Well, Jamie, shit happens

No Place For Sheep


Following the post yesterday on the Jamie Briggs sacking:

The Australian today has published details of the complainant in the Jamie Briggs’ alleged sexual harassment scandal that allow the woman to be identified, while simultaneously trumpeting that it is withholding her name in order to protect her privacy.

This is one of the many reasons women hesitate to report sexual harassment and assault, especially when the alleged perpetrator is a public figure.

The Australian also reports that some MPs are greatly unsettled by the decision to sack Briggs because of alleged sexual harassment, as it sets the ministerial bar “impossibly high.” Respecting women, much?

Just don’t touch us without permission, how’s that for starters? Can you manage that? Because if you can’t be in charge of yourself, you shouldn’t be in charge of the country.

It’s worth repeating that Briggs was the subject of two LNP inquiries into the behaviour…

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Could we someday “erase” the memories of workplace bullying?

I’ll keep the Wisdom and Experience, you can erase the Flashbacks and Photographic Memory, thanks!

Minding the Workplace

In “Erasing bad memories,” a piece for the February 2015 issue of the American Psychological Association’s Monitor, Stacy Lu examines leading edge research on future possibilities for treating memories of traumatic experiences that fuel post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and related conditions:

When we think back on our lives, we generally try to dwell on good times and come to terms with bad. But for those who suffer from anxiety disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder and phobias, just one intractable and unwelcome memory can influence a lifetime of perceptions, emotions and behavior, despite therapists’ best efforts.

But thanks to better imaging technology, neuroscientists and psychologists are able to explore the neural mechanisms by which memories are made and stored. And their research has uncovered several physiological interventions — including electrical currents and well-timed pharmacology — that appear to help destabilize fearful memories, a finding that could lead to…

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No Direction. No Closure. No Bloody Idea.

It was always used against me, that I was so determined.  That I was a good student.  That I was so enthusiastic.  That I seemed so confident.  They pat you on the back with one hand and stab you with the other.

The passion I once had came from following my heart – I was born to be a teacher.  It’s as simple as that, really.  I was a mature age student, I’d travelled the world and worked in a variety of roles which seemed to naturally lead to this point.  I have (almost) always had the pleasure of being taught by teachers who were there for the same reason.  Students can tell!  Parents can tell!  Other like-minded educators can tell.  It has been such a crushing blow to discover the hard way how many school employees are there for other reasons – and they are usually in positions of power.  An accident?  I think not.

I can’t remember what I’ve called Him on this blog before but He explicitly said, “I’m a teacher now because I have a penis.  I’ll be principal before you’re an Accomplished teacher” (pay level after Graduate).

But graduates are always extra enthusiastic, you say, that’ll change.  Even if you allow for the fatigue of years in the role versus Brand New Enthusiasm, there is a genuine difference in motivations to teach that affect professional behaviour, values and workplace interactions.

In the early stages, they lapped it up from me, as they did the other graduates.  She wants to volunteer for that extra role?  Yes!  You’ve learnt about this new way of team teaching?  Great!  You can help lead the reluctant ones who just want to do it their way!  You bring new life to this school!  We are all better for it!

Until you speak up about something.

Until you say ‘too much’.

Even when what you’re talking about is criminal behaviour that everyone saw and commented on UNTIL you took it further, outside The Group.  It should have stayed Just Between Us.  You’ve just Ruined Everything.  How could YOU do that to US?

Then you’re trying too hard, cocky, speaking “above your station” and “talking about people (they’ve) worked with for years so you’d better watch out”.  But that’s just the beginning.  Warnings.  Subtle and blatant warnings that you don’t want to be A Troublemaker here…Mud Sticks…You’ll Never Work Again.

You always acted like a Slut.


Over emotional.

Misunderstanding.  This is all just crossed wires, yeah?

Why was it such a fucking horrible, drawn out experience?  I can hardly choose one reason.

Because I was followed, touched, undressed, physically penetrated, cornered, bullied by a senior teacher?

Because it all happened around a primary school, on a camp with your young kids?

Because the children themselves witnessed so many inappropriate things that they voted to put a sign on the door of the classroom banning Him from entry?

That their parents approached me, saying that their kid was worried about ME and what He was like?

That I endured so much on my own because I loved my job so much?

That every single staff member in this small school found Him inappropriate, unprofessional or had questioned him before but when things became formal they vanished into thin air and lied during each level of investigation?

That the people; teachers of small children, that I eventually begged for help to be safe, that I’d cried and shared humiliating truths with; turned it back on me with the click of fingers?

That they used every clichéd slur and excuse in the worn out book?

That they bullied me and talked about me, told staff NOT TO SIT WITH ME AT LUNCH?

That the cumulative result of their actions was eventually to break me?

That despite my confidence, belief that I was meant to be a teacher, letters thanking me for the difference my efforts made with individual students…I wanted to be dead?

I said I was determined.  I moved to another school.  But information like that makes its way around, too.

He pled Guilty.  And I was the one disgusted with MYself.  I was revolting, a failure, a joke.  Everything I’d worked for.  Gone.

I thought I was in a different place.  That I had purged it all.  It’s 8 years this year since He started what he did to me.  I am still at home.  I still have no job.

I have had all the counselling, medication and researched every goddamn way to process and progress towards something.  Anything.  But this shit is like a cancer in your guts.  It’s toxic and it’s scary.  If you’re really unlucky, it’s wrapped around the core of who you are.  You can’t really get away from it, because you are it.  It has become you.

I have to live.  I have to earn money at some point soon.  And I can’t picture that woman in my head at all.  To be out there is to be extremely vulnerable again.

There’s obviously more I need to do yet.  What spurred me on until now was the idea that I could one day tell the story.  That they couldn’t gag me or threaten me then.  And I could shout it from the rooftop.  Mostly because they said ‘you can’t tell anyone’ so many times that I thought the only way to beat the shame was to tell – put it out there and it loses some power.  Or they lose some power.  Now I might have that opportunity and I’m frozen with fear/excitement.

Maybe one of the worst things they managed to do is make sure I never knew when to trust anything again, even myself.

Possible Possibilities

It’s been nine months since I was here last. I’ve been studying for my Masters and working on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy ideas. It’s been wonderful to fill my brain with new theories and texts but reality bit when it came time to do field placement in the workplace. I freaked out. What I’ve been telling myself is progress may also be distraction…until now. I have another six months before I have to face that demon again. Maybe I’ll volunteer somewhere first? Baby steps? *teeth clenched* A new career possibility was my new dream…power in being useful and contributing again.

But actually I just want to be a teacher. Still.

I’ve braved some primary school functions for family members and once I determined that there were no familiar faces, I felt the same thrill. I’ll say it. I enjoyed a whole-school assembly.

Fuck it.

I felt like it was my home planet. I smiled at the students. Bit my tongue so as not to redirect some behaviour. Tossed out a few encouraging ‘thumbs ups’. School feels NATURAL and full of potential. Like it used to. Once.

So I did something the other day.

I printed out the application to Enrol To Teach.

It’s been more than five years since I was assessed by VIT standards so I would have to start again as a Probationary teacher. That means extra work but I’m not that bothered.

I don’t know whether I’ll go through with it. But I met a *lovely* school Principal recently and it occurred to me that a different experience in the workplace is possible.


I don’t know where I will end up yet but this has been a big step.

Oh, and my beautiful lawyer sent me a christmas card this month, which marks one year since the YES on the financial settlement. What has the money enabled? I’ve avoided homelessness. I’ve paid for immediate help rather than going on waiting lists. I’ve set up a new home which is free of the drama and paranoia associated with a long work cover case. I’ve paid for text books and internet to keep me connected. I have paid for lots of relaxation massages to battle the physical tension.

I’ve started to lay the foundations for the version of me that I didn’t want to become – I was happy where I was before this – but that I’m now very proud to be.

Being A Union Member Saved My LIfe

I’ve been out enjoying the freedom that can only come with the successful end to a seven year Hell.  I’ve wanted to post about that because it actually IS bloody amazing.  I had no idea just how much this pain weighed me down until I was able to end it.  Sometimes this new feeling is so amazing that I almost cry.  Tears of relief and pride.  Life still does its thing, throws some curveballs and takes you on a merry dance, but I’ve been able to deal with that stuff in a completely new way lately.  Oh, this is why I haven’t written since I won, because I don’t even want to cry about being happy…ah well.  The memories come up like an approaching tidal wave.  Hello, old friend.  Now do fuck off. 

In Australia at the moment, we have a neo-liberal government of nightmares.  One of their many plans of social attack is decrying workers unions.  They have latched onto the corrupt actions of a few high profile union bosses in order to generalise horrifically about the nature of unions.  This suits their economic and policy agendas as they strive to divide and conquer. Who benefits from an individualised workforce without a collective voice?  Only the rich boss.  Who suffers, directly and potentially in the future?  My friends, we ALL do.  Unions represent workers in a variety of ways.  It may be popular to bandy about terms like ‘slush fund’ and ‘fraud’ (though less so when it is a Government minister who lines his pockets, hmmm?) but again that is paying attention simply to the loudest voices.  What do unions do that we don’t hear about in the news?  That a destructive Prime Minster doesn’t want you to think about? (Don’t worry – I can criticise him because I’m UNEMPLOYED)  What a Labor leader is devaluing when he questions union membership like today?

I could dig up some gutsy, coal-face worker stories to demonstrate the struggle of the lowly worker to fight slave conditions and dangerous practice.  I could remind you of the lives lost in protest, in desperate battles to be treated as human beings by tyrants and corporations simply for needing to earn money to feed yourself.  Perhaps a look at conditions in the sweat shops in Bangladesh that we shake our heads at from our relatively safe haven?  Or ask a tradie apprentice if it’s ever mattered to his/her workplace safety that a union member had a voice?  I can only tell you what union membership did for me.

I’m here because I was a member of the Education Union.  

It is as simple as that.

I wish we lived in a world where simply “knowing the truth” meant anything to anyone.  I knew the truth of what happened to me at work and I repeated that phrase as a mantra for many a year.  Because it was *all* I had.  That and an ache in my soul that led me to believe not being alive was the only way out of this.  The kindest thing to do for myself when every other option was cut off.  Knowing the truth is pretty much bollocks.  You have to have a voice to tell it.  An employee union is that voice.  

I assumed that my voice was enough.  I assumed that brazen criminal actions were enough to get some assistance.  So I forgive you if you also think that ‘right wins in the end’ and that ‘strong people can stand up for themselves to negotiate’.  But you’re wrong.  And not because there are not brave people standing alone.  Because powerful people with vested interests do not allow individuals to negotiate or influence a goddamn thing.  If you think Gina makes time to discuss workplace safety when Tom has a concern from inside the shitty mine, you are kidding yourself.  If you think a principal gives a young female teacher as valid a voice as the middle aged ass he went to school with and who is his deputy, you are kidding yourself.  If you think that a small building site manager is as interested in Sean the apprentice’s physical and emotional safety at the hands of his peers as he is in getting the project finished and making his cash…you get the picture.

A union is a collective which needs members to have any influence on workplace or social policy debate.  Though every worker benefits after we strike and go without pay to seek wage parity (and are very quiet on those days about unionism) they usually mock and repeat tired stereotypes that indicate at the very least that the Underbelly franchise has permeated deeply into their psyches.  

The day to day work of a union?  It’s a bit more boring than that.

I telephoned my union when I had another day off work, at home, wanting to die to escape my workplace/abusers.  I loved my job.  But my colleagues were killing me.  Read back for the details of sexual violence and stalking.  I’m leaving them for today.  But the only place that could help me have a louder voice (and I’m pretty loud on my own)?  The union.

We didn’t get any fancy boozy lunches.  I paid for my own coffee at a local place when they met with me.  They heard my tearful story.  They took notes, consulted relevant law, researched other similar issues.  I researched the process myself but I couldn’t guide myself through it in the midst of being victimised.  I needed a calm voice to repeat and remind me of the process ahead.  I needed to be able to cry and swear.  They could remember the protocols.  I had shit on my mind.

They reviewed my stream of consciousness notes and helped formulate official documents.  They found me counselling and Victims of Crime help.  

They always called me back.

At one point, as the managers made things even harder, the union reps asked me why I wouldn’t just give up.  I thought, well, we’re ALL beaten now.  I’ve come this far.  We have done it together.  I got angry and suggested that they were letting me flail alone, too.  What does an individual have to fight the system if their collective says it’s too hard?  Just an echo.  Of their own tears.

So they stuck with me.

The Education union were a literal and metaphorical support for me at the Worst Time In My Life.  They didn’t help me because I had something to offer them.  I’m pretty sure I was hard work, to be honest.  The case was.  The union helped me because they know that one voice can be ignored.  One person can be squashed.  Damn, they almost got me to the point of thinking that the union voice was not enough, either. But I pushed them and they pushed me.  We stayed.  Kept fighting.

We fucking did it.  We bloody got there.  We pushed so hard and so long that those bastards know that not everyone can be squashed.  Not everyone will be sent away.  Not everyone can be ground down.  

So maybe they watch themselves a bit more, huh?  Maybe they remember this, the fear of being exposed publicly, if someone else ever comes to them for help.  Maybe they just remember that one little voice has a group to call on.

That’s powerful.  That’s important.  That’s Absolutely Compulsory for any chance of a just and fair society.

And then the union collected my legal fees and paid them.  Because they believe a single worker should not be $50, 000 out of pocket when they’ve been the victim of obscene behaviour in the workplace and subsequently lost their ability to earn a wage at all.  Because they believe a worker’s voice matters.  Because they heard me.  

That is what unions do.  That is why they matter.  That is why they need members.  My $5 a week saved my life and my home.  My mental health.  And maybe a little something for the next person who feels that one voice is not enough.

I feel this ability is under threat when the discourse is politically motivated to undermine the union movement.

The union movement is the heart of Labor and rights of the common man and woman to be safe when they toil for a living.

Please don’t let Labor forget, or the government we have to bury, this very important part of our democracy.  Unions are us.  We are voices that deserve to be heard.  I will always fight for the right for one person’s voice to be made louder with the help of a union network.  Always. I hope other people realise this too, before they find themselves needing help.  What if it is taken away?