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Taking Back Control After Rape

Discussion in 'News, Politics & Debates' started by catatonicky, Feb 2, 2007.

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  1. catatonicky

    catatonicky Member

    CAROL Stingel tidied her hair with trembling hands as the jury filed back into court. She closed her eyes as the judge's associate rose to ask the foreman the verdicts.

    Had Geoff Clark raped her in the Warrnambool Botanical Gardens in March 1971? The foreman's voice was so low that only those watching his face caught his answer. Ms Stingel, her eyes still shut tight to prevent the tears from spilling, missed that first 'Yes'.

    She did hear the answer to the second question, about whether Mr Clark had also raped her on the sand dunes at Lady Bay that same year. When the foreman replied 'Yes' to that, her face crumpled and she began to cry. By the time the foreman announced the damages, her shoulders were heaving and her face was buried in her hands. Ms Stingel finally had what she had wanted for so long: formal affirmation that she was telling the truth.

    She was still shaking when she walked out of court to face the media but she was able to smile at the cameras. She said: 'I've got my power back. I've got myself back. I've got my life back. That's something I realised... a few years ago when I first started this, that he still had that control over me, and now I've taken it back.'

    She says she still has some fond memories of being a teenager in Warrnambool in 1971. 'Everyone knew everyone. It was a small country town situation. It was getting towards the end of the hippie era. It was the seventies, the era of' - she pauses, struck by the irony of what she is about to say - 'free love.' She makes the obvious crack herself: 'This gives (that phrase) another meaning, doesn't it?'

    "This" is the long legal battle over her allegations that Mr Clark led two pack-rapes against her in 1971, when she had just turned 16. 'This' is her story of being raped another four times that year by other young locals in a place that had come to regard her as easy meat, as a slut and a whore and the town's "gang bang", as her lawyer put it, because she had not gone to the police after the first two rapes.

    Ms Stingel came forward with her complaint in July 2000, 29 years after the event. No criminal charges were ever laid against Mr Clark, once one of Australia's most prominent indigenous leaders.

    Ms Stingel pursued her claims through the civil courts and last year won a precedent for adults who had been abused in childhood when the High Court decided that she could seek damages.

    The court ruled that the events at issue might be decades old but the injury Ms Stingel claimed to suffer - post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with delayed onset - had manifested itself only from 1999.

    In 2001 The Age published a report that named four women who claimed Mr Clark had raped them in the 1970s and 1980s. Of those four, only one other, Joanne McGuinness, has seen even a day in court. Ms Stingel is, effectively, the last of Mr Clark's public accusers left standing.

    She believes race had nothing to do with what happened to her, even though several of her alleged attackers lived in the Aboriginal community at Framlingham.

    'It was a Geoff Clark situation, and his mates. It was just the type of guys they are. It wasn't just Aboriginals that raped me. It was both black and white which has only just been aired in court now.'

    Ms Stingel said she has been angered by Clark's repeated denials, which she described in court as 'an insult to my being'. Her private life has been trawled through and dissected and criticised, not to mention publicised.

    The last of the alleged six rapes in 1971 was at the hands of her then boyfriend, who raised his fist to her and told her she'd been with everyone else and now it was his turn. That encounter made her pregnant. Frightened and confused, and on her mother's advice, she adopted out the baby.

    Then followed a sad and lost few years in which Ms Stingel became pregnant again and had an abortion, had a serious illness, drank heavily and had other broken relationships. She told the court she suffered from anxiety, sleeplessness and eating problems.

    For most of her life, she failed to connect any of these problems with the rapes. It was only when she saw the news of Ms McGuinness' rape claim that she developed what was later diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder.

    Ms Stingel said all along that she never wanted to make money from the case. Her lawyer had asked the jury for a small damages settlement, saying it was the principle that mattered.

    One of her witnesses, psychiatrist Dr Lorraine Dennerstein, told the court she believed that pursuing the legal cases had improved Ms Stingel's mental health, with her PTSD now in remission. Ms Stingel said it was the airing of her story that helped.

    Source: Warrnambool Standard
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