There is no doubt that radio host Kyle Sandilands deserves a good rap across the knuckles. Aside from his insensitive remarks towards the 14-year-old girl who disclosed, on air, that she was raped at age 12, the radio presenter should have known better than to ever ask a minor to talk about their sex life while broadcasting live to the nation.
But Sandilands is not the only individual who has exhibited poor judgment here. The mother of the girl also has a lot to answer for. After all, what parent allows their child to be hooked up to a lie detector and publicly interrogated over their sexual history, particularly if that child has experienced sexual abuse?
According to New South Wales Community Services Minister, Linda Burney, it is highly inappropriate and unethical to place any child in this situation. "Whether or not they knew the claim of a rape is irrelevant. The fact they had a 14-year-old girl there, asking her about sex, is the focus and the inappropriate action here."
But sadly, this is not the first time that a young rape victim has been “outed” in such unconscionable circumstances.
Hetty Johnston, the founder of Bravehearts, an organisation that raises awareness about the sexualisation and exploitation of children has been very vocal on the need to protect the rights of children. Regarding this most recent event she has labelled the14-year-old victim “a little Braveheart”. And yet Johnston is also responsible for having outed her own daughter as a survivor of sexual assault. For over a dozen years Johnston has made continuous reference to her own daughter’s abuse, outing her over and over again in the press. According to commentator David Marr, the most reported fact about Johnston is that she is the mother of an abused daughter.
For professional counsellors everywhere Johnston’s actions are beyond comprehension; she has been utterly exploitative of her child’s trauma. It also seems incredibly hypocritical for an individual who bills herself as a child protection advocate to violate her own child’s privacy in such an insensitive manner.
But what, exactly, are the impacts on sexual assault victims who find themselves outed in the media?
It goes without saying that when an individual is sexually assaulted, their sense of safety, their sense of self worth and their sense of control over their body and life are brutally ripped from them. This sense of powerlessness and violation is only exacerbated and extended when their experience of abuse is publicly circulated without their knowledge or consent, or in a manner that is beyond their control.
No doubt this has been the case for the girl at the centre of the Sandilands scandal. When a disclosure is pressured, forced or coerced out of a victim the experience will almost always re-traumatises the victim as it recreates conditions similar to rape where the victim feels powerless, helpless and completely violated.
But it’s important to draw distinction between disclosures that have been pressured, coerced or forced and those that are given of ones own volition. It’s also important that we don’t discourage victims from publicly disclosing their experiences. When done in a controlled, safe, appropriate manner disclosure can be incredibly empowering and even therapeutic for victims.
Two years ago I publicly disclosed that I’d been the victim of a brutal sexual assault. Since disclosure I have become a regular commentator in the media on issues around sexual assault. I also speak to high school and corporate groups around Australia about sexual violence. While I have had to deal with a certain level of backlash and harassment, by and large the experience has been cathartic and ultimately beneficial for me.
But there are obvious differences in the circumstances of how I disclosed and how the 14-year-old victim disclosed.
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