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Navigating the bureaucratic responses to sexual assault: A survivor’s perspective

A survivor shares her story.

Image by Paul Miller/AAP

On Tuesday, the second day back at university, I saw my abuser in Fisher Library. I was walking up from the second floor, and he was strolling by. He stopped. Stared at me. I ran and had a panic attack right outside the café. I hadn’t seen him for the entire summer and had hoped that I would never have to again.

The Women’s Collective had an incredibly brave protest against sexual assault on campus the next day. On Thursday, my mother told me about Christian Porter, and by the end of the week I had spent most of my time in bed. I was paralysed. I still am. We study the same degree, so I ask my friends to look out for me. They pick me up from the bus stop, walk me to and from classes, check guests lists before events, and always see if the coast is ‘clear’ before I walk in. I leave in the middle of my classes and this constant vigilance leaves me exhausted all the time. 

I spent the summer on the phone and with my face buried into my laptop, talking to the University. The first contact I had with the university was my attempt to regain boundaries, and hopefully secure the expulsion of my abuser from a society we were both in.  The report I filed was juggled between departments — it was too ‘complicated.’ I was asked to provide evidence. It was forwarded to a supervisor, and then a coordinator, and then I had to wait.

The second part of attempting to make myself feel safer was changing my timetable.  But I had to wait for two weeks at the very least. During that time, I ended up in the emergency room at the Prince of Wales hospital, bleeding and crying in a grey room. It was the first time I was offered any professional help.

My best friends had given me an ultimatum. I either went to the hospital with her the next morning, or emergency services would be called. Two young women saved my life. They did more than any of the institutions that were supposed to protect and support me ever could.

When I was finally home, I received a call from the university. To expel him from attending clubs and society events in the USU, I needed to open an investigation within the university, and in order to accomplish that, I had to fit into a certain criteria. A lady in a monotone voice asked me if the incident had happened on university grounds or an official event. I told her the truth, it had happened five minutes away from campus. She used a lot of pretty words to say there was nothing they could do. I tried to plead and explain. He had no remorse, and I believe he would do it again if given the chance. He was too dangerous to be around women, especially vulnerable women that deserved to feel safe and protected at USU events or during their classes, not surrounded by a predator. There was still nothing they could do.

Now the friend who encouraged me to go to the police sits besides my abuser in their tutorial, reliving her own personal trauma.

The university claims they cannot do much because it didn’t happen on campus and the police have denied me a restraining order. I explained to the detective that he would text me, then text my friends to see how I was and to send me messages from him, including wanting to know where I would be. But it was not enough for a restraining order. He had to be physically harassing me. I had to be abused and traumatised further to be granted any type of protection.

After weeks of e-mailing, calling, and re-traumatising myself at every step of the way, the abuser was suspended for only 8 weeks from the society I was in. Before the suspension, he threatened to discredit me to everyone we knew if I made anything ‘awkward’ between us. The manipulative tactics he used varied. Firstly, he was a ‘nice, worried guy,’ stating “I just hope I haven’t done anything to hurt her.” He became angry and frustrated. “She’s emotionally guarded,” he said. “Fuck her. I don’t care as long as she doesn’t cause me any trouble in the future.” The abuser referred to me as “that girl,” a “learning experience” and a “stupid petty uni drama.” He told his friend he wasn’t worried in the slightest. “If there were any allegations to be made, they would have already been made and broadcasted – but I know that they weren’t because I know for a fact that I didn’t do anything wrong.” This article, my police report, his suspension are allegations being made and broadcasted.

Nonetheless, the police and law seem to be set up in a way that defends and protects rapists. I had to beg a detective to believe me about the worst moment of my life and the abuser could just exist in his own little bubble. However, I call myself lucky due to the mere fact that my friends believe in me and I am alive.

Then Christian Porter came along, and I knew the system didn’t just seem to be set up this way, but it was. I realised it was not just the police and the university. It was the private all-boys schools that raised him with no respect for the consequences. It was the media that nurtured him into seeing women not as individual people, deserving of respect and understanding, but as something to want and take. It was his own ego that made him think if he was nice enough, it was his right to take whatever he wanted from me.

Recently, the case of Sarah Everard shocked the world because she did everything right. She wore bright clothes, comfortable shoes, left early, called her boyfriend, and was still murdered by someone that was supposed to protect her: a police officer. Women always do everything right. The problem has always been men and their violence — their egocentric need to take.

I did everything right too. I did as my mother had told me when I was fourteen, going on my first date to the movies. I wore jeans, not a skirt — no easy access. I went to a friend’s house, fifteen minutes by Uber to my place, surrounded by people I knew and trusted. I wore sneakers, easy to run, easy to maintain balance. I communicated with my friends that I was sick and needed the toilet. All the time he was lingering around my barely conscious self, everyone was unsuspecting. He was my friend, someone I trusted.

Eventually, I received support. I was assigned a Student Liaison Officer that communicates with my faculty’s departments about my timetable and class changes. They found me a place at the RPA Sexual Assault Clinic for more specialised support. There is hope, and there is a community to welcome and offer support to people who need it. There is a need, however, for transparency and more accessibility to the community and the help available. There’s always a need to speak out because there will be someone to listen to you and help guide you. Women all know the experience either first- hand or from a friend, sister, or cousin who has gone through the same thing.

If this article has caused distress, you can contact the National Sexual Assault Counselling Service at 1800 737 732 or NSW Rape Crisis Counselling Service at 1800 424 017.

To receive support, you can contact a Student Liaison Officer any time through email at safer-communities.officer@sydney.edu.au or by phone between 8:30am and 5:30pm on weekdays at 02 8627 6808.

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