Key doubts over Porter accuser’s story

 

The psychiatric history of the Adelaide woman who accused Attorney-General Christian Porter of rape and two factual errors in her statement has prompted speculation that she may have used repressed memory theory to access her trauma despite clearly stating she had "always remembered these things."

Friends of the woman have disputed the claims, insisting that she disclosed the alleged incident to friends before September 2019, the date when she says a counsellor pointed her towards a book that champions controversial theories.

In her statement, the woman does not state that she had recently remembered the incident and includes diary entries which she claims referred to the incident in 1991, three years after she attended the debating tournament.

She discussed telling an old boyfriend, Macquarie Infrastructure Corp director James Hooke.

However, there is no way of confirming at this stage when those diary entries were made.

"I have always remembered these things," she wrote.

But she does note write that she had a "better understanding" after reading a controversial New York Times bestseller.

"I had a better understanding of these memories, and only really understood them, once my Sydney based psychologist (who specialises in counselling sexual assault survivors) referred me to The Body Keeps Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma in September 2019,'' she said.

"I had not previously heard of it, nor had I read it. My Adelaide-based psychiatrist confirmed that these are 'somatic memories' (i.e. lodged in the body rather than the brain, although the mind can access them) in an appointment in late 2019."

The book the woman read was written by Bessel Van Der Kolk, director of The Trauma Center in Boston, professor of psychiatry at Boston University, and director of the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress Complex Trauma Network.

He is recognised as a pioneer of mind-body interventions, such as controversial eye-movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR), neurofeedback, and yoga.

In 2014, he was the subject of a highly critical New York Times article that accused Kolk of practising a "hokey-sounding approach to therapy" and argued he was "a lead defender of repressed-memory therapy."

The book by Bessel Van Der Kolk
The book by Bessel Van Der Kolk


It also said he had been an expert witness in court cases involving therapists accused of implanting false memories of early abuse, cases in which "entire lives were destroyed".

Van der Kolk refuted that he had been a "defender" of repressed-memory therapy, insisting he had simply testified on behalf of sexual-abuse victims of Catholic clergy when the lawyers had tried to discredit the plaintiffs.

"Trauma evokes a lot of passion," he said. "Passion to deny, and passion to assert. I see what happened with this article as a reflection of the incredible difficulties society has with staring trauma in the face and providing people with the facts of what happens, how bad it is, and how well treatments work."

Concerns that repressed memory treatment could be raised as an issue in her coronial inquiry were first raised on Friday by online news outlet Crikey that suggested her memories were "freshly minted."

"This is wrong. Our friend sought professional help for her trauma years before 2019,'' friend Jo Dyer, the director of the Adelaide Writers Festival said.

"Her memories never had to be "recovered" as she lived with them constantly. An inquiry would establish this beyond a shred of doubt."

There are other friends she disclosed the allegations to before reading the book in September.

They include Robert Crocker, an Adelaide-based academic and writer told Guardian Australia that she told him about the alleged rape in February 2019, which is significantly earlier than many of her other friends.

He also confirmed that she had claimed she met Mr Porter in 1994, a claim repeated in her unsigned affidavit.

Sections from the accuser’s version of events.
Sections from the accuser’s version of events.


"I do remember that she mentioned a [subsequent] social event - a dinner," Crocker said. "She did definitely mention some dinner." Crocker said he spoke to her several times in 2019 and then once more in 2020, before her death.

A spokesman for Porter said it was "not impossible" that he had done so "but the attorney general does not recollect any specific contact".

The woman also told former Liberal staffer Chelsey Potter, who made headlines in 2019 with her own sexual assault allegation. Ms Potter did not know the woman but was told after she disclosed to a neighbour who was also a member of the Liberal Party in August and suggested she get in touch with Ms Potter.

Another old friend, who she spoke to shortly after she met with police in Sydney in February 2020 and drove her to the airport said she seemed "lucid" at the time she visited police.

"She was lucid, calm, rational, attentive, forensic," Mr Kalowski told The Sydney Morning Herald.

"In no way was she delusional or away with the fairies."

"We are not out for blood or to destroy anyone, we are simply out to seek justice for [our friend] as best as can be achieved in circumstances where she is no longer alive."

Sky News commentator Andrew Bolt also argued this week that the woman's claims were "falling apart" noting two incorrect claims in her unsigned affidavit.

He noted the parents reportedly had concerns she may have "embellished" the account.

"So I ask, is it possible that this mentally ill woman was acting under a delusion? Some people claiming to be victims do lie. Some are delusional,'' he said.

He cited two key problems with her memories.

The first error is that she said they had gone dancing in Kings Cross at the Hard Rock Cafe - which did not open until a year later. The Hard Rock Cafe is also not in Kings Cross, it's close to Pyrmont in Darling Harbour.

However, there is another pub in Kings Cross that was open at the time that operated under the name the Oz Rock Cafe, an iconic pub that is now known as the Kings Cross Hotel.

It lies on the four-way cross intersection of Darlinghurst Road, Bayswater Road, William Street and Victoria Street, Kings Cross.

The second, more important issue that Bolt raised was that she said she had vomited when the pair went back to her rooms and that she said he had put her into the bath.

"Plans from four years ago show there were no baths in that college at all, only showers. So, that's two details now…that are wrong."

Her unsigned statement however is more confused about exactly what happened.

"I lost track of time, disassociating badly in order to cope. (He) then took me from my bedroom to the bathroom at the Langley Building at women's and made me take a bath or a shower. (I was still too drunk to stand so it probably was a bath),'' she said.

Mr Porter denies he was ever there and said that nothing sexual ever happened between them.

It's true that it is not clear if there were baths at the Women's College at the time.

The building has undergone multiple refurbishments and renovations over that period. In the 1970s for example, the architects Joseland and Gilling converted the buildings living quarters into self-contained two bedroom units for married couples or twin share for students.

It underwent major works in 1999-2001.

But perhaps a more significant issue is how they got there. The women's college at the Newtown campus is an 11 minute cab ride or a one hour walk from Kings Cross. She doesn't mention how they got there, but said that when he did she walked him to her room.

She does say she was drunk and there was a "surreal quality to her memories."

The team she competed with at the debating tournament in 1988 included four people.

Those people included the Labor MP Daniel Mulino - who she told about the allegations in recent years but asked to stay out of it because she didn't want it to look like a "partisan" issue.

"I was a friend of the complainant,'' Dr Mulino said.

"I first became aware of the complainant's allegation December, 2019."

"She indicated to me that she was determined to proceed with a formal complaint and I supported her in that decision."

The other member was Matthew Deeble, who she also told in recent years and of course Mr Porter and the Adelaide woman who died by suicide in June, 2020.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that many of the people that she mixed with in debating circles went on to careers in politics and the law.

Two other men who attended the 1988 university debating competition that she attended with Christian Porter, went on to become cabinet ministers in the Morrison Government.

Health minister, Greg Hunt, who was a member of the Victorian team and communications minister, Paul Fletcher, even attended the tournament although Mr Hunt said he had no recollection of the woman.

Mr Fletcher, who attended the conference as an adjudicator did know her.

NSW police have said there is "insufficient admissible evidence" to continue their investigation. But a coronial inquest in SA remains a distinct possibility and SA police are undertaking further inquiries into the various claims raised in the media in recent days.

The Prime Minister said on Friday that a coronial inquest was a matter for SA authorities.

"The issue as to whether there is a coronial inquiry in South Australia is entirely a matter for the South Australian coroner," he said.

"And if they chose to go ahead with that, of course, I would welcome that.

"But it would be highly inappropriate for me as prime minister, or any other politician, to interfere or intervene in a decision that a coroner should properly make about those issues."

Mr Morrison also said that if Mr Porter was called to give evidence at a coronial inquiry that he would of course cooperate.

"And if the coroner sought that, then I have no doubt that the attorney general would cooperate with any coronial process."

 


Originally published as Key doubts over Porter accuser's story


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