Trigger warning: this post discusses disability discrimination, police, sexual assault and mentions rape.
Back when I was more able to pass as a person with no form of illness, there was an incident. I used to attend dance classes, back when I could tell left from right and people didn’t laugh at me for not being able to talk, or apologise if I signed to them and then ignore me, or intercede on my behalf as if I was a child in need of a Big Strong Adult to run interference. Only a few weeks after this incident, they moved out of their inner city location. Funny that.
I had parked around the corner and was sitting in my car, sorting out my bag and my dance bag and slipping on a jacket so I could walk to class without freezing. Two men walked past me, and one came back. He wanted my phone number. He had me trapped in the car, and ignored me saying no. The easiest way to get rid of him was to give him my number, and he called my phone so I would have his. He leaned down, kissed my cheek, squeezed my bottom, and caught back up with his friend. I went to class, I went home, I posted about it on Facebook, because even now that I’m like I am, it’s not an uncommon occurrence.
“You should call the police,” someone said, who normally never comments on anything. “Someone like that was just on CrimeStoppers for the same thing.” Same description, same crime.
I let CrimeStoppers know. “Well, it’s probably not related. The incident that was on TV was in a different suburb. We’ll want to look at it anyway, so can you make a formal report?” They hung up.
I tried to report it over the phone. There’s a specific non-emergency number for questions and stuff that isn’t an emergency. “Where do you live? I need to send a patrol to you right now.” By this time, it was three hours after the incident.
“I only want to know if I can report it with you or if I need to go into a station,” I said, because this was when words still had order and power.
“Oh no, I can’t take your report. You need to go to a station right now.”
“Oh, okay. I’ll go to [station where they’re nice to me] on Wednesday, then. Thanks.”
“You can’t go there! [Station where I reported being raped, and was treated horribly] is closer to you, and they’re open all night!”
“No, thank you. I had a bad experience there and I would prefer to go somewhere I feel respected.”
“Oh! Have you got someone with you? Are you seeing a psychologist? You really need to see a psychologist if you were abused. You have to talk to someone about this.”
It didn’t end. I ended up at the second station at 1am, because I was afraid the police would come to my house, causing a scene and violating my safe space. I had to give the report at the front counter, demonstrating in front of a bunch of drunk men how I had been assaulted.
Then I had to get on a plane, fly halfway across the country, get through a practical job interview, and fly back. By the time I had gotten to bed, I had been awake for 42 hours, I’d been hit on the plane because I had my headphones in and was reading, and I was exhausted.
A couple of weeks later, I woke up to my phone ringing. Disoriented, I answered, and there was some guy on the other end who claimed to be a police officer from another station, and he started yelling at me.
“Are you on night shift? You can’t sleep during the day unless you’re on night shift. Why aren’t you at work, then? If you’re not on night shift you shouldn’t be sleeping now, you should be at work.”
“I’m not working today, because I’m home sick. You can’t say something like that. I’m allowed to sleep when I want.” I tried to sound patient, even though I was trying to get a drink and my medication with one hand and my brain was slowly but surely getting to the point where it became blank and the words would stop.
“No, only people on night shift sleep during the day. You should be at work.”
“I’m home sick. I don’t know who you are or why you’re calling, but you don’t have the right to judge me or tell me when I should sleep. I have chronic pain and insomnia, and I sleep when I can otherwise I don’t sleep at all.”
“Let’s start this conversation again, because you’re obviously upset.” This is a technique that is meant to de-escalate a situation, but really all it does is patronise the person it’s being addressed to. It negates their feelings and highlights that you don’t know how to deal with that, because you just want to avoid it. This is something that stopped working on me when it happened so often that I learned to look past it. Yes, I’m upset, because you’re saying I can’t follow instructions when you never gave them to me. Yes, I’m upset, because you’re telling me that I’m not allowed to be sick, or that my symptoms aren’t correct or socially acceptable. There is no way that his statements make any sense to me.
“Yes, I’m upset. I don’t want to talk to you, because you can’t respect me.” is what I said, just before I hung up and dropped my phone in the sink because I couldn’t hold it any more.
Obviously, stupidly, I put in a complaint after that.
The complaint was not handled very well. The first person who interviewed me was blatantly antagonistic, aiming to discredit me by picking apart my story. (She was employed at the second station, the one I wanted to avoid. Of course.) Eventually, nothing was done, and I sent it up the chain. Someone else responded, after a year, and he said something like this:
“The person on the call I thought was very sensitive given that you reported a sexual crime and I am shocked that you would complain about being treated in such a considerate manner.”
He also said:
“The officer said he was sorry and I am shocked that you would complain about him in the first place because he said he was sorry.”
I was so shocked at this that I was ready to send the letter off to the newspaper and let them publish it. My mother decided that this was bad and that it was her job to prevent me from doing so, and it became a drama I chose not to deal with. I did write back to the dude, pointing out that his letter was sexist, that he was victim-blaming, that my medical history was in no way relevant to whether I chose to report a crime on my terms or not, and that the people I dealt with were actively hurtful and all that he did was perpetuate an anti-police culture. I specifically asked not to deal with the officer who actively discriminated against me on the basis of my disability, and asked that he be retrained. Because he already had compulsory training, and he forced himself back into my life because keeping his job and having it on record that he said sorry was more important than my choice to no longer deal with him, I was told I was rude for reporting him. Because I pointed out that the initial interviewer hadn’t listened to the call in the first place, I was told that the call centre person was sensitive
He wrote back, but I didn’t read it. The letter is in the place where letters go to die, unopened. I decided I couldn’t handle what my mum would say about me standing up for myself. I also decided that it was blatantly clear that how I felt about how I was treated was irrelevant to these people. Being questioned about my medical and sexual history when enquiring about whether a crime could be reported over the phone isn’t considerate or sensitive. Being told that I’m not allowed to sleep at a certain time because I’m not working, especially when I’m not working because multiple doctors have repeatedly concluded that I am not physically or mentally able to work, at all, is offensive, and the way that conversation was handled was terrible.
This is only one example of how people like me get treated by a society that has certain expectations built in, when so many generations with radically different upbringings try to fit into that, when the wrong people get in power. I didn’t get the job, of course, probably not because I was emotionally exhausted by the time I got there after dealing with airline security (which isn’t fun with a corset), or because they switched the role on me when I got there, or because of anything to do with this at all, but sometimes I wonder. If this hadn’t happened, and I’d been able to rest, would I have done better in the interview? Would I have avoided the situation I’m in now, where I have to apply for welfare and face another round of invasive questioning and compulsory medical examinations in order to access money, half of which will go on medicine?
Staying quiet about the whole thing never really sat well with me, but while I still complain about some things, I’ve learned one thing from this mess – people don’t listen to complaints unless they’re already looking to change. I already knew that the process of complaining is sometimes more hurtful than the trigger incident, because my former work was to be a cog in that process, and I’d been hurt that way before. Sometimes, you have to say something, but it’s okay to choose to avoid further hurt by not speaking up and moving on instead. Sometimes that’s all you can do. Sometimes, complaining helps you process and sometimes it doesn’t. Rarely, though, will it change anything. It’s okay to not expend spoons on something that you can reasonably expect to have a negative outcome.
And even though the police had this guy’s mobile number and description and him and his friend on camera, they didn’t prosecute. Just as they didn’t prosecute when I was dragged into a dark interrogation room and forced to drop the charges against my rapist.
The look on one of those detectives’ face when he came into my work, eight years later, to serve a subpoena on me to testify against my rapist because he had moved on to someone else, and someone else, and someone else… that is why sometimes I still speak up.
“It’s good to see you again,” I said.
“It’s you,” he said. I like to think that the way his eyes widened and then narrowed, and his partner did all the talking, show that in that moment he realised that if he’d treated me with respect and good faith, everything in between could have been avoided. Maybe it could have been avoided, not just with the rapist, but with this other incident, too. But that ship sailed, and the wreck disintegrates further with each small act of judgment and discrimination based on it, like waves carrying bits of the hull further out to sea.