There is tragically only one living figure at the centre of this week’s disturbing 1988 rape allegation, but there were once two. Attorney-General Christian Porter and his unnamed accuser have vastly conflicting stories and very different life outcomes, though sadly that’s not where the dissimilarity ends: stark contrasts have been drawn in the way the alleged victim and the alleged perpetrator have been treated. Take a look at the way his word, his mental health and his need for “justice” have been considered this week, and then take a look at hers. The government has repeatedly pushed the concept of fairness, and yet things couldn’t be less fair.
Take his word and hers, and how they have been considered. Both have made claims: the woman that she was raped by him twice in January 1988, and Porter that they never even slept together. These conflicting accounts are complicated by the fact that she is no longer alive to answer to his denials. But the way their words have been heard are also different. His spoken words were publicly broadcast, and have been reported at length. Her words, which exist in the form of a trove of documents – including an unsigned statement and diary entries from the time, as well as an unpublished recording – are not being heard at the same volume. They are in the hands of journalists, who have been, quite reasonably, reticent to publish the full details of the allegedly violent rape (with the exception of Crikey). But even those who have full access to both accounts have treated them differently. The prime minister, for one, has opted not to read her words, while taking Porter at his.
Then there’s his mental health, and hers, and the way they are being discussed. As journalist Samantha Maiden noted on Q&A last night, there is a huge disparity in how their mental states are being portrayed in the debate, with him applauded and her doubted. In his Wednesday press conference, Porter acknowledged that he might not be okay, and would be taking a few weeks off to seek help. The “shattered man” received sympathy by some in the media for talking about it, with his pain portrayed as making his denials more credible. The deceased accuser, meanwhile, has had her quite severe mental health battles used to doubt her account – by the very same people referring to Porter as “shattered” – with suggestions that her “complex history” made her unreliable. Never mind that friends say she was credible and consistent, while the friend who drove her to the airport after her Sydney police report characterised her as “lucid, calm, rational, attentive, forensic”.
Speaking of friends, many of the woman’s confidantes have spoken out this week as “friends”, while his supporters – ministers and high-profile journalists – speak from positions of power. The woman’s friends – more and more of whom are calling for an inquiry – speak through the media, but they don’t represent themselves as journalists when they do so. But his friends do. High-profile journalists like Peter van Onselen, Andrew Probyn and Paul Kelly have declared the case closed, but rarely have they acknowledged their long-running association with the accused man unless pushed. While his friends have just as much right to speak as hers do, Porter’s supporters continue to do so under the guise of “journalism”, whether on prime-time television or in print.
It should probably be noted that, of their mutual friends, all the former members of their debating team reportedly believe the woman over him.
What about justice? There has been much talk of the need to ensure it, although the focus seems to be much more on justice for the accused than for the accuser. The government and conservative media insist that Porter must be allowed to move on, citing the rule of law and the presumption of innocence (it’s hard to presume anything other than innocence when you refuse to look into a case at all). But, as Labor MP Anne Aly said on Q&A last night, “What about justice for the victim?” With the police investigation closed, the deceased woman will never get justice in the legal sense, and her friends say they are not “out to destroy anyone” – they just want an inquiry. But the government refuses to put any consideration towards the concept of justice for a life that may or may not have been destroyed by one of their own.
Therein lies the rub. Whatever the truth at the heart of this tragic story, there has been such vastly different significance placed on the consequences for him and for her. Both Porter and the deceased woman were considered brilliant students with exciting career prospects; hers were never fulfilled, while he occupies the highest legal office in the land. For the 16-year-old girl, for the late 49-year-old woman, the consequences of this story – of her “strongly held” belief, as Porter put it – have been catastrophic, resulting in the loss of her life. But the thought of even questioning him over it, of depriving him of his position, even temporarily, is apparently unthinkable.