The Guardian

The millions of Australians in the survivor community are asking: what does justice look like for us?

The Guardian logo The Guardian 23.06.2023 18:24:25 Van Badham
Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 22% of Australian women (2.2 million) and 6.1% of men (582,400) over 18 years of age have experienced sexual violence.

So if a significant number of people in your social sphere have been noticeably tetchy, tense, dissociative, hypervigilant, avoidant, angry, despairing or just screamingly angry in the weeks since the Coalition decided to aggressively resurrect the sad story of Brittany Higgins for political mileage, this may be why.

The story of the young Liberal party staffer who alleges she was raped by another Liberal staffer (who denies the allegation) in the office of a Liberal cabinet minister has been brought back to the media conversation by the Liberals.

Related: As a female former Liberal MP, the party's groupthink around sexual harassment dismays but does not surprise me | Catherine Cusack

Questions of who knew what when are generally not applied to the subject of disclosures of adult rape allegations. But the Liberal leader, Peter Dutton, is who he is and we are where we are - which, in my case, as a rape survivor, is alternating between paralysing despair, rage and reexperiencing horrific memories of a long-ago sexual assault that left me hospitalised for a week and scarred for life.

It's hard not to share the sense of betrayal when one learns that text conversations about the alleged assault exchanged within the intimate confines of Higgins's relationship have somehow ended up in the pages of the Australian. A reminder to those who have given this zero thought: trauma is characterised by a shattering of trust and deprival of agency.

Australia's millions of sexual assault survivors have also been patronised by commentary from masthead publications. Writers have alternately appointed themselves to decide who does and doesn't get to identify as a "capital-V Victim", or scolded people for not making timely reports to systems of justice like . the one that just leaked Brittany Higgins's text messages to Newscorp.

No, I'm not going to link to either of those columns. The first has, at least, already been deleted by editors with more shame than the author and the second is beneath contempt.

I envy those who can make declarative pronouncements about rape without the burden of lived experience. It's taken me four days, two attempts and painful determination to attempt this fact-based explanation of why victims don't report, rather than file 800 words of sobbing howl.

According to the ABS, of the 639,000 women who experienced sexual assault by a male perpetrator in the last 10 years, only 13% reported to police.

This is not because raped women are also slovenly.

It's partly because the most likely perpetrator of sexual assault against a woman - according to the ABS - is their intimate partner. Some 72% of victims know their perpetrator and two-thirds of assaults occur in residential locations; commonly, in the victim's home.

It's fantastical to imagine that in such familiar scenarios, reports to police can exist distinct to social repercussions. Complex relationships flow outward from established partnerships and the impact of disclosures - let alone charges - can profoundly destabilise friendship groups and families, and destroy economic dependencies, leaving victims even more isolated.

Researchers have identified that when an assault disclosed to friends or family is met with a negative reaction, it reinforces the victim's feeling of self-blame, and silences them.

As recently as 2017, a survey revealed 42% of Australians still believed sexual assault accusations are used as a means of revenge against men. In the same survey, up to 15% of people reported a belief that a man was justified forcing a woman to have sex if she kissed him first. These persistent victim-blaming stigmas can also manifest in attitudes from professionals encountered in the reporting process.

Negativity or ambivalence can lead survivors to "question whether future disclosures would be effective". It's a prospect that daunts when merely telling your story aloud is disgusting, humiliating, incapacitating, retraumatising. Survivor advocates such as Bri Lee describe subjecting plaintiffs to cross-examination in a court projects as "barbaric and inhumane".

Researchers found negative experiences with others "reinforced uncertainty about whether . experiences qualified as rape".

Related: Women who have been sexually assaulted in workplaces - or bedrooms or parks - hear the ways we talk about it | Anonymous

Uncertainty? Only the inexpert fail to understand the insidiousness of sexual assault. It provokes powerful intersections of trauma and shame that are not just difficult to discuss but almost impossible to comprehend.

Retrospectively deciding that you have not been raped, or that the rape wasn't serious, or you aren't serious enough to complain of your rape, or that you deserved it and are somehow to blame are all ways survivors can psychologically clutch at regaining a sense of control when control has been taken away.

For all these reasons, no reasonable person could argue Australia's legal system as it is now delivers justice to rape survivors. In this country, only around one in 10 reported cases of sexual assault result in a conviction.

That's why the demand from advocates is not to persist with a failing system, but to build a better, specialist one.

The millions of Australians in the survivor community deserve nothing less to have the question asked: what does justice look like for us?

Because to have our experience retried near-daily in the kangaroo courts of leaks, political expedience and sloppy, deplorable journalism, looks nothing like justice at all.

Van Badham is a Guardian Australia columnist

vendredi 23 juin 2023 21:24:25 Categories: The Guardian

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