Anatomy of a Trigger

TW: police and sexual assault, media coverage of sexual assault, aftermath of sexual assault… um, just rape in general. ptsd.

Firstly a quick follow up for Family: isn’t it about time?: I asked my mum what she would do if I couldn’t walk next week to go to her show, so she agreed to just get takeout all week. My dad refuses to eat out or have takeaway, because he’s got a thing about it, but Mum is going to yell at him (some more, because she yelled at him about the Skype thing) and we will have takeout. And so my meal plan looks like ‘Chips – takeaway, leftovers; Chinese, delivery; Pizza, delivery, make cake’. This is good, because I don’t have to cook on an induction hob which is just too high for me to reach comfortably, even on my usual tippytoes, because of the way my spine bends, and because takeaway comes in disposable containers so my parents may have all the meat they like and it won’t contaminate my dishes. I am still toying with the idea of having a separate set of plates and cutlery for them, but I’m still at the point where I refuse to set up my Cuisine Companion because I can’t afford to replace it if it gets contaminated. (I know bleach exists, but it doesn’t make me feel confident. Anyway.) That means I get to go to class, after all, and when I told my teacher, he said “I’m glad you’re coming to see me”. Which is it, really.

 

So I have to buy ice gel pads online, because the supermarket doesn’t stock them any more. Every month or so I order four boxes, and when I get low I order more. Beause Australia Post isn’t that great at the moment, sometimes I have a day where I don’t have them, and basically I have one on all the time when I am home, so it’s not a great day. They weren’t there yesterday, so I have to go out and get them at some point. But not today. Today I decided I wasn’t up to driving, or rather, the burning in my legs and the fact that I passed out on the floor in the middle of my knitting, waking up tangled in wool like the cat everyone jokes I am…

 

So after work (because even people who can’t do conventional paid work due to disability have obligations) I went to bed, slept a few hours, and dragged myself back to the computer.

 

First thing: my favourite player is retiring.

This is upsetting because I look forward to seeing him every week and so on and so on. It’s a change. It’s losing a connection with someone because he won’t be accessible to me any more. I cried. Crying makes my head hurt. When you follow someone so closely, week in and week out, privy to their medical information, you see them half naked in the locker room, you see them cry… they become like family. And then they’re not there.

 

Second thing: my club’s Facebook minion decided, out of the entire history of the club, to highlight a rape scandal to promote their new history book. So I’m on my Facebook, which I have assiduously crafted to be a safe space through proactive banning and selective friending, and there’s a big quote about how it wasn’t really rape because the victim’s memory was affected and she consented earlier in the night and they went and found all the things that she said that weren’t perfect and put it all in the book.

I had no idea about any of this. At the time it went down, we had one live televised match a year. I’m not local to my team, so I didn’t get the weekday coverage, or anything other than scores and for that I had to actively look.

Finding out about it on Facebook was a bit of a shock, even though it happened twelve years ago. Especially so casually, on the same day my player did a ten minute interview on how the club is the family club. Especially since all it said was ‘well we looked at it and it couldn’t have happened because the victim lied and that’s all in the book’.

 

It’s very uncomfortable for me. I was able to find contemporary articles and look at what actual information they had for the book, and basically it boils down to the following:

  • A woman reported being forced into a non-consensual act
  • The report was leaked to the media, causing the police investigation to be corrupted because of media pressure and unusually high visibility, leading to procedural errors
  • The evidence was undervalued, because there had been consensual acts prior to the non-consensual one
  • The victim’s story was not corroborated with witness statements, and changed over time, but there was corroborative physical evidence
  • The DPP did not have enough evidence to prosecute, so the police chose to stop investigating
  • The club was fined by the NRL, and they suffered other financial consequences at the hands of their sponsors
  • Players confessed, anonymously, to members of the media, that such acts were common

 

Somehow, what most people take from this is that the team were unfairly targeted because a woman lied.

Thing is, if someone tells the same story over and over and it doesn’t change, it’s generally viewed to be less reliable because that’s an indicator that it’s rehearsed. When you’re traumatised, maybe you can’t put things together, or you’ve blocked bits out, or things don’t make sense, because you’re still in survival mode, and your brain isn’t focusing on making memories more than making you safe. It’s only natural for a story to change over time in that case – perhaps you remember, because you wake up screaming after it happened again in a nightmare, that the clock said 12:41 and now you have a time when you didn’t before; perhaps you hear everyone else’s stories and add in things you didn’t know before that affect how things fit together in your head, like you thought that someone left early but they just went to the toilet and came back after you left, so you couldn’t have seen them in the parking lot because they hadn’t actually left. Dealing with trauma when you’re forced to remember, over and over, by police who do not understand, who don’t have the priority of solving the case but pleasing the media and making it stop so they can get back to normal? Is hard. One of the police officers released an essay about the investigation, detailing how they were forced to prioritise the case above all others and handle it much more quickly than they otherwise would. Information was leaked to the media, making it very easy for people to actively create conflicting statements, since they knew what the police had at any given time. Because there were consensual activities, the case turned on witnesses, and the DPP tends not to like those cases, because they’re hard. If the physical evidence can be dismissed by a public defender saying ‘that could have come from the consensual act’, it becomes about character, and who said what, and with the media influence, that evidence was corrupted. Even if they could get a jury of people who knew nothing about it, the evidence was corrupted. Prosecutors have good records because they have limited resources which are allocated to cases they can win.

 

Somewhere out there, at the same time I was going through the same thing with a different club, with a different set of people, there was a woman going through the same thing. I couldn’t find her name, for which I’m grateful, because that means (unlike me) she can create her own story and protect herself from the people who say she lied, or people who wouldn’t care that she didn’t. The case not going through a trial may have been the best thing for her – she was allowed to move on instead of constantly reliving and being examined and faulted for being traumatised.

 

But now I know why, when my mum was talking with a club official, and he asked her who my favourite player was, he then warned her off after she gave the only name she knew (one who did, subsequently, go on to be involved in certain other scandals, because some people don’t come back across the line and go on to be poster boys for the ‘you must report to protect others’ guilt-tripping that goes on for people who choose to prioritise their own health and safety over a police investigation). If I had known at the time, I would have had to sever ties with the club, for my own mental safety. Now, I’m just blank, and I don’t know what to do with all this. All the players involved were quietly moved on under the guise of salary cap issues and team balance, and the club now actively work with the White Ribbon people and managed to reinvent themselves as a family club.

Except, you know, they still have someone go on Facebook and valiantly argue that because there were no charges because the evidence wasn’t enough to warrant DPP resources and because they who aren’t actually trained at criminal investigation or dealing with trauma, it didn’t happen. After twelve years, they’re still trying to beat down this woman for trying to stand up for herself and then cutting her losses when it got to the point where fighting would have cost more than she had.

And this is a family club, actively compaigning against sexual violence? We just had an entire round dedicating to celebrate women?

 

I know some of what she went through, because I went through the same thing.

 

So in stepping on her by making that post, they were also stepping on me.

 

 

I ended up, in what was a colossally bad move, speaking up. “Why would you highlight this one thing, if the book is about the entire history of the club?”

Someone replied – male name, male image, so mostly likely to be, you know, male. He doesn’t like being called a rapist, and anyone who believes that this woman didn’t lie is, apparently, an “uninformed idiot”. I may have, um, lost it a bit in my reply. He might call me an “uninformed idiot”.

There’s an article on the website about the book, too. The article mentions stuff like, you know, premierships, moving back to the old home ground, charity work, and has half a sentence about “false accusations of rape”.

There is a world of difference between false accusations and allegations that don’t come neatly packaged with enough proof for the DPP to choose to prosecute.

Perpetuating that this was a false accusation undermines everything the club is trying to achieve on the ‘violence against women is bad’ campaign. Unproven allegation says the same thing without bringing that poor woman down again.

 

But you know, we have to make the men feel better, so.

 

Suddenly, I’m not so sure that I don’t know what to do with this information. I already choose, largely, not to engage with other people. Making that comment was an exception, and people liked it, so it’s not like I was the only one having a ‘wtf’ about it.

And if people want to say that it didn’t happen, well, they can follow the same search path I did and find the investigating officer giving an interview in which he said there was enough physical evidence, and he only chose to stop investigating after the DPP advised they wouldn’t prosecute. I don’t think that the ‘family club’ rebranding and the emphasis on anti-violence campaigns is a coincidence.

I don’t think it would have hurt me as much if it had been presented differently – ‘we made a book! here’s an interview with dude who writes all our books! he talks about this thing that happened and did his own investigation! he also talks about players! and the coaching drama! and there was a premiership and it was really exciting!’ instead of a random quote and then ‘buy the book at the game y’all!!’.

 

But I know this dude won’t get that. He thinks that an author who writes histories for NRL clubs for a living is unbiased, and this new investigation is going to make everything better, even though I’m fairly sure this author doesn’t have a criminal investigation, forensic, legal, or psychological background. He doesn’t like being called a rapist. I’m not sure if he won’t understand, or doesn’t have the capacity to understand, no matter what I say. Or anyone says, because I’ve said my piece and I’m done. But if the club has, and panders to, supporters like that? It cannot be a place I belong.

 

 

Since the post came up, I’ve been a mess. I tried music, but it started to hurt. I’ve been stimming most of the night. And rocking. The memories are flooding back; things I’d forgotten, things that weren’t important but make sense now with the things that happened since, things that I understand better now that I’m not sixteen/seventeen.

 

This is a problem for me, because all these things are bundling together in my head, in what my psychiatrist is calling a ‘compound trauma’. I was fine before, fine enough that something like this would have just knocked me, and I would have left the computer and had a day to myself and been fine, after. The way things are now I’m not capable of putting it in context or backing away, because all my defenses are down. I’m exhausted, busy, stressed, sore, upset. I don’t have the ability to take these thoughts and recognise them and deal with them, because my brain can’t function at that high a level while it’s funnelling everything in the wrong direction. So this thing that happened to me half a lifetime ago that I dealt with and moved past is now wrapped around the thing that happened to me three years ago, twisting up with my brain disorder and making it all bigger, harder, because my ability to responsibly deal with unexpected triggers is compromised. And that is what this is – nobody expects a sports club’s Facebook to randomly open up the “women cry wolf about rape for the attention” drama. If it was just in the video, I wouldn’t have seen it, because I don’t watch the videos unless my player is in them. If it was in an article, and responsibly written, it would have been ‘a thing that happened that I didn’t know about that now I do, huh’. Every club has a skeleton or two like that, because with the sheer number of men who go through them, there’s a statistical likelihood that there’s been an incident (and of course, I can’t find the link to the study where roughly 60% of male respondents stated they had raped someone once the word rape was removed from the survey, but if 90% of rapists are male, assuming non-binary people were forced to choose, if, say, the ABS stat that there are roughly 51,000 rapes a year in Australia, then, 46000 of those were perpetuated by men. Add in a hyper-masculine, performance-focused environment where women are historically excluded and objectified… you get the picture, right?

No, factor in that less than a third of those are reported to police, and the media reaction in this on, and that around 2% of those are actually determined to be false (that’s 2% of 30%, and that’s going on stats from 2006, according to Wikipedia, because my spoons are about done), and that 50k comes down to 300. Take into account that false accusations are (as is the case here) generally conflated with ‘unproven’ by people who think that a not guilty verdict = innocent, and can arise from misunderstandings of the law, (if rape is non-consensual penetration, reporting being pinned and asphyxiated as a rape, even if it was an unwanted sexual act, will be a false accusation of rape, because that’s what the police are looking for, rather than investigating a battery or assault), and that goes down again. Because of the stigma attached to people who experience rape, because the police are notoriously unsympathetic, because victims who speak out invariably get criticised instead of supported, if someone drops their case, that’s called false, too, even though it’s someone deciding to prioritise their mental health over the justice process and opening themselves up further as a target, that’s even lower again.

 

It’s blatantly irresponsible for the family club, tirelessly saying ‘say no to violence’, to go on and promote merchandise by rehashing a scandal, perpetuating the false accusation rigmarole by using that exact phrase when a quick search will show that the police had physical evidence and the DPP chose not to prosecute (i.e. not false, just not a strong enough case to justify resources, just unproven), and by highlighting that as the key point in eighty years of the club’s existence.

 

And, that hurts me. It hurts me because instead of that being behind me it’s now in my head, and no matter what I do now, even by journaling (this) and self caring (leaving the computer and going to knit and watch nice funny things on tv), and stepping away from this dispute because I couldn’t stay silent (disabling new comment notifications), it’s going to be wrapped up, and a harder thing to deal with. I already have trouble on Tuesdays, because I have to walk through the mall to get to speech therapy (vocal class, pay to spend time with only friend, whatever) and the amount of times I accidentally ran into the man who raped me in there, before he had to leave the State to get away from people who knew him by reputation rather than name, makes me hyperaware.

 

Now, because I spoke up because I identified with this woman, who’s being hurt again, even if she doesn’t know it, I have a target on me, too. But unlike her, my name is connected to my rape (that one, anyway; apparently people just can’t help themselves) and I don’t get to move on.

Especially not now that the things I used to use to cope don’t work anymore.

Especially not when testifying against him was used against me to say that my injuries weren’t work related, and I remember standing in the foyer, shaking the hand of the man who sat me in a dark interrogation room for two hours until I agreed not to continue the investigation otherwise I would fail out of class for non-attendance, as he handed me the subpoena in front of everyone. Especially not when I remember the men who groomed me for him online laughing at me because he told them that I dropped the charges because I made them up.

Especially not when I remember getting a ping late one night: ‘hey, um, you know how I didn’t believe you? I’m really sorry, can you talk to this other girl? He raped her, so I believe you now.’

Especially not when I remember writing a letter to my favourite player apologising for not saying hi to him at training because I was upset because my rapist was standing near me and for the rest of the year he put himself between me and him.

I don’t have it in me to stop those memories today. It’s too late to break that cycle; I can minimise it, but it won’t be the same minimum.

 

I won’t be buying the book, I think. I don’t want to read an old white man breaking down an anonymous woman’s words until they’re not her experience, only data, and data that is corrupted and meaningless in its little zeros and ones. I don’t want to reward him for taking her apart, disregarding how trauma affects the memory and talking about trauma only perpetuates it unless it’s done very carefully in a safe environment, which a police interrogation room, being constantly questioned and undermined and forced to remember exact details and told off for not being perfect, is not. I don’t want to read him say ‘it didn’t happen because her story wasn’t corroborated’ when PTSD can present by someone having the inability to accurately recall the past. If I can find these links on the first page of a search, well, so can anyone. Wikipedia also has it before you even need to scroll down – trauma affects how the brain functions, including memory.

Saying someone is lying about a trauma because of the effects of that trauma is a really, really bad thing to do. I’m disappointed that the club, being so, you know, enlightened, would do that to make money.

 

I got through it the first time through exposure therapy; I kept attending club events until the associated bullying and stigma outweighed my reason for going (i.e. the player who helped me left, and I chose to leave with him rather than stay in that environment, even though I know they made fun of me for it, because of the attitude that people who present female don’t know anything about sport and just follow the hot boys, for which they still refer to me as an example today, which is hilarious but also means anyone who looks up my name gets a lovely biased writeup about what everyone thought happened). I didn’t leave because of what happened. I left because the environment changed because of it – people still come up to me in the street and ask if it’s true that he raped me. It would be easy to leave here, too.

 

But then, I spoke up, I said it happened, and it was an issue that needed to be addressed, and eventually even the people who made it possible were listening. Now I can speak up again, using that experience to make a change here where it’s possible that people might be more receptive and the talk about being family-friendly and anti-violence and speak-up-be-supportive-and-donate may not be just talk. Maybe I won’t have to walk away.

Today, right now, I do. I still have to put myself first, but it may not be just looking after myself, it might be about what I can do. Even if nobody likes my comment, or the person I replied to doesn’t understand that not liking being called a rapist doesn’t mean he gets to trample on someone because the DPP chose to allocate resources to a more winnable case in the midst of intense media scrutiny, even knowing that the comments aren’t really very well monitored by the club given how they let people say things that boil down to “Mormons shouldn’t be allowed to play and should be shot, we don’t believe in sky fairies in Aussie, everyone who believes in God is stupid” without moderation (because if they moderated comments, letting one through would open them to a defamation suit – not moderation opens them up to discrimination, but discrimination is harder to make out and less rigid on penalties… and as far as I know, nobody’s actually bothered to file)… maybe someone will see it and be like ‘I feel better now’.

 

Never mind that at the moment I feel dissociated, that I can feel him touching me, and now I have the bonus of former boss’ voice telling me not to complain, whatever it takes, just get it over with.

Compound trauma.

Yeah.

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