Amid the maelstrom of blanket news coverage and political warfare that exploded over the historic rape allegations and later awful suicide of a woman whose name the nation does not know and yet whom half the nation claims to know, a sad involuntary thought jumped into my mind: Thank God she’s dead.
One can only imagine how brutalised she would have been by having it so publicly laid bare in such excoriating detail.
Of course, like any decent human, I desperately wish she was still alive. And of course much of this – perhaps even all of it – would never have been made public had she been alive. And I wonder if that is the real point of this whole sorry saga that everybody seems to have missed.
It has been made clear by NSW Police that one of the woman’s final acts was to explicitly inform them that she did not want to proceed with a formal investigation, and that she never gave them a formal statement. It is also on the public record that following her death her family asked the ABC not to go public with her case, a request the national broadcaster appeared to initially respect and then ultimately disregard.
Perhaps it was decided that the public interest outweighed the family’s wishes; perhaps there were seen to be conflicting wishes from the woman’s lawyers or other confidants; perhaps it was deemed that she herself was in conflict and that now she was gone there was no harm in pursuing the allegations.
And so after I accidentally thanked the Almighty that she was not around to suffer through the storm she seemed to have predicted and taken the ultimate step to avoid, I wondered how many others on both sides of the barricades were silently thankful for her departure for somewhat more sinister reasons.
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Frankly, it is unsettlingly convenient for some parties. There is much righteous rage at the atrocity and much righteous indignation at the allegations but I wonder how much of either has to do with respect for the woman herself.
Certainly her and her family’s wishes appear not to have been respected so it is difficult to imagine they have much for her.
It is important to stress here that any decision not to proceed with an allegation of sexual assault is a vexed one. For many this is considered a fault of the justice system but it is perhaps more a cruel paradox: The threshold of “beyond reasonable doubt”, which is a vital protection in the vast majority of criminal cases, is excruciatingly difficult to prove in sexual assault cases where there are no witnesses bar the victim and the perpetrator. It becomes almost impossible when there is no physical evidence or where that evidence has been erased by time. In the matter that is now bedevilling the parliament – and unlike a remarkably similar allegation directed at the other side of politics which also failed to proceed – there is now not even a complainant.
These are undeniably cold truths and they may add weight to the common refrain that we do not really have a justice system but instead merely a legal system. Yet precious few suggest what we might replace it with.
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There is an old political saying that democracy is the worst system of government, apart from all the others. One might add that innocent until proven guilty is the worst system of justice, apart from all the others.
And while there is precious little honesty in politics, it is dangerous and insulting to conflate a crime like rape with other claims of various messy or infidelious encounters that occur between consenting adults in Canberra – not to mention everywhere else.
I don’t like either. I also don’t like murder or green tea. That doesn’t mean they’re the same thing or even on the same spectrum.
There are plenty of political footballs that people can kick around but surely this now silent soul deserves a better legacy than that.
The darkest irony in the fallout from this ill-considered crusade is that now the police have declared there is no case to answer and the minister has come forward – as his accusers demanded – it is impossible to even entertain the truth of this woman’s claims without inviting defamation.
The public record now shows that her half a century of life has been reduced to a tragic story that is unproven and unprovable, the very fate she reportedly feared.
That’s not justice either.