours after her death. One moment spent imagining my own child ‘s suffering and death being co-opted in this way is entirely unbearable. The Maasarwe family, and friends, have to live this. It is monstrous to inflict further anguish on them by detailing the torment Aiia suffered in the form of a tweet. To do this under the pretence of protecting women, and further, to claim it honours the memory of two other brutally murdered women, is beyond belief.

Yet, this is what Hinch did, and he has continued to defend his indefensible actions.

There’s also the effects of his posts on his accidental readers, many of whom, like myself, simply opened our Twitter feed to be confronted by horrific descriptions that I, and many other women I’ve engaged with today, have been unable to erase from our minds.

The details of the attack on Ms Maasarwe will eventually become public, in court transcripts and media coverage. It will be my choice whether to read these or not. Senator Hinch denied women this choice by posting the information on social media and I, and many others, feel violated by his act.

Twitter is not the platform on which to reveal terrifying details police have decided to withhold. This was not an act of noble truth-telling by a courageous man whose only desire was to inform women so that we might better protect ourselves. Indeed, Hinch has demonstrated yet one more way men can provoke terror in women, by detailing the torment another man has inflicted via a platform where such information carries no trigger warning, and cannot be anticipated or avoided.

It is not Senator Hinch’s role to decide for women that we need to be confronted by gratuitous descriptions in order to grasp the danger we are in. We are far from unaware. We understand that if police describe a woman’s murder as “horrendous as you can get” they mean what they say. Many women live on a continuum of fear, from mild apprehension to full-blown terror, pretty much every day of our lives. We can decode “horrendous as you can get.” We do not require men such as Hinch to do this for us, and in so doing, erode what little control we have over how we can best manage our lives in a world where we are at constant risk. Hinch seems to be on a grandiose, messiah-like mission to force women to face the details he decides are necessary for us to know.

In itself, this attitude absolutely violates our right to decide what we can and cannot admit into our lives. It is a dreadful thing to do to women who have already survived male violation, and denial of our autonomy.

What Hinch actually succeeded in doing was to make himself the centre of the story, not the women who were murdered, not their families and not their friends. We have become somewhat inured to politicians’ despicable behaviours over the last years. We don’t expect much decency. However, this action taken by Senator Hinch is up there with some of the worst political behaviours on record.

Women who survive sexual assault as adults, and/or children, and the terrifying powerlessness of being overwhelmed by male violence, are, at the very least, entitled to decide how much we can afford to know about the suffering inflicted on other victims. This is the reason for trigger warnings: to give us the opportunity to decide if we want to take the risk of having our own trauma reignited by the details of the violence wrought on another. We can say no to such information. We are not obliged to absorb the details of horror. We’ve lived horror, and we’ve earned the right to choose not to allow details such as those published by Hinch into our lives. We well know what some men are capable of. We do not forget. We certainly do not need another man to forcibly remind us.

Hinch has been reported to Twitter by numerous tweeps. Many of us have asked him to delete his post. He has steadfastly refused to do this.

It would be appropriate for his political colleagues to school Hinch on his despicable behaviour. However, I doubt any of them will bother. Yet again, it is up to us to express our disgust and contempt for the hideous actions of an elected representative.

Vale, Aiia Maasarwe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why we can and should make up our own minds about the Bob Ellis allegations.

12 Jun

 

It doesn’t come as any surprise to discover that “Australian arts luminaries,” among them journalist, screenwriter, novelist and passionate Labor supporter Bob Ellis, allegedly sexually assaulted the young daughters of playwright Dorothy Hewitt. That this disclosure does not surprise (though it certainly horrifies) is in itself a cause for anger and sorrow.

That the assaults took place in the girls’ home and apparently with the acquiescence of both their mother and their father, adds another dimension of horror to a story that is sickeningly familiar in every demographic, and every time and place.

When such atrocities are disclosed, a common reaction is that we should let the courts decide who is telling the truth, and remember that everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence. In this case, some of the alleged perpetrators are dead, including Bob Ellis, and some are still living.

In an ideal world, if the law and the courts dealt at all fairly with victims of sexual assault, I’d agree that we should, if possible, leave the courts to determine innocence or guilt. But the justice system does not fairly deal with victims of this crime, as this article by Jane Gilmour explains. Rape victims who do report to police often describe the criminal justice system as “retraumatising.” 

When the alleged perpetrators are dead, there’s no possibility of legal redress. However, this doesn’t mean we can’t decide who we believe. For example, I find the stories of Rozanne and Kate Lilley credible. I don’t find the suggestion that they’ve made the whole thing up in the least bit credible. Therefore, I exercise my right to decide whom to trust, and I trust the Lilley sisters.

The sisters have already become targets for social media trolls. They are “claiming to be victims,” it’s alleged.  Well, no, they aren’t. They are simply telling their story. That story reveals hideous abuse and exploitation of two girls aged 13 and 15, by a group of celebrated and creative people who ought to have known better, and ought to have cared. They ought to have cared. And they didn’t. They wanted sex with children. So they had sex with children. Their creative accomplishments did not entitle them to have sex with children. The “bohemian” lifestyle they lived did not entitle them to have sex with children.

Yesterday I read on social media the opinion that because Ellis is dead, the sisters should have kept quiet. What this said to me is that to some people, living women matter so very, very much less than dead men. Since when does a man’s (or woman’s) notability entitle him or her to have their crimes and misdemeanours concealed by their victims?Since when must victims of notable people keep quiet, simply because the alleged perpetrator is notable?

I don’t know what these disclosures will do the legacy of Bob Ellis and feminist icon Dorothy Hewitt. Of far more concern to me is the wellbeing of Kate and Rozanne Lilley. Speaking out about sexual assault is an ordeal for anyone. That ordeal is inevitably compounded when the alleged perpetrators are public figures, or figures admired and respected in the community.

It’s something of a cop-out, I’d suggest, to respond to the sisters’ account of Ellis’s sexual predations with clichés about justice and the courts. We can decide if the story is credible without direction from a justice system that all too often miserably fails victims of sexual crimes. We can trust our own judgement and furthermore, we should have the courage to trust our own judgement. And having trusted ourselves, we can then decide how disclosure of alleged abhorrent sexual behaviour affects our feelings about the work of Kevin Spacey, Woody Allen, Bob Ellis, Morgan Freeman, Dorothy Hewitt, Junot Diaz and the rest of the lengthening list of creative stars who stand so accused.

 

 

 

 

Who is lying? Where we’re at in the Joyce affair.

13 Feb

 

Today, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce issued a statement in which he declared that he was not in an intimate relationship with staffer Vikki Campion while she worked in his office, and that their intimacy began after she was moved to a job invented for her in Senator Matt Canavan’s office, with a salary of some $190,000 a year.

Joyce stated:

I did not discuss these matters with the Prime Minister or his office as Vikki was not my partner, so they were dealt with in the usual course of staff deployments within the party.

The Ministerial Code of Conduct Section 2.23 states:

Ministers’ close relatives and partners are not to be appointed to positions in their ministerial or electorate offices, and must not be employed in the offices of other members of the Executive Government without the Prime Minister’s express approval. A close relative or partner of a Minister is not to be appointed to any position in an agency in the Minister’s own portfolio if the appointment is subject to the agreement of the Minister or Cabinet.

Joyce’s denial of his relationship with Campion is his attempt to circumvent the ministerial regulations, and to protect Prime Minister Turnbull and Minister Canavan from serious allegations of breaching the guidelines.

HOWEVER.

In this piece titled “How Vikki Campion came to work for Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce,” Malcolm Farr gives background to the affair:

Inside the Joyce office there were other clues and they were quickly picked up by the minister’s highly respected chief of staff Di Hallam.
Ms Hallam took two important steps: She sent Mr Joyce to the office of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to reveal the romance and Ms Campion was moved to the office of then Resources Minister Matt Canavan in late 2016.
“Clearly they thought her presence would be a problem, so she (Ms Hallam) made a decision,” said a source familiar with the situation.

In 2016, the affair was far more than a “rumour.” It was considered so serious that the Prime Minister was advised, and Ms Campion was moved to Canavan’s office to get her out of the way.

As Farr acknowledges: … the romance, by its very existence, became part of the delivery of public policy and taxpayer-funded staffing.

Joyce’s claim that the affair did not start until after Campion was moved to Canavan’s office contradicts Farr’s account, and the account of the source who identified Di Hallam as a key player in the removal of Campion from Joyce’s office. Ms Hallam is also alleged to have instructed Joyce to inform Turnbull of the situation.

Clearly, this is not a matter of someone getting the story wrong. Someone is lying. The liar is either Barnaby Jones, Malcolm Farr, Malcolm Turnbull, or Farr’s source.

It is absolutely unacceptable that we should be left in a situation in which we have no idea whether or not the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, and Minister Canavan breached ministerial guidelines, and furthermore, are lying to parliament and to the country.

It is absolutely unacceptable that the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister imply that senior journalist Farr, and highly respected public servant Di Hallam, are lying, without providing evidence that this is so.

 

 

Gaslighting. When media deny collusion.

10 Feb

 

In this discussion between journalists Malcolm Farr, Alice Workman, Caroline Overington and Fran Kelly yesterday, Farr and Workman take a swipe at those of us who have suggested that there has been collusion between the press gallery and the government to keep the Barnaby Joyce affair under wraps.

(Interesting times, Overington, a Murdoch employee, attacks her colleagues for not reporting on the Joyce affair.)

In fact, there’s nothing like suggesting collusion to invoke scorn and contempt from press gallery and msm journalists, who seem to assume that what one actually means by that term is an overt decision, taken in the middle of the night on burner phones by senior public servants, government MPs and senior media management to not publish or to delay publication of material that could in some way affect their mutual interests.

Such a scenario might well play out from time to time, I have no idea, however, what I mean when I use the term “collusion” is something far more subtle.

Every workplace, every family, every institution, every social media platform, indeed every human interaction is governed by overt rules, agreed upon by the culture and known to everyone. Far more elusive, however, are the unspoken rules, the implicit codes, the behavioural nuances deemed appropriate and inappropriate that you won’t find in policies and procedures guidelines. These are part of the culture of every institution, and all individual interactions. These tacit assumptions exercise an unspoken and unacknowledged control, constrain behaviour, and are arguably are more influential in determining behaviour than are the overt rules.

The press gallery, msm journalists, government employees and MPs are as enslaved by these unspoken cultural requirements as is any other human being. When Guardian journalist Katharine Murphy tweeted about the “convention” in the press gallery that MPs’ private lives are a no go area, she was referring to these unspoken rules.

It is to these undocumented conventions that I refer when suggesting  collusion or conspiracy between the press gallery and the government.

It probably won’t take you very long to identify the unspoken rules in your family that governed your behaviour, and the effects they’ve had on your life for better or for worse. Or in social media interactions, in the workplace, where nobody tells you about these cultural conventions, you have to pick them up, and you can be mightily ostracised if you unknowingly transgress. It isn’t difficult to image the powerful hold unverbalised conventions have over the culture that is parliament and the press gallery. Murphy names but one.

This conspiracy of silence on private lives in Australian politics cannot help but position the “ordinary” citizen as an outsider, marginalised in a democratic process to which we are, in theory if increasingly not in practice, essential. Many of us sense this exclusion and privilege, and many of us describe it, quite legitimately, as conspiracy and collusion.

Perhaps nobody actually said, “do not publish anything on the Joyce affair.” But nobody actually needed to spell it out. It would be known, via that mysterious process characterised as a nod and a wink, and in some instances not even that much would be required, what was to be said about Joyce, and when it was to be said, if it was to be said at all, and by whom. This is a process to which the punters cannot possibly have any access, and it is perfectly reasonable for us to experience that as collusion and conspiracy.

We are then gas-lighted by journalists who deny such a process ever takes place, and that we’re crazed conspiracy theorists living with our mothers, writing paranoid blogs in our grubby dressing gowns.

There are, however, instances in which the subtleties are abandoned and more direct orders issued. AFR journo Phil Coorey published this in December 2017:

Queenslander Keith Pitt, who Mr Joyce does not like, was not only overlooked but dumped from his job as parliamentary secretary for trade,” Coorey wrote.

“The two recently had a bitter argument about Mr Joyce’s infidelity and marriage breakup. Mr Joyce blamed Mr Pitt for spreading the rumours, a claim Mr Pitt denies.

Shortly afterwards these paragraphs disappeared from Coorey’s piece, after both Pitt and Joyce contacted him with denials. Fortunately, Twitter had secured a screen shot of Coorey’s original piece.

 

Are you a Real Australian? Not if you’re a woman.

10 Nov

Current poster boy for Real Australians, Barnaby Joyce

 

As I read this piece by Sean Kelly at The Monthly yesterday, titled Real Australians: The way we talk about our country needs to change, I became aware of an overwhelming, visceral sadness, a feeling not usually aroused in me by meditations on national identity.

It took a few moments to analyse what this feeling was about. And then I got it. There is no place in the current concept of the “Real Australian” for women. There is no place for me. For my mother. My sisters. My granddaughter, my daughter-in-law, the women I work with, eat lunch with, dance with, exercise with, chat with on social media.

In other words, there is no place in my country’s definition of its identity for me, or for any human with female genitals. Real Australians are men. Real Australian men may squabble amongst themselves about which of them actually are Real Australians, however, they aren’t squabbling amongst themselves about including women in the national identity.

Kelly’s piece examines the racially abusive verbal attack on Senator Sam Dastyari in a pub a couple of evenings ago. Dastyari described his feelings about the attack thus:

“It makes me feel small, makes me feel horrible, it makes you feel kind of terrible and that’s what they are designed to do.”

Dastyari is right: this is exactly what racially abusive attacks are designed to do to the recipient. Without in any way wishing to diminish the abhorrence of Dastyari’s experience, I would like to borrow his words to describe how I feel about being excluded from my country’s national identity. It makes me feel small, makes me feel horrible, it makes me feel kind of terrible, and that’s what it’s designed to do.

I say “that’s what it’s designed to do” because it’s no accident that women are not included in the fantasy of the Real Australian. It cannot possibly have escaped the notice of intelligent, thinking men that the concept is entirely masculine, and yet I have never heard any man point out its exclusionary nature in public discussion. Why not?

Denying us a seat at the national identity table is not entirely unconnected with the apparently entrenched male habit of murdering one of us every week. A stretch! And an offensive one at that! you might protest. However, if you have even limited knowledge of the processes of dehumanisation, you will be aware that refusal to acknowledge other humans as being of equal consequence as yourself, is the first step on the morally abject journey that can end in you killing them.

Women are appallingly abused in Australia, and nobody much cares to discuss it, and it is not a stretch to suggest that the exclusion of women from national identity is a significant contributor to a national perception that our lives aren’t as important, therefore the murderous harms done to us, usually in our homes, are likewise, not that important.

As you might have noticed, my overwhelming visceral sadness has overnight morphed into fury. What are women to Australia, that in 2017 we continue to be excluded from conversations about national identity, and what are men in Australia, that you continue to conduct such conversations as if the Real Australian is unquestionably male, and that is a universal truth?

I’m not usually interested in concepts of national identity, being more inclined to cosmopolitanism. However, in this instance, it’s like excluding family members from membership in the family.

It starts at the top. The people you exclude from the definition of your country’s identity are the people you dehumanise, by the very fact of your exclusion. It’s easier to discount us, abuse us and murder us, if we aren’t Real Australians.

Oh, I’m sorry. That escaped your attention?

Media women name & shame sexual predators. Unless they are politicians.

26 Oct

 

Further allegations have been made against Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, including multiple sexual harassment and molestation claims dating back to 2012.

One of the allegations concerns a 17 year-old girl.

On ABC TV’s The Drum yesterday evening, a segment was devoted to the latest alleged high-profile offender, banished by Conde Naste from practising his profession as a fashion photographer after allegations of serial sexual harassment and assault of his model subjects. Katherine Murphy was one of the panelists, and the host was Julia Baird.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to watch Australian political journalists comment on sexual harassment by powerful men in every workplace other than the Australian parliament. The elephant loomed large in the studio as Baird and Murphy discussed a topic over which journalists have thrown a cone of silence when it concerns Australian politicians.

It’s increasingly difficult to avoid the conclusion that Australian journalists are complicit in, and enable, sexual harassment and worse in the parliamentary workplace.

The situation for alleged victims of Australian politicians’ sexual impropriety is a dire one. At the best of times women (and victims are predominantly women) struggle to be heard and believed when we complain about sexual harassment and assault. It’s been obvious for some time now that the media play a significant role in bringing harassers to everyone’s attention, giving victims a voice, and making it difficult or impossible for perpetrators to continue their behaviour.

Yet none of this support is available to women harassed in the parliamentary workplace, because the media will not investigate, and will not report on sexual crimes and misdemeanours occurring there.

How ironic that there is currently a name and shame campaign under way, led by high-profile journalist Tracey Spicer, against men who harass women employed in the Australian media, while at the same time, media women protect politicians from scrutiny. This selective approach to outing sexual harassers in the workplace damages the credibility of every woman involved in the campaign, particularly those who comment on politics.

This post by J.R. Hennessy on the Press Gallery convention that protects politicians from scrutiny of their “private lives” is excellent, and well worth a read.

I continue to ask the questions: why are politicians given the freedom by journalists to sexually harass and abuse women, a freedom that exists in no other Australian workplace? Why don’t the Press Gallery care about women in the parliamentary workplace?

The idea of protecting perpetrators because they are “entitled to privacy” has kept women and children in violent and abusive situations for centuries. That it continues to hold sway at the heart of our democracy is absolutely shameful, and every political commentator should be absolutely ashamed if they support this long out-dated convention.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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