Politics Opinion

The damage Morrison has done to survivors is incalculable

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Scott Morrison and Christian Porter in the Lower House (image via YouTube)

Scott Morrison's unyielding support for Christian Porter is hurtful to victims and stunts social progress, writes Dr Jennifer Wilson.

*CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses rape, child sexual abuse and sexual assault. 

IT IS DIFFICULT to single out any aspect of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s response to allegations that his Attorney-General Christian Porter raped a 16-year-old Kate in 1988, as particularly heinous. All his responses have been appalling.

However, Morrison (so far) reached a nadir when he declared that Christian Porter is “an innocent man under the law”

Morrison made this declaration while simultaneously declaring that he has not read the statement left by Kate, in which she details the offences Porter allegedly committed against her. 

This sorry state of affairs will be familiar to many survivors of sexual abuse and rape, both in childhood and as adults. Many of us have known similar injustice; when our words have been ignored or denigrated, while the word of the man who assaulted us is unquestioningly accepted.

To find ourselves witnessing this yet again at the highest levels of government is a bitter and re-traumatising experience. It inevitably evokes profoundly disturbing memories and emotions.

I learned early that nothing I said would be believed. Over time, I told several adults what was being done to me by my stepfather, who was a doctor. Perhaps I’m wrong and someone did believe me, but nobody helped me.

It wasn’t until I was fifteen and the rapes had been a regular occurrence for five years that I finally found someone who heard me and took action. 

I have no idea how I managed to keep on telling people. I have no idea, either, how I managed to keep silent.

My matter never went to the police, and so according to Prime Minister Morrison’s very personal interpretation of the law, my stepfather went to his grave “an innocent man under the law.” 

Morrison aims to confuse the presumption of innocence with his declaration of innocence. His base will more than likely unquestioningly accept this.

Christian Porter, like any other accused person, is entitled to the presumption of innocence. He remains, and will always remain, an alleged rapist entitled to the presumption of innocence. He cannot, however, be declared innocent, particularly by those who have not even read the allegations made against him. 

Of course, a prime minister does not in this country have the power to declare accused criminals innocent or guilty.

Morrison, in declaring Porter innocent, is also impliedly declaring his alleged victim Kate to be a liar or delusional, without having read her statement. This is not an unusual situation for victims of rape, CSA and sexual assault to find themselves in.

On top of the physical, emotional, psychological, mental and spiritual damage we sustain through the assaults, we all too often must then face the disbelief and contempt of people unable to deal with our stories. There is the original violence done to us and then there is the secondary violence done to us by those, like the Prime Minister, who will not listen.  

Morrison has told every survivor this week that he will not listen. He’s told every survivor that we will not be heard and we will not be believed. He has told every rapist who doesn’t face court that he’s an “innocent man.” The Prime Minister has done untold damage to survivors and set us back decades.

In refusing to have an inquiry into the rape allegations against Porter and his suitability to hold high office, Morrison is giving permission to every workplace to behave in a similar fashion. Morrison is in the process of undermining all the hard-won workplace processes and procedures specifically designed to deal with situations such as this one.

It is sufficient, Morrison is telling us, for the accused to say “it didn’t happen". From then on he is an “innocent man".

However, this has not always been Morrison’s attitude to survivors. There was a time, not long ago, that the Prime Minister told us that women “should be believed". It is extraordinary that Morrison has swung so violently to the other extreme, as a consequence of his Attorney General, Christian Porter, being the subject of rape allegations.

If you would like to speak to someone about sexual violence, please call the 1800 Respect hotline on 1800 737 732 or chat online

Dr Jennifer Wilson is an IA columnist, a psychotherapist and an academic. You can follow Jennifer on Twitter @NoPlaceForSheep.

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