Investigating sexual assaults is changing in the post #metoo era as victims like me speak out on social media before or during police investigations. We know that we can’t trust the system to deliver justice. And those of us who’ve fought for justice before know that the process will eradicate us, make us invisible.
Lawyers, police and courts all advise victims of crime not to speak or write about the situation before the court case, as it may have negative impacts in the court room. This advice, of course, is given before anyone mentions closed court rooms, suppression orders or the many other tools the justice system uses to silence victims.
I can’t follow that advice
Right now, police are investigating a sexual assault I “allege” occurred in September last year. I’ve spoken about the matter at length in a private social media group and in some posts available to members only. I’ve described the act but not named the man. Been careful not to name him anywhere, at any time.
Other people who also “allege” he committed similar crimes to the one I allege have reached out to me. They name him. Describe him. Verify in triplicate. They contact me needing confirmation that what happened to them wasn’t okay. They need someone to tell them what happened wasn’t “consensual”. Because gaslighting is how this “alleged” predator rolls.
None of these other people have been to the police. None of them feel like they can now. Meeting them and hearing so many different versions of the same story was what made me get over the terror-shudder of trying for justice again. I know absolutely why they can’t go to the cops.
And know absolutely that I can go to the cops because I’ve done it before.
I can get into the witness box, give evidence while a man who took privileges with my body tries not to look guilty. I can maintain eye contact with a defence solicitor and not spit in his face when every fibre of my body quivers with the urge. I can do this for days on end with big gaps for adjournments. It will break me. Drive me mad again. Strip away more of the fluttering shreds of my confidence in society. But I can do it.
And it knowing all of that, I know I must. To finally (hopefully) teach another man that he has to ask before he touches and respect when people say no.
But because I’m not allowed to talk about the last time, I can’t do any of this without talking about it. That description of the witness box above is about as specific as I can get (I think) before the lawyers for the defence start sending out Cease and Desists.
And so while I know I can try for justice again – take another entitled little predator to court – I also know I can’t follow the official recommendations. And I won’t.
I haven’t named him
But by speaking out about what this man did to me and pulling up the people in our local community who knew about his habits (again, not by name, rather the evocative and brutal “you”), I have made a space for a kind of justice that is deeper than any the state can offer.
By speaking out I have made it safe for others to speak, if not to police then to other past or potentially future victims. I’ve given them the confidence to see what he did to them for what it was.
That matters more to me and every victim of sexual abuse that speaks out on social media.
I will talk about this one publicly because the NSW justice system hasn’t proven it can handle it.
The system just has to get used to people like me.
Angela Williams is a writer and thinker. Her book Snakes and Ladders is out now with Affirm Press.