Crikey has published an appalling confection, promoted by others in the media, to cast doubt on the victim's account and engender sympathy for alleged perpetrator Attorney-General Christian Porter, writes Dr Jennifer Wilson.
*CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses rape and suicide
BY NOW, most readers will be familiar with the allegation against Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter claiming that he anally raped a 16-year-old girl when he was 17. Porter has denied the allegation and both he and Prime Minister Scott Morrison have refused to consider the possibility of an inquiry.
The alleged victim, who has been identified simply as Kate, took her own life in June 2020. [Kate's surname has been withheld out of respect for her family's request for privacy.]
In what can only be understood as a wilfully malicious attempt to discredit Kate's account of her experiences, Crikey published a piece by David Hardaker on March 5 titled, 'Here’s one for an independent inquiry: did recovered memories target Christian Porter?'
Hardaker’s piece suggests that Kate's recall of the alleged rape came about as a result of reading a book in 2019 on Recovered Memory Therapy (RMT), a technique that claims to uncover repressed memories of severe trauma. That is, memories relegated to the unconscious and unavailable for recall without therapeutic intervention. The technique has been widely discredited but Hardaker uses the controversy surrounding the practice as “evidence” that Kate's account cannot be regarded as reliable.
Whatever your opinion of the practice – and that’s a whole other article – Hardaker’s point is that Kate did not actually experience rape as she claimed, but that her memories came about as a consequence of her reading a book in 2019.
In fact, Kate did read a book on this topic in 2019, after consulting a therapist who practised EMDR therapy, a strategy that has nothing at all to do with RMT, and one that is used widely to treat victims of trauma — for example, war veterans. The link takes you to a comprehensive explanation of this therapy from the American Psychological Association, a body not known for promoting outlier treatment methods.
Hardaker’s entirely uninformed opinion leads him to this description:
'EMDR and other pseudo-science therapies.'
Hardaker’s implied connection between the discredited RMT and the mainstream (refundable by Medicare) EMDR treatment is just one of the examples of his use of conflation and disinformation to build his case against the validity of Kate's allegations.
It has now emerged that Kate consulted a sexual assault counsellor in 2013, long before she had any knowledge of or contact with, as Hardaker alleges, the practice of RMT. She sought advice in 2013 as to how to proceed with a complaint of rape against someone she called “Christian”. In other words, Kate did not know of RMT when she first approached the sexual assault counsellor for help, so she obviously had not forgotten or “repressed” her memories of the alleged rape.
Hardaker is apparently unaware of this. Or he has chosen to deliberately withhold that information in order to prosecute his thesis.
Hardaker’s piece is a master class in conflation. He suggests that the belief that the body retains memories of violent trauma is the same thing as recovered memory, which it is not. Hardaker describes the concept that vaginal pain can be related to a 'long-forgotten rape', as a 'quack approach to treating trauma'.
Here I will take the liberty of speaking personally. It has become very clear to me over years of therapy that I have physical symptoms that directly relate to the prolonged period of sexual abuse I experienced as a child.
The narrative of a mentally unstable woman bringing down a damn fine man with allegations of rape and other sexual offences is a core trope of misogyny.
I have never had RMT. I never forgot the abuse. I did, however, forget details, many of which are triggered by a variety of stimuli that for me represent the circumstances in which I was raped. This is not the same thing as recovered memory. It is a sudden flood of disturbing feelings and sometimes images that come quite unannounced, in response to a stimulus that may be entirely innocuous, but was present in some form at the time of trauma, or related to the trauma. This flood can include intense bodily sensations, sometimes of pain, nausea, trembling and fever. This is not “recovered memory” under the influence of a therapist. I never forgot.
Hardaker goes on to conflate dissociative states with dissociative identity disorder:
'The ordeal was so shocking, she said in her statement, that she entered into “dissociative states” to cope. The idea of dissociation — that the mind fragments into different entities as a shielding mechanism — is fundamental to recovered memory therapy.'
In fact, 'the mind fragmenting into different entities’ is only one type of dissociative state. There are at least two others, both of which I have and occasionally continue to experience, as a survivor. Both are commonly described by people suffering trauma during and after powerfully disruptive events and are also described by people in the normal process of intense grieving. I have never fragmented into different entities — which is not to say others don’t have this experience but to emphasise that a dissociative disorder does not, as implied by Hardaker, necessarily include this symptom.
Dissociative identity disorder is, however, much loved by those attempting to dramatise and discredit those of us who suffer dissociation as a consequence of sexual trauma.
Hardaker’s article is an appalling confection, created for one reason only, and that is to cast doubt on Kate's account of her experience and to engender sympathy for the alleged perpetrator, Christian Porter.
Even more alarming are the numbers of senior male journalists who linked to this article through other media, including social. Peter van Onselen, Jonathon Holmes, Phillip Adams and David Crowe all contributed to the spread of this disinformation — several of them describing the article as “important”. None of these men, or indeed, Hardaker, have expertise in any of the relevant areas.
In general and without casting any aspersions on any particular men, women have every reason to be deeply suspicious of the motives of those who aid the discrediting of female victims. The narrative of a mentally unstable woman bringing down a damn fine man with allegations of rape and other sexual offences is a core trope of misogyny.
It is devastating to see that those willing to engage in this form of gaslighting are among our most senior male journalists.
If you would like to speak to someone about sexual violence, please call the 1800 Respect hotline on 1800 737 732 or chat online. Or you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Dr Jennifer Wilson is an IA columnist, a psychotherapist and an academic. You can follow Jennifer on Twitter @NoPlaceForSheep.
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