Christian Porter
Christian Porter (Image: AAP/Richard Wainwright)

Note: This story discusses sexual assault and suicide.

For anyone following the battle in the news media and on social media over the fate of Attorney-General Christian Porter after serious rape allegations, an article in Friday’s Crikey was a punch in the gut.

Despite running hard in favour of the inquiry that all thinking people now agree is the only fair and reasonable way ahead, Crikey has been the target of angst by a range of women online who have questioned the factual accuracy and fairness of the article, written by David Hardaker, as well as the suitability of it being run at all.

All these critiques are fair.

Against a background of a public that has not been able to read the submission the woman prepared for police before she took her own life last year, it is particularly important for journalists engaging with the issues to get the facts right.

The article doesn’t. Hardaker characterises eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy as fringe when its proven efficacy means it is funded by Medicare. The article suggests the woman undertook therapy to unearth repressed memories, when there is no convincing evidence that this was the case.

To the contrary. What we know is that she documented near contemporaneously in her diary evidence of the event.

This strongly suggest that her recollection of what happened was not a creation of a discredited therapeutic process, but the consequence of the typical and recognisable emotional journey undertaken by many survivors of childhood sexual assault: the increasing intrusion into the adult psyche of memories that have been compartmentalised and pushed to the back of the mind but — now that the person is ready to process them — can no longer be denied.

The intrusion of the fugue of past trauma into everyday life is not evidence of what the article calls dissociative identity disorder and in the old days was called multiple personality — a serious mental condition that is vanishingly rare — but of the early, painful and recognisable trajectory of someone taking their first steps towards processing, integrating and healing from emotional trauma.

But the biggest problem with Hardaker’s piece is the unanswerability of the question: why write it at all?

Some, myself included, may be willing to give the pale, stale and male brigade that dominates the major news organs in Australia a pass in regard to their visceral incomprehension of what it’s like to have sexual assault and/or sexual harassment ruin or seriously impede the upward trajectory of your life.

Why? Because we know that, lucky them, they’ve never had to experience it. But to say that is not to agree that their voices must be heard while the half of the nation who knows all too well what’s it’s like are trying to process what’s happened and reeling from shock. They don’t.

Australian women are enraged and grieving. Grieving for our own lost innocence and opportunities, and raging that such tragedies are being visited on our daughters while the men meant to lead us parade their indifference to our experience and refuse to do anything to stop it happening again.

In that context the only thing for men of goodwill to do — if they can’t say or do anything helpful — is to listen hard and try and empathise. And. Shut. The. Fuck. Up.

Dr Leslie Cannold is a philosopher, ethicist, writer and a sexual assault survivor and crisis counsellor. Her Both Sides Now column is a regular feature of Crikey every Friday.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au.

For anyone seeking help, Lifeline is on 13 11 14 and Beyond Blue is 1300 22 4636.

Peter Fray

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