Tuesday, 3 August 2010

On being believed

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.


LadyNews said...

I thought it was great how they portrayed the other chracters as completely on her side, no doubts, backing her up, right from the get-go. As you put it, it was portrayed in a very aspirational way (that is the perfect description for it, thank you!). Sadly, as you have described, it isn't always the way it works in the real world. I guess we can only hope that seeing people react in this way on the show will serve as some sort of guide/reminder, and people will model their actions and reactions on it. One can hope!

Anonymous said...

Also, I think when you're in the first flush of romance you don't necessarily notice the small controlling actions, and perhaps then it is easy to wonder if you're imagining things. Especially since your friends and family may be saying how generous and thoughtful he is etc.
Often it's not until he is more overtly controlling that you want to end things, and it isn't always so easy.

ScubaNurse said...

I dont watch Shorty but am starting to think I should! I was stalked by an Ex in high school. My parents took it seriously, but then, they had to live through the phone calls and faxes all night.
My friends at school varied from confusion and fear, through to one girl who would tell him where I was going to be, (what movies, whos party) because she thought it was "like, totally romantic."
The earlier we can teach our kids, male and female that instincts are there for a reason, and No is Ok at any point no matter how "rude" it might be, the better.

Julie said...

I should clarify that neither of my experiences were the result of a relationship. In the first it was sexual harassment by some guys who I don't think had any romantic intentions at all, it was all about power. In the second it was a Crush Gone Creepy, but I never never, even before it got creepy, was the slightest bit interested beyond friends.

I have had exs get a bit stalkery, although not in a way that scared me.

There is this idea about the difference between "courting" (to use a quaint turn of phrase) and "stalking" - that the gap between them is whether the attentions are wanted. And once one side says I'm Not Really Interested Thanks All The Same then you should really respect that. Certainly if they make it clear, as Sophie has, that they are scared and want you to bugger off forever, that is a sign that you must stop immediately.

ScubaNurse said...

and on that note, my stalker did not want to date me, he wanted to stop me being around to date someone else.
romance be damned!