Music can nurse you through every human emotion, lift you up and break your heart. There’s a song for all of the defining moments in your life. Some music will always remind me of this seven years. This song linked above is the first that will remind me of The Conclusion, The New Start, A Win. Being free of the vice that is being an injured worker. Let the real healing begin.
It is almost seven years exactly.
Seven years since I walked into that school and felt all of the pride and excitement that comes with starting the job of your dreams. Especially after returning to university to get there. Giving up a professional income to study for this because THIS is where your heart is. Where all of the best things can happen. The classroom. And it was mine.
Seven years since I moved into my first real home on my own. Not a granny flat or weirdo share house. Mine. Two bedroom unit I would pay for with my dream job in the school I had chosen, in the beautiful small suburb on the edge of town.
I was in a relationship. I had my home. I was happy. All my ducks were in a row.
Seven years since the school year started but I see now that by that day, I was on his radar. He was a predator from very early on, if he has ever been any other way, I couldn’t say. Certainly the gossip from those on his interviewing panel were that his references were questionable. Inappropriate relations with staff, in general, were part of his MO. But hey, they knew him. He was a Nice Guy. Further complicating my experience, the power plays and existing alliances amongst such a small, long term staff list would ensure I would not get any of the support that was rightfully mine when the time came; ethically, morally, legally or as the profession standard.
Seven years I have tortured myself. First with denial – This revolting creature could not possibly be serious? But I will never forget how he asked for a ‘team photo’ on school photo day and as they took the shots his hand slid down my back and squeezed my buttock. But I look so happy in the photos. My hair was shiny, my eyes bright. My belief that I was in the right place with important work to do with students as a caring, empathic teacher was at peak level then. And I fought it’s demise every step of the way. Then I tortured myself with the guilt and shame spiral that I’d come to know well working in welfare with child survivors of sexual abuse. No amount of reasoning and research means a thing when you feel so stupid and trapped in your own skin. That theoretical knowledge probably makes it worse in some ways. Another thing to beat yourself with. How could I miss the signs? How could I be fooled? How did I get to this? I am an educated adult in a fair country in 2007. I am a Union member who knows my rights by heart. I can talk. I know who to tell. How the hell can you have all of that and still sit at the bottom of your running shower every night and wail? How?
It really has been seven years of screaming into people’s faces as they stare blankly ahead and pretend they can’t hear me. I did it that first night. We had the children on a school camp, you see. While you wondered how your kids were on their first big camp away, they were tucked up in bed but the most senior teachers were both in a dark room with me. One trying to remove my pyjamas, one joking about how I was young and “probably giving HIM an erection” as I fought him off and yelled about how much trouble he would be in. She was awake. She did hear me. I fucking told her I was upset about it when he left the room and she said, “He’s just an affectionate guy” – hard to say in your sleep.
I just had to stop for a bit. Seven years and it still hurts. It is still hard to believe that two primary school teachers acted in that way with kids asleep in the cabins beside us. He was supposed to be in a cabin on the other side of the camp. With the fathers who had volunteered to assist. On this camp so far away from home. No car. Only HIS car.
I am in awe of the human mind, how it worked to get me through that camp. That whole year with HIM, in the office next to my classroom, only windows between us. Six months later, after he was sent home and the Police became involved. As the Principal held a staff meeting to tell everyone that HE was suspended due to accusations by a staff member. And the room fell in on top of me. (Protocol that can be found on a Google search clearly states that this meeting should not have taken place, staff should NOT have been told but apparently the Principal should not be reprimanded because “he was new to the job”.) I printed out the guidelines for him, you know. Highlighted what he had to do next and the ‘chain of command’, if you will. I spoon fed it. I knew enough to have little faith in either his abilities or interest. And he pretended I hadn’t. Because they went to school together as kids. He knew HIS wife. HE was immature but harmless, couldn’t I see that? They were both just NICE GUYS.
For seven years I have heard that. From every level of the hierarchy. I have been questioned, cross examined, shamed, blamed and talked about. I worked for another two years (because I’m stubborn, and I truly believed in Right and Wrong) but this followed me. Like they told me it would. When I sat in her office, broken down, desperate, and asked the Principal for help as HIS frightening behaviour was breaking all kinds of LAWS (I thought that would scare him into action HAHAHAHAHA) and he stated very simply, “If you make this known outside these walls, your career will be ruined. Mud. Sticks.” I still thought he was being dramatic, or referring to other difficulties. I did not realise that what he actually meant was that the three of them together would almost kill me from the inside out. That he would laugh when a temp agency called to ask if I had worked there before. That I would become unemployable because someone with authority over me in the workplace decided that he would have me, body and mind, whether I wanted that or not. Every time I got the guts (or pissed off enough) to say something I was “being unprofessional” and “should reconsider whether I am suitable for the job”. Said the ‘new to the job’ principal. Was he also new to planet Earth and Australian Law?
For seven years I have known that the only option for me was to fight. At times I had nothing left. I considered how I could stop the insanity…only one way that I could see. Then I would decide again that they couldn’t have all of me, the pricks. I didn’t try to wipe myself out in defiance because that would be too much of a gift to them. All gone. Nothing for them to worry about. I wanted them to have something to worry about.
For seven years I imagined bloody revenge. Fiery vengeance. Sometimes violent retribution. What else can you do? I did take myself to a counselor then and ask if I was becoming a psychopath, had I crossed the line? What had I become? (It’s particularly disconcerting when the targets inhabit primary schools, really makes you feel fucked up) Just a normal person after trauma, apparently. Using anything that my brilliant mind could dig up to release some of that pain. I don’t think you can ever be the same though, after a mind shift like that. My tolerance for hearing about other people’s trauma is much lower. I am enraged. Angry. Sick to fucking death of sexual violence and manipulation and victim blaming bullshit.
It has been less than seven years since I first called my union representative and put this scenario to them. Probably about three years since I saw a lawyer. The union works with this law firm to aid employees financially and legally in a way I cannot emphasise strongly enough to you. Join your goddamn union and investigate your rights at work. That wasn’t enough to help me, true, but I have utilized those venues in the only way they are available to some of us – with the impending threat of a public hearing. Seeking some financial compensation. Not to get rich. Hahahaha you don’t choose Workcover to get rich, kids. Turns out you have to be a bit of a sadist, or one tough mother. It’s brutal. For bringing Rape and Stalking charges against your boss…faaaaark.
Even with all of the evidence that I had, the Police and Court documents, countless psychiatric examinations by strangers and sharp legal representation to face their scary lawyers…seven years to come to an end. Three years of constant legal action. He pled guilty, right? Still three years for that to be recognised. To prove that I was damaged by what we agree he did. Prove damage enough that I might get some recognition in the eyes of…well…anyone. I wasn’t fussy by now. Only one option. I had to fight for it. I knew I couldn’t go on any other way.
Yesterday, I got the call. My lawyer. Her voice happy and light. It IS over. I’ve taken it to the limit and the other side has made an offer that indicates I was indeed the victim of some hellish wrongdoing. There was a tussle, mind. Some initial offers which were insulting to the person reading them out and all of us. This kind of settlement could’ve meant a much higher one should I have been forced into jury trial to prove employer negligence. It could also have meant the same, or less. Depends on the jury. It would have meant more public knowledge and opportunities for more abuse and pain for me. I was willing because I wanted to prove a point but I’m pretty bloody glad that I don’t have to, as I’m sure anyone would be. Seven years is enough.
Turns out that there is no precedent for this scenario in workplace/employer law to get this far. Has a boss sexually assaulted an employee? Well, yes. Was it like this? Did everyone involved lie, bully and blacklist the victim? Was that person able to fight this long? Nope. When I first called the union they did say, “Um, I don’t know where to start. This is a new one for us!”
I wanted to make a mark on the world, you know. And I hope I do it in other ways, too. But in these circumstances, I have had a big win.
What I am hoping for is that this seven years and yesterday’s outcome serve as a warning to employers and other staff (especially THIS employer) that rape, sexual assault, stalking, harassment and gossip ARE WRONG, EVEN IN YOUR ISOLATED WORKPLACE! A Duty of Care exists even if you choose to think that young women are “dick teases” who “bring it upon themselves”. (Yes, direct quotes). If an employer in the future only acts out of fear for his own hide rather than being a lawful and ethical professional, so be it. As long as someone’s silent suffering is minimised or prevented. The moral revolution necessary and thorough smashing of the patriarchy that enables this shit must come also but that’s work far beyond the capacity of the utter bastards in my story. It was of course their strongest weapon.
If there happens to be another asshole out there preying on a Bright Young Thing who dreams of Making A Difference (and I think we know there is), and she has to call her union rep or a lawyer one day, I want to make sure they know there is a precedent in this area. You are not lost in the woods entirely. Because I tried my best to slash my way through and I think I left a trail with a little light. It’s yours if you need it and I’ll be here somewhere if you need directions. Funnily enough, in about seven weeks I don’t have to be an anonymous shell anymore.
As the months become years, you inevitably reach days on the calendar that are anniversaries of sorts…ones you would wish to forget. There are a few distinct dates which always affect me when they come around again.
This time five years ago…
Six. Effing. Years?!?!
When I logged on just now, WordPress congratulated me on our two year anniversary together. Wow. I remember the exact moment I showed the first soul my fresh post. I remember the wonderful feeling of releasing so much pain anonymously into the cyber world. It felt bloody fantastic. I’ve said it before but it doesn’t hurt to repeat why the decision to blog was so important.
When you find yourself the victim of crimes, one of the dominant struggles is to be heard. You are revealing incredibly painful and personal information on demand for the legal system (and then for Workcover) but you are rarely HEARD. No one is listening as they all have jobs to do and the state of your core (and your poor tortured brain) is not on the list. These kinds of crimes are hard to talk about. Even if there is someone who loves you who can be there.
Who hears you?
Not everyone would feel the same but I was desperate to spew some of these toxic thoughts out…get them out of me. Away.
In this imaginary net, I played with some settings and began to eek out a teeny tiny space for me. For whatever I needed it to be. To cry, to ask for help, to connect, to purge. I had the control to make it public to varying degrees or shut it all down should my bravery leave me. There have been moments.
Like a little carver, I chipped away at the space – no plans or idea of the finished product. I don’t really work like that. Just trying a little of this, a little of that, and seeing how that felt. A work in progress.
My work. My progress.
As the process rolled on in The Outside World, it still affected me but I had a secret release valve. My little space to be. It was enough to just imagine I was being heard. To actually hear from people who have read my words is almost beyond belief. Incredibly validating, supportive and absolutely crucial to my progress (what IS the best word? It’s a journey but this isn’t Idol. It’s a kind if healing but you don’t get better, you work out how to adjust…so it’s progress). I will always endeavour to reach out in that same way to someone who is crying out to be heard. I know what that means. It’s one of the greatest things about being a human being. Connection. Caring.
To have recognition from BlogHer as an Honorary Voice of the Year 2012 was a funny kind of dream come true. Funny because I’d rather it have been for ANY other subject than sexual violence! I used to want to write for a living, I adore language and stories in general and have been inspired by so many amazing female bloggers over this two years. Real talk. Raw shit. Real life. Bravery. Tough topics. The idea that a gathering of amazing women who have overcome or developed incredible ideas, coming together on the other side of the world, would even have my pretend name on their radar, rocked my world. The echo of my first whisper out into the Internet. Reverberating around the world. That was a game changer for my mental health, right there. That was very special. And if you’ll excuse the cheesiness, it felt decidedly like my whisper became a roar.
Today, it looks like this saga is almost at an end. I haven’t been updating the details even anonymously here, because the stakes are so high. This is my only chance for recompense…for closure. It it too precarious to risk until the ink is dry. But let’s say I am awarded some dollars. When I let myself picture Future Me (there was no such thing a while ago) now, she is standing in the room at another BlogHer Conference. When I go too far, I imagine that they let me read or say something. I love the idea that I could say out loud and in real life what it meant to be heard in that way. What it means to be a part of that world. How much it helped me heal. I want to thank them. I want to go to America and sit and hear the other women speak. Absorb their experiences, bravery and greatness. Stand in that moment and have it be a defining marker in this experience. How far I have come. That I see a future now.
Being able to imagine your Future Self is no small thing, though you might not know unless you’ve ever felt the crushing despair of believing that you won’t be able to live that long, that you have ceased to exist or matter.
I am so grateful for this gift. Yeah, I’ve made it happen too, and it’s a combination of factors at play, but I sit typing next to my demanding child who is calling for me now and I am smiling. I don’t know what the future holds, next month let alone next year, but I believe now that I have a future. That I deserve a future. That I feel proud of myself and what I can achieve again.
On this New Years Eve, and my Blogaversary, I am toasting Future Me. With chocolate mud cake and SpongeBob Squarepants.
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.
- ‘Don’t be that Guy’ posters attack the perpetrators, not victim, on the right track (metronews.ca)
- The Slut and The Crazy Bitch (fromawhispertoaroar.com)
- Sexual assault centre launches new campaign about believing victims, not blaming them (metronews.ca)
- Sex assault survivor works to make sure it doesn’t happen to others (jsonline.com)
- The Elusive Perfect Victim, And How I Wasn’t Her (cultofcourtney.com)
- Our Part (ssaitco.wordpress.com)
- Project for Open Voices: “Blurred Lines” (thekenyonthrill.com)
- Bullying: Our Experience (character2max.wordpress.com)
- Abuse is FORCE Used to Control Others (cryingoutforjustice.wordpress.com)
Something weird happened. I’m learning. And getting stronger.
I had the Case Conference in the city with my lawyer, barrister and The Other Side. I knew I didn’t have to see or speak in front of the enemy so I was not too stressed on the way in.
Five years of these meetings has taught me to play angry rap music LOUDLY and keep my sunglasses on en route. Don’t concentrate on anything except the words (along the lines of ‘fuck the haters’ or ‘you can’t keep me down’) and breathing. Kind of like giving birth – this is going to play out anyway so you just have to survive it. Later, you’ll recognise your own strength under fire.
The barrister and my lovely lawyer explained the way the Other Side would try to pick apart the case and listed its possible weaknesses in the legal arena. The way the other side would fight mirrored the ugly tactics of his defence in criminal proceedings…though I am seeking financial compensation for damage done. Guilt proven in Court. But even after this, they would still attack me so personally. My childhood. My behaviour. Though I knew these things on a theoretical level, having them listed before me so blatantly was just as shocking as always. A sucker punch. Down I went.
Five years since I first disclosed any of the harassment, assaults or stalking behaviour has taught me that the cliched comebacks and victim blaming never feel any less of a violent attack. Even as a list of possible legal arguments, Things They’ll Use to Discredit You are just as disturbing, shameful and remove all of the courage you’d built up to get where you are. I DID NOT GO IN PREPARED FOR THIS AND I FELL APART. Maybe you can’t steel yourself in this case but let’s just say I forgot how much that hurt.
The barrister spoke numbers. Wages lost, past and future, with pain and suffering topped one million dollars. Though I will never see that amount it comforted me a little to have it recognised even just between us. My loss has been a big one. That’s when I really started to cry and moan, “None of this matters compared to how much I want to be a teacher! When I talk to kids in the supermarket, when I read my son a story…I just ache with the grief that I can’t be what I wanted to be so badly. I was meant to be a teacher”. Head down, choking sobs My lawyer comforted me, her eyes watery, and the two of them left to “bring it” to the Other Side…and see what exactly their position was.
Five years of spilling my guts and expressing pathetic despair should have prepared me for that dark hole I fall into afterwards. It didn’t. I tried to read a book. Couldn’t concentrate. I could hear lawyers talking in adjacent rooms. I put on the trusty headphones and music at full volume. This time, strangely, it was Damien Rice. Delicate. Over and over. I sat up against the floor-to-ceiling window and let the tears fall. Honest truth…I thought about falling from the eighth floor into the concrete chaos below. Falling. Letting myself fall. Would the hurting end? What would my child think of me? How does such a positive, passionate woman with postgraduate qualifications end up sitting in a window wondering about ceasing to be?
My Dynamic Duo returned and I sat at the long conference table with them. They had presented our side and heard the response and counter claims from the other side. An offer was made for settlement on behalf of my ex employer…which didn’t have to happen so I consider that a small positive. It was a shitty offer but made nonetheless. Further details were put to me, some of which were outright lies and I was able to refute in detail on the spot. That pissed me off but cheered me at the same time. STILL LYING! The next steps and what can be expected were not so diabolical. As we finished up I felt … alright. My last words were, ” If I have to be out in front of a jury to fight for compensation, that wouldn’t be the worst thing”.
Five years of fighting a whole group of liars and bullies gives you little to enjoy. Being able to respond to bullshit and denials felt great at the County Court. If they want to make me do it AGAIN, I am very clear on the details and telling the truth makes it easier to repeat with surety. I’d like to avoid taking things that far of course but I know I’m strong on the stand.
To get home I had to play that fucked up angry rap again. It’s a blur, really. Just had a headache for the rest of the day and puffy eyes. I hugged my son with all I had and ate ALL OF THE CHOCOLATE IN TOWN.
Five years with this has taught me that the psychological responses to traumas remain the same. The blows really smash you hard. Send you straight back to the place you were then. During it all. The bottom. Five years have also taught me that what’s happening now is HARD but it’s not like the bottom. When you’re stuck with secrets and scared, you have no voice. Ever.
I’m still talking now and there are so many roadblocks from these assholes but I have a voice. I’m being heard. Not like I deserve, not nearly as much as I want, but I have a voice. And I survived the next step. I’ll probably survive the next one.
After a five year fight to be recognised as ‘damaged enough’ for the powers that be, I’m on the top of the mountain. A long, steep climb with an obscene amount of hurdles to jump. But I think I can say now that I am at the pointy end of the process. The beginning of The End. Thank. Fucking. God.
I’ve ‘passed’ all of the assessments, each by a new (strange) psychiatrist, usually every three months.
I’ve done whatever has been asked of me by the insurance company of my former employer.
I’ve taken the medication, spent hours upon hours pouring my guts out to various counsellors, mental health nurse and a couple of eccentric psychiatrists.
I’ve kept journals, tried natural therapies, meditation, talismans, crystals and read so many texts on How To Manage This.
I’ve been lucky enough to become part of a group of women who share, learn and grow together.
Most importantly, I started sharing here.
All mostly positive learning experiences and opportunities for reflection and forgiving myself. Because when enough people blame you for your own abuse, you blame yourself with cruel regularity.
I’ve been surviving but also rebuilding.
The next official step in the legal process is a Case Conference. This is an informal meeting of myself, my lawyers and the lawyers representing the other side. The purpose of this meeting (which is compulsory, kind of like mediation before Family Court these days) is to try to resolve the case and avoid the need to go to Court. Again.
I must attend to advise my legal team regarding any ‘offers’ made regarding a settlement but I should be in another room to where the lawyers all discuss issues at hand or negotiate. This is to protect myself should they say anything offensive or upsetting. I will chat to my lawyer and barrister just prior to the conference. The timeframe of a Case Conference can vary from half an hour to a full day but the average is apparently one to four hours. Sounds like a day in the park…
I can take a support person, and someone has offered, but I think I’ll probably go it alone. It’s hard to imagine.
It is hoped that the ‘other side’ is prepared to make a settlement offer as the idea of a Court hearing with a jury is in no one’s best interests. If the do not make any offer, we prepare for court. This would add another twelve months to the wait.
The hope of a settlement is based on where we are at now. The original perpetrator pled guilty in the County Court. It has been proven that the damage done to me at work was a direct result of being sexually assaulted, stalked and then bullied for saying something about it and expecting help (what was I thinking?!?). The damage to me has been ruled likely permanent, stabilised and basically ‘as good as its gonna get’. I’ve met the almost unmeetable threshold…30% Whole Person Impairment.
So, what price my body, mind and mental health? The wages I’ve lost over the last five years? The wages I should have been free to earn for the next thirty years? Pain and suffering? The constant grief of being kept from a career I dreamt of, that I was made for. That made me so happy. And that I was good at.
Apparently it is unusual to be facing this at my tender young age. I had at least 30 good working years left in me. That’s a significant amount of time. I was going to be a Leading Teacher, Assistant Principal…Principal even.
I need the money to live off at this stage. But I also need the money because it is the only way I have to seek recognition of what happened. It won’t say ‘I’m sorry they were such assholes’ on the cheque but I’ll read it that way as it suits me. Finally, I want this money to set a precedent. I know it won’t ‘cure’ me and I’ll have a lot of work to do to help the anger fade with time but I will have pushed the boundaries as far as they possibly go. And if I win, when the next person meets a lawyer, distressed and unable to go on, the lawyer may say that a workcover battle is a very difficult one but they will be able to say, “We’ll, there was this one case in 2013…” and maybe that worker will feel a bit stronger.
I’ll report back after the meeting next week.
I’ve been spinning around like the proverbial top for a few weeks. Still going. I have bursts of happy, mostly of the potential for something different from how I have been living.
Money is a form of power and choice. Until now, I worried that my payments would be stopped, that someone was watching me, how would this end? Now, for a moment, I can concern myself with making investments in our future with the money in my hand. Money owed to me ten times over, not enough compared to what I could have earnestly earned, but I’m choosing to look at it like some kind of Extreme Savings Plan. They…did me a favour and kept some aside so that I could have a lump sum to set up a new home. Or something.
I loathe applying for rental properties because you have to share your private details and try to be chosen over the others like Annie at the orphanage. And I haven’t been rejected in that area before. This first one hurt. Made me panic. What if I can’t get accepted into a decent house now? I’m permanently like this? A financial loser? A non-contributer to society? Not number one any more. *need for approval evident*
I talked myself around. The right house will be mine. What is meant to happen will happen and all that. And I think it has! The house I wanted the most, with a view of Autumn in the mountain ranges, is mine to live in.
This is what this new home means to me…
A home for my child, with space to be together and also slightly apart when the need or desire arises
A backyard to die for. Half of the space is dense greenery and foliage – our jungle. The other, grass crying out to be filled with a swing set and a cubby house. I can’t think of a better way to spend a few of these dollars than setting up a place to laugh
A safe place. I live in a property now which is wide open to the street and I feel exposed. I can’t relax. I can’t enjoy the sunshine through the open window because I can’t afford to Be Seen. The new house has sensor security lights. The doors are secure and have no glass. I quite fancy having the windows open and taking in the colourful view. I so hope I feel this way when I am in there. With a happy, safe home base, I believe this will be the New Start we all hear about. Hope for. My safe, comfortable house.
From here? It’s only going to get better. I have a good feeling about that.