EXCLUSIVE: A Melbourne woman says her attempts to report sexual assault to Victoria Police have resulted in ill-health, fear and pain and a sense that she is now the enemy and even a target for officers. How far have police really come in this world after MeToo? Gary Johnston investigates.
In the years since 2006’s MeToo Movement, it is to be assumed that a more advanced and knowledgeable understanding of sex crimes – sexual abuse, sexual harassment and rape – is evident, especially amongst politicians and agents of the criminal justice system.
As has become clear, Australian politicians, especially those in government, have shown no such comprehension, as the experiences of Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins have all too readily revealed. Further, it seems that, amongst police, a similar level of ignorance, lack of empathy and sexist inequity is depressingly widespread and apparent.
True Crime News Weekly has recently been made aware of the circumstances of a woman in Melbourne whose efforts to have the perpetrator of her abuse taken to court have consistently been obfuscated and ultimately thwarted by investigators, including officers from SOCIT – the Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Team – a Victoria Police branch whose very purpose is to ensure victims of sexual assault are able to access support appropriate services professionally and with empathetic support.
In order to protect her anonymity, we will refer to the woman as Morag*.
It is undoubtedly the case however that Morag’s story is not unique and serves as a significant factor in dissuading victims of abuse from seeking justice.
Further, the context of events leading to her assault, describe a depressing and unacceptable failing – a level of societal cultural prejudice – which make the stated aims of the MeToo movement – ‘to empower sexually assaulted women through empathy and solidarity’ – appear to be, in an Australian police context, depressing and unacceptably remote from reality.
In interview with this writer, Morag described a situation with which many young women will immediately identify.
Employed initially as a casual worker in a government agency, with few rights of employment and little job security, Morag was subsequently sexually targeted by a fellow worker whose predatory behaviour was accepted – condoned – by a management whose interpretation of Victoria’s much vaunted Equal Opportunity Act of 2010 was either non-existent or curiously slanted toward voracious, aggressive men.
Intimidated and harassed into a relationship with her alleged abuser, Morag was given a strong and far from subtle message that any verbalised concerns about her relationship with the fellow worker would not be taken seriously and might in fact result in – as eventually transpired – the termination of her employment.
To make matters far worse, as those concerns led to sexual violence and abuse, Morag’s efforts in attempting to have her perpetrator investigated and charged were met by a response from Victoria Police which can be described as grudgingly luke-warm at best, offensively apathetic at worst.
Abandoned by the officer with whom she first attempted to seek help, told to provide ‘more evidence’ by a front desk male Constable at a Melbourne Police Office, Morag was eventually successful in having her previously convicted abuser charged, no thanks to the actions of an agency literally tasked with a recognised duty of care.
Morag’s experience is one of isolation, of feeling unsupported, of being continually fearful of recriminations – and worse.
Morag’s narrative will doubtless sound familiar to many victims of crime, especially women, given the well-documented machismo reputation of Victoria Police, an organisation with a disturbing history of corruption and misconduct which shows no sign of dissipating; only this month Sergeant Calum McCann, a controversial long serving officer, has been charged with 87 criminal offences with several others being under investigation.
This, in light of legislation due to put before the Victorian Parliament this year which proposes changes to the Crimes Act 1958 where accused sexual offenders will be legally required to take steps to obtain consent, a move which is intended to change the balance of proof in sexual assault matters from the victim/survivor, toward the alleged offender.
Unfortunately for Morag – and many other women – this law will not be retrospective.
Legislation however, is not necessarily analogous to practice.
Morag’s story takes a particularly troubling turn when it comes to her interactions with the SOCIT team, who, according to their website, pride themselves on their empathetic, helpful and professional investigative methods.
Morag’s experiences with female officers of SOCIT are almost exclusively negative, discourteous and prejudiced – victim blaming – completely at variance of how her alleged abuser was apparently treated.
According to her – and True Crime News Weekly is in possession of evidence which strongly supports this perspective – the interview of the purported perpetrator was cordial and at times over familiar, an interface which Morag herself, describes, as ‘cosy’.
Following previous inquiries and criticism of Victoria Police’s investigative techniques, the force now use the so-called PEACE method of interview, an acronym which stands for Preparation and planning, Engage and explain, Account clarification and challenge, Closure and Evaluation.
According to Criminologists, the goal of the PEACE model is to gather information and look at facts without deception or lies, but the technique has also been criticised for its emphasis on allowing suspects to do most of the talking in interview.
Morag feels, with some justification, that this is an open goal for narcissistic, transparent and voluble ‘charmers’, a recognised personality type which experts agree, applies to many sex offenders.
‘My perpetrator is articulate and manipulative’ Morag explains. ‘I believe he successfully pulled the wool over the investigator’s eyes, something he’s especially skilled in, being by nature, a practised and egocentric liar. I think the officer was completely taken in by him’.
“It’s crucial that women who report sexual violence are recognised, supported and believed,” says Morag.
“My own experience – which for purposes of sub-judice, is ongoing and remains under legal consideration – has resulted in ill-health, fear and pain, to the extent I feel I’m now essentially seen as an enemy and even a target of Victoria Police.
“This victim blaming and shaming is wrong, dangerous and completely unacceptable. It’s like MeToo never happened and we – women – continue to be doubted, categorised as hysterical and duplicitous.”
Many, including True Crime News Weekly, feel that natural justice – empowerment through empathy, the encouragement of women to speak up about their abuses in the knowledge that they do not feel alone, is a concept entirely incompatible with the reality of the unfair, inaccessible, chauvinist society that appears to be modern day Australia.
Plainly, we have a long way to go.
Morag’s story, in this publication’s view, must be seen as a part of the beginning of that necessary journey toward fairness, empathy and justice.
* Not her real name