Don’t worry, prosecutors, I’m not going to talk about that thing. Well, not that thing and not those prosecutors. We all know what happened and we all know that we’re not supposed to talk about it. I’ve been watching it fly around social media, and yes, I have shared those International stories. I will continue to share them and this is why.
I was a victim in a sexual harassment case. The person who assaulted me was found guilty on one of three counts, but with no conviction recorded and a short good behaviour bond. A suppression order was put in place by the Downing Centre Local Court, explicitly to protect both the ‘reputation’ of the perpetrator and the ‘public perception’ of the organisation. The gag was inserted against my will and with no regard at all to my wishes on the matter. The prosecutor supported the defence’s request for the gag.
The enforced secrecy around this historic matter and its direct contradiction to the ethos of the organisation I worked for has destroyed my faith in the system. I have lost all respect for the judiciary. Sitting in the court room, first for five days under cross examination, and then through most of the rest of the hearing, I saw parts of this system that genuinely scare me. How Courts works behind those closed doors demonstrates that our judicial system is more of a collusion between the prosecution and defence than a process of evidence and reason.
I am talking about this current unspeakable thing that we’re not supposed to talk about because what happens in court rooms is unknown to most Australians. We are scared of courts and lawyers, scared of the magistrates in their elevated power position and scared of being the object of their inquiries. We’re scared of being the perpetrator in a court room, when what we really should be scared of is needing them to keep us safe.
In 2013, I was working in a wonderful job with an organisation which provides support to survivors of sexual assault in NSW. This organisation is funded by NSW Health. I spent a year being touched by another worker, in increasingly sexual and sleazy manner. The first time it happened, I reported it verbally to my manager. She told me I needed to put a stop to it because it was ‘unprofessional’. When he touched her, she laughed and slapped his hands away. To her, it was a joke. The last time it happened, I reported it to her verbally again. She said sorry, she’d send him an email. Then I reported it in writing and went to the police. She testified against me, as did four other employees of the company.
At first, I thought the system was working. The cop was lovely and helpful, talked me through the whole process. Before I went in to testify, I asked him what it was like in the witness box.
“It’s the loneliest place in the world,” he said to me.
I didn’t know then that I was going to carry that loneliness with me for the rest of my life. Didn’t think that they’d force me to carry the dirty secrets of the perpetrator in my head, particularly since carrying his secrets had already driven me to insanity. I didn’t think that I’d see the collusion and friendliness between the prosecutors and defence and then have to carry their behaviour as another secret.
I’m gagged. I’m not allowed to tell you the details of what was said in that room. But seeing the whole nation kept out of this new secret has driven me to tell you some of what happened in that room.
Because the truth is that suppression orders are not there to protect the victim. Nor are they there to protect the judicial process. Suppression orders exist to allow the Courts to pretend justice has happened and to protect the public perception that justice even matters.
How do I know this?
Firstly, I know it because the suppression order was applied to the organisation, despite being requested by the defence. I was there testifying against an individual, but arguing against the organisation. I didn’t know this when I walked in, didn’t know it when watched other staff give evidence against me. I didn’t know that I was fighting the organisation as well until the defence started submitting their opinions to the court. On behalf of my former employer, the defence argued that I had to keep their secrets because this organisation was so important.
The person paying for the defence, I found out later, was a founding member of the organisation I worked for. They’d funded a dual defence for both the perpetrator and the organisation and I didn’t find this out until after the matter was concluded and I requested to have the suppression order lifted.
The transcript shows that prior to my evidence, the prosecutor, defence and magistrate discussed the duel defence and they all knew the defence was working for these two opposing parties.
Any suppression order which prevents the naming of guilty individuals and organisations is not in the interest of the victim or the judicial process. These orders are to protect reputations and money.
Secondly, I know that these orders are not to protect victims or the judicial process because the outcome of this matter has most likely already been decided.
When prosecutors are talking to victims, they pretend that they are on your side. They soothe you, comfort you and promise that they’re going to do the best they can for you. They don’t tell you the important stuff. They don’t tell you that once you get in that stand, then you’re there to the end and can be charged if you refuse to continue. They don’t tell you that once you get in the room they aren’t going to talk to you, except when you’re on the stand. They don’t tell you that they habitually refer to the defence as ‘my learned friend’ or that during breaks they’re all going to sit in the courtroom laughing about their drinking dates on the weekend.
They don’t tell you that their questions about your body and the assault are going to be the ones that get so uncomfortable that the magistrate stops them talking. They don’t tell you that the outcome is decided in genial chats between these ‘friends’ and brought to the magistrate as a packaged deal.
They don’t tell you that you can give a witness impact statement before sentencing.
My opinion on that thing we’re not talking about, is that the reason we’re not talking about it because those ‘learned friends’ have already lined up a tiny token sentence and that public discussion risks that.
Suppression orders very rarely protect victims. In a post #metoo world, after that awful Royal Commission, we need to be looking at this system of enforced secrecy which forces victims to carry the crimes in their heads forever. We need to question how keeping the secrets of guilty people has contributed to Australia’s sickening history of institutional abuse. We need to look at this recent matter and wonder if keeping this secret does more harm to the reputation of Australia’s judiciary than anything else.
If the Courts want us to trust them, maybe it’s time they start trusting us.