What Other People Think Of Me Is None Of My Concern

i hate you lemon cake

i hate you lemon cake (Photo credit: kayepants) Fuck the haters.  And eat cake!

You know those nice ideals that fit neatly into a motivational slogan?  Someone tweets it.  There’s a book in the Self Help section of a bookshop using it as a title.  I have just realised that if I don’t watch my words in this post I, too, will appear as one of these examples…better slow down.

I have always wanted people to like me.  I wanted to be seen as helpful.  Kind.  Peacemaker.  Troubleshooter.  The Right Kind Of Girl.

I aimed to do this in my own way – I know I am, er, very enthusiastic and passionate about most things.  I can be loud.  Exuberant.  I just hoped that I channelled these traits positively.  Not a bad fit for a primary school teacher, either, as it happens.  Professional Class Clown + Counsellor/Coach.  Educational, self esteem building FUN!  Welcome to my classroom.

I was always trying my best.  I wanted people to know that I was trying my best.  I am still ludicrously proud of myself when my whatever is acknowledged because … I just am.  It’s satisfying.  The flip side of that feedback is disapproval, rejection and all of the negative responses we generally try to avoid.

There are a myriad of influences affecting an individuals response to trauma.  One is ego, concern over ‘what people will say’.  This is especially true of victims of sexual assault and rape.  It was most certainly true of myself but I am trying really hard to smash that idea to pieces because it is nothing short of torture.  I am a great deal further down the line than I when I started, thank FUCK, and I’m realising now that it is imperative to my mental health to always remind myself:  what other people think of me is none of my concern.

My memory is very clear on that first assault.  One of the first thoughts in my head, literally as he was trying to undress me, was ‘The kids must never find out that there is a problem’.  Bit more than ‘a problem’, but I was terrified of doing or saying anything afterwards in part because I thought there would be a ripple effect that the students would become aware of.  When the bastard would walk into my classroom and make lewd comments about having touched me in front of my students I never lost my cool.  I’ve said before that some of the more ‘aware’ kids questioned me about his behaviour and asked me if I was being bullied.  The Shame.  No, I said, hopefully in a breezy reply.  I’ll speak to him about that later.  I’d shake my head and roll my eyes as if it was all just a pesky miscommunication.  The pressure was on me to make sure that no one knew.  He used the children many times in that way, to humiliate or remind me that he was in the position of power.  That still makes me so sad.  I was operating on an auto pilot of superhuman strength because I think of this now, of him, and I want to burn shit down.  But SURVIVAL.

The fact that another teacher was present during several crimes and making jokes about the perpetrator being ‘turned on’ because I was ‘young and good looking’ most certainly affected my attempts to speak out.  That person heard me fight him off, swear and warn him about the fact he was committing crimes right that minute.  What the hell do you do if the person witnessing it replies that ‘he’s just a middle aged guy’ who’s ‘in a drought’ and ‘not getting any from his wife’.  Like I am a receptacle for use?  A service for over entitled assholes who abuse power and privilege for kicks?  If that person later warned me about ‘ruining his marriage’ and being ‘an obvious cock tease’ (read: I brought it upon myself.  For eight months) then what the hell would other people say?  She created a whole other reality about what happened and the threat was clear: she would repeat it thus if I said anything.

When the Principal walked into my colleague’s office where I sat, hysterical, saying that I couldn’t keep up the facade any longer, I didn’t want to tell him either.  I knew he was a weak person and offensively ill equipped for his new role.  I had also been present when he laughed at the perpetrator joking about “Which of the Mums you’d ‘do’ at assembly”.  Or which of the staff were “too fat to fuck”.  The principal never said a word to stop him saying those things and indeed laughed and nodded.  They had gone to school together themselves when they were kids.  This ‘history’ was often the subject of references in staff meetings that made others groan but it was more than that to me.  It said that there was an alliance already present that would make me even harder to believe.  It was going to be almost impossible.  And that bastard wove a web in readiness for that, playing the principal and other staff like a puppeteer.  So that when I said something, though he was so sure I never would, I’d be met with derision and ‘He told me you might say that’…   But the principal exceeded my own low expectations when he declared it a ‘team issue’ and set a meeting for the next week so that the three of us could ‘clarify things’ as we’d obviously been ‘miscommunicating’.  No, fucker, I just told you that your assistant stalks me, interferes with my property, has assaulted me (I did not describe the touching or implicate the other colleague as witness to the most serious assaults at this time), tried to force me to kiss him, turned up at my home and said “Every time I look at you I just want to bone you” and will not take no for an answer.  I’ve just told you that I struggle to come to work and that I cry myself to sleep every night because I love my job but I can’t (nay, shouldn’t) do it under these extreme conditions.   I didn’t go as far as describing my genitals or the sequence of fighting him off then just freezing and floating away in my head.  I didn’t do this because I was sure it wasn’t necessary to raise a red flag – I’d said enough to be of concern, no?  The other reason was in the room and had not five minutes before warned me that to tell that part of the story would put her “in deep shit”.  I was losing control to spill that much but not so much that I didn’t see her staring at me as I revealed almost all to the boss.  This is when he looked up and saw the perp watching us all through the window like the creeper that he was.  “Oh my God, he’s watching us now” says this grown man, leader, my career in his incapable hands.  I knew I was fucked, really, but I truly believed that if I spoke, I’d be heard.  I worried very much what my boss would think of me but I was thinking from a ‘why didn’t you tell me sooner?’ angle. Ha!  I was ashamed to have to explain being touched, followed, harassed and have him imagine my body in this way in his tiny little brain.

The fact that these two senior colleagues both deny this discussion even took place to this day has had a greater impact than the crimes committed by the other one.  After this day I was warned repeatedly to “be professional with them or go” by the principal.  When it got to the point that I had to put the details to the Department formally as no one inside the school was appropriate or ethical, he STILL called me into his office to “be a professional”.  By this time he knew that the other teacher had been in the room, etc, throughout and he still threatened that my job was becoming untenable as “she’s not going anywhere.  I’ve known her for years.  She’s the kind of teacher who puts extra photocopies in your pigeon hole” WHAT THE FUCK?!  Truly, I entered the Twilight Zone as the three of them tried to out-gaslight each other around me.  I cannot believe I finished the year.  I simply cannot.

The perpetrator was sent on paid leave while Police investigated so I did finish the year without his physical presence, though the other two made it far from an easy ride.  The two friends I had made were told not to be seen sitting next to me (seriously) and I endured the last term of school on medication and stubbornness.  During the final months there, some parents of students approached me asking about what they’d heard happened, the ‘disappearance’ of the perpetrator and what their kids had told them.

The principal held a staff meeting especially to tell the staff that the assistant was “on leave because someone here has made a complaint about him”.  This was against protocol as complaints are to be kept confidential to protect all parties involved (and may come to nothing) and it was excruciatingly obvious that I was the complainant.  Other staff had made unofficial remarks about his inappropriate behaviour and that they were uncomfortable with his innuendo but I was definitely on my own now.

So, those above me are thinking about me and judging me.  This is my first teaching job.  My only possible reference if I had to leave and start again.  I had a folder of letters from parents and students, newspaper clippings and excellent Performance Reviews.  My contract had been extended early on.  Now my bosses were just talking about whether I was some kind of Lolita or if I’d messed around with him and was crying wolf.  Mortifying.

Now every colleague who didn’t already know there was a problem knew that I’d made a formal complaint against him.  They were thinking about it, talking about it in their own small groups and making their judgements, also.  Many were shared with me (thanks).  I got a few messages of support but they were in secret; one a note left for me with chocolate saying ‘Hang in there’ and a couple of nods.  Isolating and punishment upon punishment when I was the bloody victim.

The students and parents were talking about me, him, The Something.  I’ve written before about how some of the kids were affected and went to their parents somewhere here.  Mortifying and deeply concerning regarding student welfare.  Just my little opinion.

I will never forget the phone call with my union representative when she said, “Look, have you thought about just letting this go?”  Until that moment they had been staunch, if slightly awkward, allies.  If the union thinks I should just ‘cop it on the chin’ who the hell is going to stand with me?

At the Christmas lunch at this school before I left, the principal handed out jokey awards to staff.  Can you believe this prick read out a “Red Neck Award; for always being red in the face, on the verge of tears or about to explode” Staff clap.  Yeah, that’s funny.  She is always upset. ROFL.  

When the Department itself conducted its own investigation (loose term, yo) the letter attached to the findings from the head of the region stated that I “probably misread a lot of situations due to being emotional” and that I should forgive much of my alleged treatment as people involved “were new to their roles”.  So, I know what he was thinking about me and my situation then.  If that’s what he wrote on official letterhead…

The professional Institute/body then began their own investigation and I gave evidence in disturbing detail, made to go through my mouldy diaries and be extremely direct and exact.  About everything.  That started about three years ago now.  I’ve never heard anything.  They must have thought it was no biggy, either.  Thank you.

I realised that people were talking about this region wide…well, when some other teachers who worked in head office told me that.  That’s a large chunk of the state I live in.  Hideous.  I actually moved out of the entire region briefly after this but my whole life is here.  My family.

I made contact with a teaching agency.  I’d be an ’emergency’ teacher, fill in when they were sick, etc.  The word back was I didn’t have a prayer.  No one at that school would agree to be named as a referee.  I did it all for nothing.  If you have a think about it, you’ll remember at least one sub teacher who was an abomination, not a teacher at all.  I was now lower than that person.  Pretty fucking low.

I have spent a long time with my head down.  Dreading running into a student or parent.  Feeling so ashamed and sad.  Also pissed off that the others were still teachers, doing what I loved to do, while I shopped at the petrol station or drive through places.

The longer this has dragged on I have slowly realised that all I can do is be me, and be comfortable with that woman.  I cannot control the opinions and gossip of others no matter how awful and unfair they have been.

The words from others are useless unless we believe them in our own hearts

I know who I am.  I know what happened.  I know who did what.  I know they are horrible, unethical assholes.  I have to accept that this knowledge is all I am going to get.  The knowledge of all I have lost through this treatment at work, in my dream job, I must face alone.  Without vindication or public justice.  Which I wanted so desperately.  The gossip, investigations and my deterioration was public.  Why the fuck can’t my absolution?  I suppose because assholes are assholes and sometimes human beings suck.

When you’re worried about how others think about you, you are in their domain.  And if you’re busy living in their domain, how can you be present for yourself and your own domain?

This one’s a cracker, because I do NOT want to be anywhere NEAR the domain of those people.  Their domains stink.  They’re poisonous.  And I would be wasting a lot of greatness on losers who don’t give me a second thought anymore.  Until they get a call or a letter about me pursuing compensation now.  Hehehe.  May their domains be sleepless, full of tears and abject fear for their careers and reputations.  Especially her.  I hope she is inside out with worry.  Because she knows all of the truth.  And they underestimated the fight in this kitten.

When you live according to your truth and stay in your own mental sphere, others are more likely to honour you and the truth you live, too, whether they agree with you or not

And the added bonus is, with practice, you give less shits what those people think of you.  That’s not at all easy given the personal nature of this topic and experience.  Not. At. All.  But I feel the shift and I will keep reminding myself.  Though their thoughts and judgements have screwed my career in this field…they are not about me, really.  Their shit is about them.*

PS  Fuck the haters.  Kick some ass.  Yell your truth from the rooftops*

*Repeat daily, as often as needed.  See your doctor if symptoms persist.  I believe you.

The Slut and The Crazy Bitch

I testified in court.  If you are able to do so, I urge you to.  I can’t speak for anyone else’s experience or what is best for them.  All I can say is that although it was the worst day of my life (or so it seemed) it was also infinitely empowering.  I didn’t know how things would turn out but as I got to spell out what he’d done to me and look into the judge’s eyes…I felt real power.  The defence smashed it pretty quickly with vulgar and caustic rebuttals but I just repeated the truth – over and over – and he realised that I was in fact a very good witness.  It got easier as the day went on.  And the result was that the accused asked to plead guilty if the DPP would remove the threat of twelve months jail.  Now testifying was fucked up.  No way around that.  I would have possibly agreed to anything at the end of that day.  But I’m pretty proud of myself that before any other evidence was submitted – and his slew of lying accomplices had the chance to try to slam my character in court – he caved.  You bet that feels good.

Given that experience, I almost spontaneously combust when I read other examples of victim blaming tactics used to deny claims of sexual harassment, assault and rape. I understand the adversarial legal system on an intellectual level but it can fuck right off in this area (and family violence, child abuse…).

Outside Court

Ms Robinson 

Earlier this year the media reported on a pending sexual harassment case.  According to the International Business Times, “Philip Goodman, chairman and sole director of Rivers Australia, is again on the hot seat after a former employee has lodged a sexual harassment claim, his second in a span of two years.”

You can read more of her allegations here and evidence that the complainant was far from the first woman to be assaulted and bullied by this man is here.

Today’s brief article addressed the defence barristers claims.  Or as the sub heading said, “boss’s ‘counter claims'”.  A counter-claim would be if she also molested him.  Gross misuse of the term here, editor! After you testify, the defendant and his legal team come at you (in this case, Sallyanne Robinson, a Brit in Australia on a work visa at the time) with anything they can.  All of the claims generally centre around mental health and promiscuity.  They can’t come out and call you a slut anymore but they paint the picture in other ways pretty bluntly.

As if that would actually BE a defence for unlawful assault.

Here are some excerpts:

Herman Borenstein, SC, for millionaire Rivers Clothing boss suggested to Ms Robinson “that she lacked a sense of humour about the CEO calling her Madame Lash in front of co workers.  He asked if she was hypersensitive and over reacted”

Yes, because sexual harassment is just Regular Guy Banter.  He was Having Fun.  Mucking Around.  Geez, lighten up.  You’re probably an uptight feminist lesbian.

Ms Robinson complained to her supervisor and Goodman ignored her for a while then approached her, “Do you still think I’m trying to get into your knickers?”

It was flirting and you are an uptight bitch.  You think so highly of yourself that you think everyone wants you.

Borenstein said that ex colleagues had a list of “humiliating allegations” he wished to put to Ms Robinson; she “abused alcohol and would get ‘so wasted’ she had to be carried home”

This is to insinuate that the victim was out of control, had personal issues and could do anything if she could get that drunk.  Because alcohol always equals women who never say NO.  Obviously.

Colleagues allegedly reported that Ms Robinson “was obsessed with her own breasts”

What.  The.  Fuck.  I can’t believe he read that out with a straight face but it was deliberately used to insinuate that the victim was overtly sexual.  Breasts!  She liked them!  Breasts!  *old man drool* Ugh.

Berenstein accused Ms Robinson of “urinating on her partner every morning in the shower”.

Well, bugger me.  I thought the breasts thing was stupid.  Bizarre. Used to insinuate the victim is kinky?  Dirty?  She urinates???  I can’t believe that a judge would let that through the gate.

Next, he said that Ms Robinson had previously “been a burlesque dancer”.

Slut.  Slutty slut slut.  They can’t ask if she’s ‘easy’ so they draw tenuous links from gross innuendo allegedly given to the legal team by employees.  (Obviously not the employees who have backed up claims of a harassment culture inherent in the company for a decade, as stated in one of the above articles).

Ms Robinson told the court that colleagues had seen her upset after Goodman had made her model underwear for him, alone, with only a towel to change behind.

At first glance, one may ask, How did he make her do that?  It’s pretty weird…  I didn’t model underwear for the shithead I took to court – I was a school teacher – but you can bet your ass that manipulative men in powerful positions can have you in situations that you just can’t believe are happening…your mind goes in slow motion because who would actually do that?  And you need your job.  It’s how you are staying in the country.  And please, ladies, don’t talk back, make a fuss, say no or rock the boat.  Appease.

Who do you think you’re talking to?  I own this company.

The links above also detail various accounts of Indecent and Sexual Assault where Ms Robinson was groped and poked like a piece of meat.  He grabbed a breast and told her they were ‘good natural ones’.

The next textbook question is ‘if this is true, why didn’t you tell someone straight away?  Why wouldn’t you tell your boyfriend?’ because unless you screamed it out in a staff meeting or called the police on day one, it couldn’t have happened, right?  Ms Robinson said that she didn’t tell her partner for a long time as he wouldn’t have wanted her to go back to work and she was also concerned about her visa status.  I believe her 100%  I didn’t tell my boyfriend until I gave a statement to police.  Eight months after it started.  He saw me upset, was at my house when I got late night phone calls from my boss over and over, saw the creepy text messages.  But I lied.  I said it was manageable.  The guy was just a pest.  I lied because I preferred to be in denial.  And my boyfriend would have been at the school the next day to bash this guy’s head in (I’ve had days where I regretted avoiding that).  It was my first professional teaching role.  I loved my job.  This was a career at stake.  I was on a six month contract.  Very dicey ground.  The boss makes it clear, as all abusers do, that no one would believe you.  Some, like mine, take proactive steps to set up their defence as they go.  I worked up the courage to seek help the first time and I was met with derision and rejection. ‘Actually, he’s already approached me about that.  He said you’d say that’.  Gobsmacked.

In one of the articles about this Rivers case, Goodman (just seen the ugly irony in his name there) claims that Ms Robinson had mental health issues and exhibited problems during the entire course of her employment.

The Other Ultimate Dismissal.  If you’re not The Slut you are The Crazy Bitch.  Probably both!  Classic strategies.  Up yours, Freud.  Hysteria.  Hysterical.  You can’t trust females. Hormones.  Probably a ‘bunny boiler’ and all that.

Suddenly the victim crying on the stand medicated for her PTSD might be a horny, vindictive woman with loose morals and a permanent hangover.  Same thing.  All the effing time.

The upside?  They all use the same bullshit.  It’s standard.  They don’t care.  Just got to ‘muddy the waters’.  Cast aspersions.  But don’t worry too much.  Those bastards use the same defence tactics and prosecutors and support people know this.  They can help you prepare.  There is some small comfort in the sameness of their approach.

We know that sexual confidence or emotions have sweet eff all to do with whether someone is a sexual predator or a criminal.  But how often do we hear that a child ‘led a man on’ to contribute to her own vulgar rape, or the way we treat rape and murder of sex workers with minimal outrage and barely an inch of media column.  Because sexual.  Women.  Sluts.  Made him do it.

We need to smash this shit into a thousand pieces.  And that means talking about it in all its gory detail.  It takes women like Sallyanne Robinson, Kate Shea and hey, even anonymous me, to make some noise when the worst happens. To hang in there through the shitstorm that follows.  Be The Slut and The Crazy Bitch in some people’s eyes.  Vocally support others when their turn inevitably comes around.   Sometimes people are really ignorant and it takes what happened to Jill Meagher to rattle their cages.

We may never reach a freedom and safety utopia but my fervent hope is that we make our voices heard until our last breath.  And encourage all others to do the same.

Which reminds me…

Walk through the city of Melbourne tomorrow, everybody, shouting loud and proud for SlutWalk 2013.  Some may not like the name, nobody likes the word but fighting is fighting and I can tell you from last years experience, it feels really bloody good to yell your heart out and demand respectful attention with some of the best women in the country by your side!

Do it.  Do it for Sallyanne Robinson, Kate Shea, Jane Doe from Steubenville, Jill Meagher, Jazzy O and everybody in between.  Do it for your mum, sister, the daughter or niece you love.  Do it because it’s the right fucking thing to do.

Speaking out and being heard helps every single woman feel stronger, more supported and less alone.  When they need it the most.

If you don’t walk tomorrow, there are so many other ways to help. Just talk to those close to you.  Talk to strangers on the Internet.

Know that if you are the one needing to tell, there is someone out there who wants to hear you.

When Something Is Wrong With My Baby, Something Is Wrong With Me

Mother-Son

Mother-Son (Photo credit: srsphoto)

I often start to type and end up writing something completely different to what I was thinking of.  That’s not too hard.  There are so many current examples of hateful, shocking sexual violence and general misogyny that I honestly don’t know where to start.  Several times a day I read or hear something that should defy logic…do people really have no idea of how sexism and denial of voices permeates every word in our language, the subjects of our discussions and so often, great miscarriages of justice?  I struggle to believe that so many can truly be unaware.

See, already meandering…

My divine child is approaching four years old.  He represents all manner of saviours, healing and reasons to hold on *no pressure*.  He is also what my heart looks like as it stands outside my body.

For at least a year I have had people refer to autistic traits they saw in him.  Some raised this issue respectfully, others not so much.  I saw the behaviours they spoke of.  But these things are common in children of his age and not on their own indicators of any syndrome or difficulty.  He is extremely affectionate, demonstrative, aware and engaged.  This kept me thinking that ASD was not relevant.  As yet the sensory issues and dealing with frustration that he has at times were not impeding his quality of life so I waited.

How much does this situation of mine impact upon my child, I thought.  We have existed in a mostly secluded world.  I am on medication for depression and anxiety due to PTSD from sexual assaults and stalking at work.  It’s fair to say that I exhibit some reluctance to socialise and do some of the ‘normal stuff’ that parents do.  Joining playgroups.  Playdates.  Often the idea of going to an open space like a park makes me feel sick lest I be *seen* by anyone – from my work or a private investigator.  And school holidays.  Ugh.  Teacher’s Best Friend is my nightmare now.  Those people could be anywhere.  Seeing school kids makes me sad.  Can’t wait for them to be over again.

Eventually I agreed to going through the assessment process for autism and related diagnoses.  By this time I had already spent so many hours going through the grief process associated with this type of thing.  I mean, I have perspective on where ASD fits on a scale of ‘disasters’ as a parent but it is natural and normal to experience some shock, worry and about one million truckloads of guilt.

On World Autism Awareness Day, someone tweeted a link to a study that found women who take certain antidepressants whilst pregnant may contribute to the onset of ASD in their child.  Which drug?  My drug.  My exact medication.

When I found out I was pregnant I raised the usual concerns with my GP and Obstetrician.  They both said that the ‘risks’ of stopping the medication whilst still under such pressure (and trying to stay at work) were greater than known risks for the baby.  I was worried but they were correct, I think.  I had to be as strong as possible to be the best mother I could be.

But did I do this to my baby?

Is my struggle with these feelings and experiences hurting my child even more than I already thought/felt guilty about?

Is this a tertiary effect of what was done to me at work, that my child has to engage in therapies and I am offered a Carers Payment (this upsets me for some reason), because a man was allowed to rape and harass me for almost a year in my workplace?

If I had been believed, not blamed and threatened, would I have been on medication and still be sitting here?

If men and women in trusted positions in the community hadn’t lied to Police and the Department?

If the overwhelming majority of people didn’t still support and participate in a victim blaming culture of such epic proportions…

I want a different life.  I want to feel strong and brave.  I want to look forward to a future where I can contribute, support and be passionate about things that matter.  Some days I just feel like what these pricks did is like an unwanted gift that keeps on giving…popping up to remind me.  I’m angry because they do not deserve that kind of power or importance.

My son will be more than fine, I know this.  He will reap the benefits (ha) of a mother trained to work in advocacy, education and inclusive practices.  Who is a Proud Nerd and passionate believer.  You want to talk about quadrilaterals, babe?  You’ve come to the right Mummy!

But under that pride and enthusiasm is a dark little cave.  The Guilty Place.  Somewhere people try to put you when you disclose sexual assault and rape.

It’s Your Fault.

You Made This Happen.

And You’re Not Strong Enough to be without meds, so You Made This Happen, Too.

I’ll fight the voices that say things like that but I really need to start looking after myself – on the inside.  That’s always the hardest thing to do.

Nobody Knows Best

A man assaults a woman and appears to try to choke her.  In public view.  She has red eyes and shows clear signs of distress.  Let’s suspend the issue of no one intervening but in fact recording pictures of this assault for later sale.  Let’s just look at the incident itself.

Where is the wrongdoing here?  Surely it is clear that the aggressive party is doing something wrong.  Isn’t it?

Naturally, you’d expect the conversation that follows to be about what a jerk this guy is.  That violence of any kind is never ok.  That we just caught a public glimpse of what 1 in 3 women can unfortunately expect to experience during their lives, in silence and in private.  Are we not collectively outraged at the criminal behaviour of this abusive man?  He is the headline, right?  No?

Oh.  That doesn’t seem right…

Given all the reasons women might stay in an abusive relationship, it seems a more useful question might be “Where do women get the courage to leave their abusers?” or “Why do batterers assume they have the right to abuse?”    Source here

The absolute focus of media and the ensuing discussion should be The Perpetrator and What He Did Wrong.  I shared something written about the language employed by the media which puts the focus of violent crime on the victim rather than the attacker.  This is a powerful not-so-subtle message every time we scan the headlines. We avoid naming the problem.  Forthrightly and without shame.  His violence is the problem.  

The second blow to the victim in this case (and so many others) is the immediate pressure on her to ‘do the right thing‘.  ‘People look up to her’.  She needs to ‘make a stand’.  Examples of this are in articles referred to at the end of this post.

She needs to do bollocks.

Perhaps we can express hope that this person finds a safe place to be tonight.  That she be surrounded by people who care about her and will let her cry.  Who won’t say ‘I told you so’, ‘What did you say to upset him?’ or ‘You have to do A B and C!’  Then, with important support and a fragile trust, hopefully she can plan the steps necessary to keep her and her children safe and secure for the future.  Except this particular woman will be doing it under the watch of the public eye.  Horrendous concept.

Victims of abusive partners will be carrying enough guilt, shame and self doubt to last a lifetime.  They and their vulnerable children don’t actually need to be dumped on, pressured or questioned about this incident or any other that may have come before it (shocking, I know).  Many comment on this topic generally out of ignorance (hey, if you haven’t felt the hell of family violence close to you, that’s bloody excellent news) but also a certain arrogance.  This also happens with other victims of crime, most notably, sexual violence.

Some words of caution to the pious and pontificating: You think you know what you would do if this was you.  You haven’t got a bloody clue.  Oh, you have been in this situation but sorted it like a legend?  Great.  Everyone is different.

Perpetrators of physical and sexual violence are most often a person known to the victim.  Family.  Lovers.  This means that the incident does not happen in isolation. But nor is it their entire character.  It happens slowly.  Over time, abusers chip away at their target.  They are not swinging their fists upon introduction and are so commonly charming and affable.  The relationship between abuser and their victim is complicated and confusing.  It is extremely difficult to process the reality that the person you know/trust/love is capable of such vile behaviour.  That they could be like that.  I didn’t admit in my own mind that what happened to me was rape for…years.  I became easily confused, doubted myself.  Because abusive acts are so hard to deal with.  No one thinks they know people capable of such things.  It can take a lot of help/work/time to work through all of the other white noise of trauma to get to a place of understanding which observers seem to reach so readily for us.

So please don’t tell all and sundry that Nigella, or any other trauma victim, should do anything for you.  They do not have to assume the position of Poster Child for the rest of us.  How they respond to being hurt is NOT a decider of their worth in any way. When you express these dangerous opinions you don’t know who you are silencing in the future.  Who you are shaming in the present.

The most productive thing we can all do for victims of serious crimes is advocate for a system that supports victims at all times, a media that focuses on the perpetrators of violence and names the problem and a public discourse that respects those who deserve it.

*Any person who is a victim of such intimate terrorism

LINKS

The Only Decent One I Found at dailylife.com.au regarding what sparked this conversation

Avoiding Victim Blaming Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness

Everyday Victim Blaming A campaign to change the language, culture and attitude around violence against women and children

Why Do They Stay? Some ideas on the multi faceted influences at play in abusive relationships

White Ribbon campaign to address violence against women in Australia

WHO CAN HELP

  • 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732): 24 hour, National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line for any Australian who has experienced, or is at risk of, family and domestic violence and/or sexual assault.
  • Lifeline has a national number who can help put you in contact with a crisis service in your State (24 hours)
    131 114
  • Police or Ambulance
    000 in an emergency for police or ambulance.
  • Translating and Interpreting Service
    Phone to gain access to an interpreter in your own language (free)
    131 450
  • Mensline Australia
    Supports men and boys who are dealing with family and relationship difficulties
    1300 78 99 78
  • Kids Help Line
    Telephone counselling for children and young people
    Freecall: 1800 551 800.
    E-mail and web counselling www.kidshelp.com.au
  • Australian Childhood Foundation
    Counselling for children and young people affected by abuse
    1800-176-453 or 9874 -3922
    www.childhood.org.au or www.stopchildabuse.com.au
  • Relationships Australia
    Support groups and counselling on relationships, and for abusive and abused partners.
    1300-364-277 or Vic (03) 9261-8700. Website: www.relationships.com.au
  • ASCA (Adults Surviving Child Abuse) A service to adult survivors, their friends and family and the health care professionals who support them.
    Support line: 1300 657 380
    www.asca.org.au
  • National Disability Abuse and Neglect Hotline
    An Australia-wide telephone hotline for reporting abuse and neglect of people with disability.
    Ph. 1800 880 052
    www.disabilityhotline.org

What Say You, WorkSafe?

This won’t be a long one but (insert scream here)…

Image credit here

Firstly, WorkSafe sent a letter asking if they could use me in their research coming up.  Not me in particular, just any workers.  But do I have anything to say which could help others?  Why, yes I do, sir.  Please contact me.  Or, employ me to design and conduct the research project – as I am also qualified to do so.  But now I just blog instead.

Photo credit here

If I get the chance, I will explain to the good researcher that there is a problem with insurance companies.  Professionalism.  Duty of care. The critical role they should play in getting people back to work.  I find mine lacking in this area.  This makes ‘recovery’ more difficult when it needn’t be.

Also, could we possibly have a bit of recognition for psychological injury?  Not to suggest that a physical injury does not harm and affect the inside, too, but WorkSafe, you are involved with me because I was sexually assaulted (etcetera) by my boss, and then heavily influenced to keep it quiet by others in charge.  This is not a simple injury.  It did not actually ‘happen on a Wednesday’.  I cannot go back to a school on ‘modified duties’.  At the heart of the issue, when you have me assessed every 90 days, you are essentially undressing me and requiring me to talk about my own body.  Not in the mechanical sense.  It can move.  In the violated sense.  The deeply personal sense.  The embarrassing sense.  The retraumatising sense.  Am I painting a picture for you here?

Therefore, when somebody makes a mistake or an admin person calls to question me; it’s not as clean cut as you might like.  I am a compliant person.  I do whatever is asked of me in this process and apologise the whole time for bothering you all.  I’m also trying to get better when I have a psychological injury.  So please don’t fuck with me.

Photo credit here

I would also like to comment on the process of exiting the ‘system’ roundabout.  I had thought recently that I would like to make some plans for the future.  I know that I will need to continue counselling and medication but I would like to think I might have the chance to rebuild my professional self and earn my own wage, not through blood money.  Now, you suggest I cannot do that in a school environment.  This is probably true, though I will never be happy to concede this.  I would also like to note here that should appropriate action have been taken AT ANY STAGE of this awful experience, I would not have had to forfeit my career, and you could have quite easily handballed me back into a teaching job which I loved.  But even as I type, I have never been approached or addressed with regards to my welfare, safety, wishes…nothing.  The schools, the Institute (especially, I might add), the Department and all parties involved (however tenuously) in my alleged repatriation.  I have initiated everything, every step of the way.  I have followed through despite what everyone around me did to make it harder for me.  And now when I think of my future, you give me this…

I was forced from a professional position which I earned after postgraduate university study.  I wanted it.  I sacrificed for it.  I thought my dream had come true.  When I had to be assessed for future employability options, I was told that I would not be put into a random position.  It would be somewhat commensurate to my position when I left.  I recently made enquiries about retraining options.  To get better, I need something to imagine.  Something to work towards.  I was told that I cannot be retrained until I have been declared Fit To Work.  Here’s the conundrum.  I won’t get better (from a psychological injury) without retraining.  Catch-22, yes?

Photo credit here

So what retraining is open to me when I perform a mental miracle (presumably after a Department-funded partial-lobotomy to remove the memories and flashbacks..)?  Oh, you only fund short courses?  In what?  What if I’d never worked in another role?  I was only a teacher?  How would you fix me then?

I offered to finance my own retraining and seek to complete my Masters in Social Work.  I could study things that matter to me.  Work towards helping others.  Make a difference.  It’s what I wanted to do at the start, but, funny girl that I am – I thought I could work in schools and be a positive adult for children before there was a need for social intervention.  Quaint, aren’t I?  A tragic idealist.

But I can’t do that either, can I?  Because there is a component of Field Placement.  An ‘internship’ providing essential practical experience.  And the chance to get my pride back.  But I can’t be in any workplace.  Even in that capacity.  Because I am certified unfit by my GP with regards to work before.  But I can’t legally make a positive change and become a distant memory for you all when I regain my independence.

Photo credit here

Small balloon of hope: deflated.  Back to the drawing board.  As usual, I’ll do it all myself.

Who Cares?

It has dawned on me that the institute responsible for my ‘professional’ status (and that of the other unprofessional professionals who have turned this into my worst nightmare) may be waiting for the sexual offender’s registration as a teacher to simply run out rather than have to address the issue as it deserves to be dealt with.

Am I slow? I wouldn’t have thought so but if registration is for five years…BAM, here we are! His registration will lapse at the end of this year. I think mine lasts another year as the first year is Provisional (like P plates for drivers). If he does not reapply for teaching status, the institute can simply cross their fingers and hope he never does apply. Wow! They’ll save themselves the time and money involved in their ‘investigation’. And I will be ignored. Again.

It was over a year ago that I got a call from the legal department within the institute. The caller said, “You deserve to be heard. We need to look into this, because it was so much more than the sexual offences, wasn’t it?”

Yes, it was. Though the sexual offences alone should be enough to see his registration cancelled, his guilty plea an admission that he is not fit to be working with vulnerable children and young teachers. He never wanted to teach anyway and his educational impact on the community was negligable. That is putting it kindly. Have I told you this before? That he said, “I knew I’d be made a boss at school because I have a penis. Everybody knows men are promoted faster…and now look at me. I have control over all these women, including you”.  Sounds like a real asset to the profession, yes?

Indeed.

Up until now I have been paying my annual fee to remain a registered teacher. I didn’t want to let go. I hoped I could be at school again. I wanted to be with the kids. I got the 2013 invoice in the mail yesterday. For the first time I thought I wouldn’t pay. What’s the point? But if I let my registration lapse, I am admitting something. That it’s over.

Realising that is one thing. A terrible thing for me. Coming to the conclusion that the institute has taken a delibate choice to avoid dealing with this is another big blow.  Though I shouldn’t be that shocked.

So my mentor didn’t care.  “You heard him.  He wasn’t getting any at home”

My principal didn’t care.  “That’s not what I’d call rape”

The department didn’t care.  “You were emotional and your principal was new to the job, he cannot be held accountable” and “Does it say in the Mentor Manual that they have to stop sexual assault?  Does it?  No!  So why did you think it was her job?”

The institute doesn’t care.  I can’t quote them because after interviewing me over seven hours, they’ve been silent for more than a year.

Who cares?

Not the insurance company or WorkCover.  I called to say that I couldn’t get childcare for the day I was booked in to have my next psychiatric assessment to justify being paid.  Are you still affected?  YES.  GOODBYE.  The representative stated that my payments may be suspended on that basis.  I called my lawyer (thank god I have them – join your Union, folks, quicksmart!) and they are trying to contact the company.  I’ve run out of tissues.

To add insult to injury, this was not waterproof mascara.  So now I also look like a Hallowe’en character.

Buggerbuggerbuggerbuggerbuggerbuggerbugger…

Courage Under Fire: When Speaking Up Makes You A Target

MEDREACH 11, Soldiers share CLS, Malawi, May 2011

Image by US Army Africa via Flickr

The other day I wrote about the down side of The System.  I saw mention of some research that found injured workers who received benefits recover more slowly than those who go back to work early. This is linked to the mental health side of a physical injury as we see on the commercials, no doubt, but simplifies things for individuals unable to work due to extreme stress, breakdown or sexual assault.  It also glosses over the fact that I would prefer to be at work, thank you.  I tried with everything I had to stay at work.  I have stated all along that if I had received any support (or in fact was not further traumatised by bullying, gossip and blatant misconduct on the part of senior staff) I would probably have never had to leave work.  The findings of the study are correct in that a continued link to your workplace, where you can contribute positively and maintain relationships, would be of crucial benefit to one’s mental and emotional health.

But what if it your workplace that is inherently unhealthy?  What if you try and try to work ‘through it’ and eventually find that though you do a great job and receive positive feedback from the outside, on the sly your boss and other members of a small staff use opportunities to make your presence there as difficult as possible, lest you try to ‘dob them in’ too?

When I started I was a bit of a golden child there, teacher’s pet. Maybe that’s a leftover from being the eldest child.  I put my hand up for things that other people had let go (bit boring, time poor, other commitments) as I was awash with new enthusiasm and sickeningly happy to be there.  I was a happy, confident person.  I was a little politically minded (in a general sense, enjoyed discussing issues and dilemmas) and eager, but not stupidly so.  I knew what I was doing and I thought it was a reasonable fit; older staff wanted to pull back from roles and us younger ones were happy to pick up the slack given that we were beginning our careers.  Win-win, no?

From being a ‘strong asset’ to an unwanted problem.  That didn’t happen because my work or productivity changed.  I continued to do a tricky job IN SPITE of the hideous things that were taking place.  I know that I was pushed out because I verbalised clearly, ‘I’m not the problem.  These people did this and you need to deal with it’.  That offended the sensibilities of some at this organisation and made me public enemy number one.  I wasn’t trying to throw my weight around – I was plain desperate to be saved.  I’d been seriously sexually assaulted, had this fool coming to my house, calling me, texting me…the other witness, my senior, warning me to shut up or she’d ‘be in trouble’, too.  Literally, these two were on either side of my workspace every day.  The big boss was across from me.  I haven’t even thought of that before.  The sheer pressure of being surrounded, metaphorically and literally.  I feel panicky thinking about it.  No wonder I was feeling strangled.  I was bloody surrounded!  If I’d had an office in another building it would have felt like less of a vice. Probably.  I’m sure they’d have found a way.  But maybe I would’ve had room to breathe.

I really don’t know how I went in to work.  I don’t have a face that hides emotions.  I was scared to leave the house, or even any window or door unlocked for goodness sake.  I got a dog (who was a destroyer, but mostly of soft furnishings).  But I walked in there each day, bar four days after the most serious assaults.  I should have been awarded a fricking medal.  (Classic over-achiever, see?)

I could have recovered.  That’s the part that hurts me the most.  It’s what I talk about in counselling, it’s what makes my chest hurt and why I cry.  Why I am not able to work, really.  Yes, I was violated. Yes, I was threatened and manipulated.  Awful.  But once I got to the point (boiling point) where I said enough’s enough and took the matter outside the workplace, I should have been able to work on getting myself back in order again.  It wasn’t like that, though. It was the opposite in every clichéd way you can imagine.

“She’s been here longer than you.  We used to work together.  She’s very helpful.  She’d never do the things you’re saying”

They’re going nowhere.  If you can’t hack it, you need to leave”

“You’d better be very careful who you accuse of things around here”

Heart rate’s up, chest tight.  They’re the most pathetic looking bunch, too.  The person who made those threats above – the smallest, least intimidating physically.  Everyone’s favourite ‘nice guy’.

“He’s not the best leader but hey, he’s such a nice guy

“The women love him.  Think he’s cute”

“He was the best of a bad bunch on the day” (Referring to his interview to become boss)

“Better the Devil you know and all that” (He was promoted internally)

And, one of my favourites, “He cooks a mean barbecue” (Ummmm…)

So he was never fit to be in charge in the first place and no one would believe the anger in him unless they’d experienced it themselves (it’s unnerving when a tiny, well-groomed man goes so red in the face, you think it will explode).  And he made decisions not based on merit, or even laws and Health and Safety obligations (forget moral obligations), but pure nepotism.  Still does today.  You can tell, I hold his actions and negligence responsible for the last few years of my life in this state of seclusion.  In my mind I punch him in the well-groomed face. In reality my heart leaps into my throat if I think I see him go past in the local area.  Not because I’m scared.  Because I’m angry (*find much more intense adjective for that).

I did leave at the end of a year, not because I wanted to but because they made it so it was my only option.  I hate that.  I’m not a powerless person.  I am not a victim.  I am not a pawn.  But in the course of maintaining strength, independence and an awareness of my rights as an employee, I became those things anyway.  I got through one layer but they put up another.  And I really took a blow.  Lost all faith in myself and anyone around me.  I knew I was good at my job, I don’t mind if that sounds arrogant.  I worked hard and the job itself was a natural fit for my strengths, interests and personality.  It still is, though I feel in my heart I will not be able to return in any capacity.

And the rumour mill still turns.  ‘They’ ask after me.

“Do you see her?”

“What does she say?”

I have a friend who is still there.  We started together and she is AMAZING.  Someone who would cut off an arm or a leg to give to you. A beautiful soul.  One of the good guys.  But we aren’t friends in public.  Certainly not on any social networks.  We try to avoid being seen together.  Isn’t that sad?  It’s coming from both of us.  I don’t want anyone to bother her, question her or drag her in.  She knows that people talk, that they would not hesitate to question her if they knew we spent time together.  So we sort of mutually agree to be secret friends.  My heart is so heavy when I really feel the impact of those statements.  Grown women who spend their days maintaining a special bond, but only in whispers.

This was not what I started to post.  Unintentional but I’m sure many would say, obviously what I needed to get out.  I’m not even sure if it makes sense to read.

Whatever the case, I have concluded that I cannot blame myself.  I could not have tried to do anything differently.  And if I had, the result would have been the same.  Whatever I did, ‘they’ put the pressure on.  It’s taken five years to really feel like it wasn’t my fault.  But I’m there (99%).  What I have to do next is get through the sense of loss. The rage.  The feeling of having been failed.  That I spoke up but that in my case doing that was not enough.  I am still talking now and the process is so very slow.

That said, I would not hesitate in encouraging others to speak up. The more times you call their bluff (or at least get help to get out), the less isolating it will be for the next person.  Let’s make standing up to criminals and grown up bullies the norm.  Even the playing field a little more.  We deserve nothing less.  And that’s the world I want to raise my child in.  I’d tell him to speak up.  And so I must live it.