newspaper

One of the defining experiences for me in wanting to write my book, was my early brush with the media.

I had always had it in my mind that I would speak up about my experiences, once all the legal processes had been completed and there were no possible repercussions on that front.   Hell my need to talk about it was all-consuming in the early weeks and months after the assault, to the point of wanting to blurt out my story to an unsuspecting woman working on the IGA checkout in the first week after the assault.

While this particular need to over-share was well under control by the time the legal all clear was imminent – nearly 2 years later – I knew I really wanted to have a chance to have my say in the media.

I decided on the way back from my one and only visit to the courts – mercifully I did not have to appear as a witness – to proceed with the story with a keen journalist.  She had contacted me coincidentally a few weeks before the legal processes in my case were coming to a close.  At the time she was chasing a comment about another sexual assault case, and the in the vacuum of  those willing to comment, she had approached me.  She still had my details from when I had contacted her trying to interest the West in doing a story about the few of us who were starting to get some momentum going as a voice for women survivors of assault and abuse.

As we had made fortuitous contact, I told her that the legal process in my own case was drawing to a close and I would be interested in having a public say if she wanted to do a story.  She did.  She seemed quite surprised and pleased that I was willing to have a picture of me to accompany the article as well, not pixellated out because what did i have to hide?  Why should I be ashamed?

Accordingly, I made my way from the court house and met with her to get the ball rolling.  I posed for a photo with a considerate and skilled photographer who instructed me how to pose to achieve the calm, credible complainant look of the published shot.

Afterwards the journalist and I talked for about an hour, more than could possibly be used in a 500 word article, and I felt a creeping anxiety about what would come out the other end. It is always difficult in these situations to continue to feel focussed on what you are doing and why.  Was it all just about an overblown need to have my wounds  witnessed, endlessly? Was there a legitimate need for me to speak out? Was The West an appropriate vehicle? (cough!)

I was hoping to have some idea what the article would be like before printing, but as the hours dragged before the deadline on the journalist asked if it could go in without editing from me.  Being a kind soul, I heard her fatigue and trusted the quality of our face to face meeting that she would do me no harm.

Can you imagine with what trepidation I rushed out early to buy a paper the morning of the story, and hurried home to read it? My first reaction was to squirm a bit at phrases that I felt made me sound stupid or didn’t reflect the complexities and subtleties of the conversations we had had or the views that I hold. The gist of the article was about the traumatising process of giving evidence as a survivor of sexual assault.  While I felt that this was important and was happy to lend my face to this so the journalist could write whatever she wanted regardless of my own circumstances, it was not what I really wanted to talk about.  Sure, I was more than happy to heighten public awareness on this shameful area of law, where it seems the witness rather than the accused is on trial.

But I also wanted to talk about  the need to address the “casual sexism” that pervades Australia and is very much alive and well when it comes to prosecuting sexual assault cases – the attrition rate of cases from reporting to conviction is appalling.  I also wanted to talk about the need for better, more responsive services for women, providing longer term counselling for those grappling with issues from years before.  I wanted the message of women’s resilience and recovery with the right supports, and where those supports could be found, to be broadcast.

I also wanted to talk about the ills of society that breed such sad, lost souls, and the prison and justice systems that don’t seem to address the addiction, mental illness and pain that abound among prisoners.

In 500 words?  Somewhat ambitious.

Much more recently I had the experience of meeting a friend of a friend who was interested in my story.  We met and I spoke at length, but she never ran the piece she had planned.  She felt the message of women’s rights was diluted by the added complication of trying to document my feelings of sadness and frustration with our justice system.

But that is what I want to talk about.  All of it.

And so, I have the whole space and time of a book to write about all the complexities that have presented to me, for me to sift through as the years pass, looking for answers when there are none and many.

Having grown up in Perth in the 60s and 70s I was conditioned to know that to be creative, you had to get out of Perth.

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In 1979 I was extremely fortunate as a 14 year old to travel to Europe, and my fate was sealed. I left Perth for Europe in 1990, returning only when pregnant in 1998.

But by now, having been back for around 15 years, and having reached the age where one cares less and less what anyone thinks and more and more about doing whatever it is that we are here to do – I am re-thinking Perth as a cultural wilderness.

I have been too chicken-shit to own my writing ambitions, so have been attending art classes with the lovely Dawn Meader, who knows more than most about how to get the creative mojo happening. I swore at the last class that my next fun class would be a writing one.

Somehow my googling led me to the Federation of Writers WA – and their forthcoming workshop When the Personal is Political. How very apt. Memoir for social change. Just what I am trying to do. And I did not fail to note that the original date for the workshop was anniversary date, 10th May. It had been moved, seemingly for my own convenience!

While the session itself was useful, perhaps more so was connecting with such a lovely group of like-minded people, and finding the lovely Mattie Furphy House in Swanbourne. “Creativity beyond reason” is the by-line. Where have you been all my life?

The presenter Madeleine Ostrander highlighted how the personal and the political can be effectively interwoven in an engaging writing style that lends itself to moving the reader and hence maximising the potential impact of the message. Although this is what I have instinctively done in all four drafts of my book to date, it will be good to bring some consciousness to the process as the book transmutes into its published form.

We spent much of the time reviewing examples of relevant writing to get a feel for the concept, and the last little bit of the workshop having a go. I found myself inextricably drawn to “tweak” the letter I wrote for the paper on 10 May 2002, the morning of the assault. Perhaps it breaks all the rules, but I changed it slightly. Memoir – can it ever be really what happened? Here it is:

“On 10th May 2002 I began my memoir in earnest. It was in the afternoon, after all The Formalities were completed. I finally got a moment alone after greeting my 3 year old daughter at the end of an uncharacteristic day’s absence, and after allaying the concerns of close family.

I snuck off to the end room of my parent’s house, where I was taking temporary refuge, and I started to write a life-changing letter to the paper:

At just before 5am this morning my home was invaded by an unknown man who sexually assaulted me. The outrage occurred in my own home, with my young daughter on the other side of the door, protesting very loudly at mummy’s lack of attention and parenting.

The “act”, once I had given up the hopeless effort of trying to escape, took all of 60 seconds. The initial paperwork took ten people (including myself) a full working day to process. The aftermath may take months. When and how I will feel safe to sleep soundly in my bed is anyone’s guess. I flatter myself that it is a case of bad things happening to good people. I work voluntarily; I raise my daughter single-handedly, without maintenance, and yet keep the doors open for her overseas father to be involved in her life.

As the “victim” of a serious crime I went to through every police and forensic process that I could. This took the entire day. And what is the best I can hope for after such a day? A captured and convicted criminal to avoid other women suffering what I did, or much worse. That I can assure you I do hope for and spent the whole working day achieving. Whatever I may feel about the limits of the prison system, it is painfully, personally obvious to me that the removal of such people from the streets is essential.

But how could it be that a young and seemingly healthy man could reach the point of perpetrating such a violent, empty gesture? I feel contempt for my attacker, but also bafflement. If, as I believe, all humans are fundamentally interconnected, how can I be connected with this person? I am connected to him forever in the statement that took so many tedious and painful hours in preparation. But I am connected to him in that we are both human and alive tonight. Yes, I do spare a thought for him on this evening, as I nurse my wounds and pray that I and my daughter will not be permanently scarred from this experience. Is there anything that I could do, anything that I could say that would make him see how foul and impotent his actions are? Is there one magic word that could scatter forever the possibility of women suffering this kind of treatment, perhaps even at the hands of their “loved” ones?

Of course not, of course not. And so I have achieved nothing. I am alive however, and so is my daughter. Amen to that, and a long happy life. Forgiveness to my attacker wherever he is hiding. Peace on earth, however unachievable.

I do not send it in. The world is not changed.”

I have long since given up on the media to be the right vehicle to tell all of the story. But I am sure re-thinking Perth as a cultural wilderness. That is another excuse to not write or be creative which must go by the wayside!

Edit

Ah what it is to have a day off every week.  I don’t achieve this feat every week but I do my best, and today the stars aligned.  So down to the very last bit of editing before the next print round and edits.  It always seems so difficult to know when to end, to know when to stop fiddling.  Where exactly is the end?

What will reaching the end achieve? Do I want the world to change? Yes!  How likely is that? Well, a little unlikely, truth be told.  But as the saying goes “truth would suffer something by my silence”.  I just have to keep on moving forward and let the outcomes fall where they may.

I remember reading this wonderful paragraph from Nancy Venable Raine’s book  After Silence, Rape and My Journey Back.   It was two years after the assault.  I had marked the first anniversary in 2003, but on the second anniversary I wasn’t feeling it and didn’t mark it.  But still, something niggled.  When I found this paragraph I felt it articulated why I would want to mark such a sad and forgettable occasion:

I began to write about the seventh anniversary of my rape and the six that came before it, and when I wasn’t sure how to end what I was writing, something happened.   Flowers arrived from the flower shop at the foot of the hill; “Happy 7th.  You are not alone.  Love always, Kate”…

The flowers Kate sent that day had power.  For the first time in seven years I had the sense of connection and community.  I was celebrating my anniversary in the only way I knew how, and Kate was there.  This anniversary, unlike all the others, was shared.  I suddenly knew how to finish what I was writing – with an image of women, marching, openly and together, celebrating their anniversaries, speaking their names, carrying flowers.”

Keeping silent does not move us forward.  We need to talk about this stuff, together, and celebrate our survival, preferably with flowers.

Right, off to Officeworks I go to get this next draft printed for the next round of edits! (Did I spell edit right??)

The things you find in your Other Messages – stupid old Facebook! This was messaged to me by the project officer Jon Rose who was freelancing for George Jones to develop their Advocacy Training project to support advocates for child and adult survivors. They have run the training program a few times around Australia – here’s hoping the momentum for advocacy for survivors of abuse and assault keeps on building…