Sunday Blog 48 – Sunday 7th August 2022
Trigger Warning: This post begins with mention of sexual assault – please take care when reading.
I remember my very first time giving my all as a citizen to an Inquiry in my home state of Western Australia. It was the Inquiry into the Prosecution of Assaults and Sexual Offences, shortened to PASO. At that time I was attempting, with very limited funding and many hours of volunteer work, to establish and grow a group of women impacted by sexual violence to provide a strong, independent systemic voice into the system. Hell, I even dreamed of women being able to access legal support when giving evidence in sexual assault crimes because in this instance the victim is as much, if not more on the witness stand than the accused.
A submission was done to PASO, and we were invited to address the Inquiry Panel. At the time it felt positive, empowering, like the effort and energy of telling my story would help to create change. I pressed the button in the lift, went into the important bland building, sat and answered questions. People were kind.
Perhaps I wasn’t as aware then as I am now of the many layers of privilege for me as a victim of a single incident trauma in my mid-thirties. I had access to Managers of services in health and justice, and readily shared my feedback and suggestions for improvement. Like anyone, I had no idea about so many things until I experienced first hand what it is like to lose your power like that, and find your way back to the light through the darkness. My path was short and straight from dark to light and I realised very soon most people’s paths were not short, they twisted and turned and getting back out to the light was not always a possibility.
After the PASO Report was written, I was invited onto the Committee that would oversee its implementation. This also felt promising, until the government changed, and the incoming government indicated that it wouldn’t be bound by this Report, created through tax payers dollars. I vainly hoped that any way maybe something would happen. I sat on that Committee, year after year. As I describe in my memoir Not My Story;
I am the only person who is volunteering their time to attend; everyone else is getting paid (often rather handsomely) by their usual employer to be there. As well as being a victim, my day job is working as a not for profit professional. Victim representative, not for profit professional. You stand out for all the wrong reasons.
It’s like I am the only one at a black tie event; but I didn’t get the memo and have come dressed up in a fancy dress costume – in a bunny suit. It’s not just the discomfort of being conscious of my metaphorical bunny suit as I sit at the table; I’m also constantly shrugging off nagging doubts that I’m not doing enough, that I’m not representative enough (who is?), that I’m providing the appearance but not the substance of victim engagement. But if I decide that I can’t quite stomach continuing to attend this meeting, I know the victim voice will be completely absent.Not My Story memoir, page 189
In that particular case, the matter was taken out of my hands when I missed a meeting, and the Terms of Reference were changed, conveniently removing Victim Representative from the membership list. I think it’s safe to say that not much happened in terms of real change for victims after the 2007 Report.
Back in the world of health, where I have spent much of the last twenty years, there have been too many reports to mention. But I will not forget the morning of April 2019 when the Sustainable Health Review Report was released. The Report had consumed more than 18 months of my life as I was on the Panel. It had briefly broken my heart when in some extra optimistic flight of fancy I thought we might be able to convene a Citizen’s Jury about our health system. Working question – “How can we afford the health system we want?”
Needless to say, that did not happen, but in the endless compromises that followed a great report was generated.
So in April 2019 there was a fancy breakfast launch with a room full of our finest health professionals. Showing admirable courage, the health department had invited me to be as a Panelist for the launch event. I was asked what difference the report would make to our State. “None if it isn’t implemented. This is a diet plan, not lost weight.”
I battled it out over a couple of admittedly very disrupted years, but trying to create change through the right channels no longer felt right for me. So I left after thousands of hours of meetings and spreadsheets all aiming to show some kind of imaginary progress that the newspaper headlines would beg to differ about.
The fiendishly difficult task of getting shit done is never facilitated by an absence of any funding to do the actual work.
Creating a report is a finite, doable task. Staying the course for actual change is another matter altogether. We can all draw up a diet plan with great feelings of virtue and determination. But losing that weight and maintaining a healthy weight is incredibly difficult.
I think Leigh Sales is on it. Creating reports appears to have been colonised by those determined to maintain the status quo.