LUCIA OSBORNE-CROWLEY – FROM 11 MARCH
ourteen years ago I was raped by a stranger at knife-point. I told no one at the time. I did not whisper a word of it until more than 11 years later, in a small therapy office in Sydney, when my therapist asked me why I had moved my chair to a far corner of the room. I said I couldn’t bear to sit any closer to him. He asked me why and, for the first time, the story came out of me, fully formed.
The night I was raped at 15 years old, I did not consider going to a hospital or to the police. I did not even consider telling my parents or my closest friends. This is despite the fact that my rape would have been one of the easier ones to prosecute – I was covered in bruises, snaked across my abdomen from where he had pushed me against a wall. My gymnastics coach told me later, on inspecting my body after I lied to him about a bad fall, that he suspected I had a few broken ribs.
I was injured inside and out and was probably covered in the man’s DNA. Under my nails, inside my body, everywhere. But still, I did not go to police, and here’s why: I had seen enough police procedurals and courtroom dramas and had sat through enough high school assemblies in which teachers told girls to change their behaviour when a teen girl got kidnapped and assaulted in our area to know that in all likelihood, I would not be believed.
I knew that the police would question my story as though I were the one on trial. I knew they would ask what I was wearing, whether I’d been drinking (yes), whether I had exchanged any words with the stranger before he escorted me to the disused bathroom where he would rape me (yes).
I knew that despite all my injuries and evidence, these things would make me an improbable witness to my own life.
I knew this because of stories I’d heard and people I knew and books I’d read, and I also knew this because by the age of 15 I had already approached police to try to get them to help a close friend who was being brutally abused by her partner. I was told in no uncertain terms that she should just leave the relationship if she wanted the violence to stop and that there was nothing they could do.
We talk the talk of being anti-rape but in reality the consequences of rape are minimal or nonexistent
So when I, along with the Australian public, found out that a woman had gone to police with an allegation of rape against the attorney general, Christian Porter, when they were both teenagers, I knew something in my bones that all survivors know: that she overcame an inordinate number of hurdles to articulate her complaint. That she did this despite the fact that she knew how difficult it would be to be believed. Porter absolutely denies the allegation and is entitled to the presumption of innocence.Advertisement
In Australia, rape allegations fall out of the criminal justice system at alarming rates at every single stage of the process.
More than 140,000 sexual assaults were reported to Australian police in the 10 years to 2017. Police rejected nearly 12,000 reports on the basis that they did not believe a sexual assault occurred. Police “cleared” or resolved more than 34,000 – or 25% of – sexual assault investigations without making an arrest or taking any legal action. Only 20% to 29% of reported sexual assaults even lead to a charge being laid.
A study published by the federal government in 2019 found that rape is still under-reported, under-prosecuted and under-convicted for a few key reasons. These include the victim’s profound shock and confusion in the aftermath of an assault as well as the fear of not being believed. The epidemic of under-reporting also relates to a series of still widely held “rape myths”, including that sexual offences are the victim’s fault, or that sexual violence does not count as a criminal offence.
Even when a victim does report a rape and the claim is moved forward by police, it too often falls through the cracks at the next stage: DNA testing. In 2018 there were at least 6,741 untested rape kits sitting in crime labs and police offices in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland alone. In Victoria, almost 5,000 rape kits were submitted as evidence between 2011 and 2018. Less than half of those kits have been tested.
If a victim jumps over all these hurdles and has their complaint tried in court, they are even more likely to ultimately have the complaint dismissed at the final stage of the process. Research from NSW showed that 74% of alleged offenders in adult sex offence cases in the high court were acquitted of all charges.
The difficulty of reporting rape and the alarming number of ways a report can fall out of the system at every stage of the process means that rape is a crime that is, in my view, formally illegal but socially accepted. We talk the talk of being anti-rape but in reality the consequences of rape are minimal or nonexistent. There has never been a better time to change that than right now.If the PM really cares about the ‘rule of law’, he’ll hold an inquiry into the allegations against his attorney generalRead more
In the Porter case, the police have decided there is not enough admissible evidence to proceed with their inquiry. The prime minister says he has “no alternative” but to take no further action on the allegations.
The statistics betray the horrible truth of just how severely rape survivors are gaslighted in Australia. When we say we have been hurt, we are told that we are the ones doing the hurting. When we say we need justice, we are told that we are the ones infringing upon the rights to justice of those we accuse.
There is only one thing to do if we want to move the needle forward in terms of achieving justice for rape survivors in Australia. We must ensure that the allegations against Porter are the subject of a robust and fair trial, whether that’s in the criminal justice system or through an independent inquiry – ideally both. We owe the accused the opportunity to properly address the allegations and to clear his name, and we owe the deceased woman the decency to treat her allegation as credible and real and, if proven, something we as a society firmly believe is illegal and unacceptable.
Lucia Osborne-Crowley is a journalist and author. Her first book, I Choose Elena, was published by Allen & Unwin last year. Her second book, My Body Keeps Your Secrets, will be published by Allen & Unwin in September
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