The similarity between a current Shortland St storyline and the Clayton Weatherston case didn't occur to me until I read the LadyNews post on the weekend. Steph's right of course, there has been far too much focus on Sophie Elliot's appearance, as if it was at all relevant to the harassment, stalking and murder she suffered.
I guess I missed the stark resemblance because I was too wrapped up in the astonishing sight of Sophie McKay (the Shortie character being stalked by her ex-boyfriend and tutor) being believed.
Every character that I've seen Sophie interact with about her issues with Ash (the tutor) has told her to trust her instincts that there is something wrong, and has supported her to protect herself. Which is great. I hope that it continues this way as the storyline plays out.
And I wish it was how this stuff plays out in real life. I'm really glad Shortie is portraying this in such an aspirational way; making it seem like it is the default position to believe a woman when she says she feels unsafe. Because sadly that isn't what happens for many.
My own experiences (two of them, neither involving tutors I should say) were that it took months for anyone to take my worries seriously. It didn't help that I started to think I was the one in the wrong, not the guys, and that figures of authority in one case completely ignored something really obviously happening right in front of them.
I started to wonder where the lines were. If I didn't kick up a fuss about this thing on this occasion then was I tacitly consenting to it happening again? I was so frightened and confused and felt guilty, as if it was my fault, and it would never have occurred to me to be as assertive about it as Sophie McKay has been to date. Perhaps if people around me had supported me I might have, instead of questioning myself constantly.
My observation of people under stress, and some reading on the topic, has led me to agree with the conclusion that when stressed we tend to revert back to flight, fight or fright (aka freeze). I have seen it in my work; when faced with a disciplinary meeting with no prep or support a worker will usually either freeze and not say anything or absent themselves, often by taking sick leave for stress-related troubles. Fight is a response I've seen more rarely in my work, and I think that's partly a gendered thing, as I've mainly dealt with women workers. Certainly my own response, when faced with the stress of harassment, was to freeze most of the time, flee most of the rest of the time, and fight very rarely (and usually with such a bad outcome that I didn't try it again for a long time, if at all).
In the end in each of the two cases I've experienced myself it was the support of others that shifted things for me. In the first instance I was unable to get support from the person who would have been my natural ally until they started doing to her what they had been doing to me for months. Suddenly she saw the light and things started to change. Part of the reason I'd thought I must be in the wrong was her lack of support in the past.
In the second situation a group of friends suddenly changed their view from "oh look, it's cute that he has a crush on her, it's so never going to happen, but it's so cute" to "ok this shit is getting freaky and she's terrified, how did I not notice this before". Once they realised, the behaviour stopped very quickly, as the person in question got told in no uncertain terms, by people he respected, to leave me alone entirely.
Good on Shortie St for showing how it should be. I hope life imitates art very soon indeed.