The illusion of safety

It has been another horror week for news of violence against women. This morning, I learned the name of the man who committed a heinous crime. It was a name I knew. 

<TW: sexual assault>

Yesterday I saw, amongst the ongoing ever-present news of rapes, sexual abuse, and men walking away unsentenced, that a man had been charged with indecent assault of an elderly woman in a rest home.

Today name suppression was lifted. The man is Grant Hannis, who was one of my journalism lecturers at Massey University. He was head of the journalism school.

I had avoided reading the account of the assault, because there is only so much I can endure. Unfortunately, I needed to get more information to write this, and I now know exactly what he did.

This is not about me. I do not want to make it about me. But as I sat here, tears running down my face, the nausea rolling in my stomach, I knew I needed to do something. And what else can I do, but write? This is the only tool left. It’s a fairly futile one, but if it helps me or anyone else to cope with this, then it’s something.

Hannis’ crime was perverted and horrific. What’s worse is his statement, claiming that he was mentally unwell when he offended, and stressed out from overwork.

This is a revolting cop out. I am mentally unwell. I have many, many friends and family members who are mentally unwell, stressed, overworked.

None of us has ever committed such a heinous crime.

I have been sexually abused. I know women close to me who have been abused, assaulted, raped.

Six years ago I got the courage to ring Women’s Refuge and tell them what had happened to me. They encouraged me to press charges and said they would assist me to do so. However, they had to advise me that it might be two years before the case would make it to court, and that in a “she said, he said” scenario, it was unlikely to result in jailtime.

I did not press charges.

Instead, I live with the fallout of what happened to me. I carry it inside me, like so many other women, because sexual offences rarely ever get to court, let alone result in fitting justice.

Most of the time, my horror exists as a quiet noise in the back of my head. A noise that rises every time I see reports of another assault, another rape – another murdered woman. Which happens every single day.

Today, that noise crashed over me like a tidal wave, and I sat shaking, gulping air, stripped bare of the idea of safety I had so carefully wrapped around myself.

Because this time, I knew the name and the face and the voice of the man who committed the crime. A man who I had respected and trusted. A man who I was alone with on multiple occasions.

I’m not saying I was ever in danger.

But I can’t truthfully say that I – or any other student of his – wasn’t.

It is easier when the monsters are nameless. Faceless. Voiceless. Especially when the voice is claiming contrition. When the voice is giving excuses that are intolerable. When the voice says they’ve lost their job and their friends.

What has the victim lost? What has the victim’s family lost?

What have the women who interacted with this man over the last twenty or thirty years lost?

The illusion of safety. It is lost.

We are not safe in public spaces. We are not safe in our own houses. We are not safe in goddamn fucking rest homes.

And that this man would try to claim being “mentally unwell at the time,” and overworked, as any sort of reasonable explanation or excuse for what he did?

No.

There is no reasonable explanation. There is no excuse.

There is horror. There is sickness, the bile in my stomach, burning in my throat. There is the knowledge that I sat in a small room with that man on multiple occasions and laughed, because I still believed that I could be safe. That I would be safe.

How many other men have I laughed with, who are harbouring the capacity to carry out an assault? Who are harbouring the secret that they have already done so? How many men will I laugh with in the future who could, who have, abused or assaulted or raped a woman? Multiple women?

This is not a world for women. We can stay in our homes, we can never become close with men, we can wear clothes that cover every inch of our goddamn bodies.

It doesn’t matter. Because we know – women know – that those things make no difference. That advice to cover ourselves and stick to the light is blaming us for crimes we’re not committing. That assaults can happen anywhere. Any time..

And that justice is so rarely served.

Grant Hannis has been¬†sentenced to eight months’ home detention and 100 hours of community work. He was ordered to pay $3000 – three fucking thousand – in emotional reparations.

I’m sure that will go a long way to fixing the damage he’s caused.

I don’t care about ‘not all men’ right now. I am grateful for the good men I know, but I also know that I’ve been reminded that I always, always need to watch my back.

The monsters have faces and names and voices.

But so do we.

So do we.

 

3 Replies to “The illusion of safety”

  1. Lindsay Lyons

    I am horrified by this case. He could not have chosen a more helpless victim. He has robbed that poor old lady of any peace of mind, any sense of dignity for the rest of her life. He has robbed her of any chance to die a peaceful death. The rest of her days will be spent stricken with fear, confusion and loathing. Horrible. Horrible. And everything he’s had to say for himself has shown self pity and self justification. He tried to pin the cause on his own mother, for God’s sake. He didn’t fess up immediately. He didn’t plead guilty. Instead he tried to hide his crime and hide his identity. And now he’s trying to hide behind the jargon of his psychotherapist. I don’t care about his name or his face or his voice but I care like hell about his actions.

    Reply
  2. Briar Haven

    SW Addition: TW

    What irony. I was visiting a rest-home when this terrible news broke. A message on my cellphone. Was enjoying a conversation between my friend and a sparkly 92 year old woman who was proud of her unexpected recovery from a fall. But still needing a walking aide.

    Gazed round a room. Residents enjoying a beautiful afternoon tea following a tender service of remembrance for those who have passed over the last 12 months. White balloons had been released in memory of loved ones.

    Why am I telling you this?

    Because the news violated the ether…a tremendous quake of dread for all these. The elderly, the frail. The little girl on her scooter outside on the pavement, naked on this Stinking Hot Day… (take her inside!) … she was creating a breeze that nature is not providing today. I’m contaminated by the invasion of frightening thoughts for her safety. Such innocence. Such vulnerability. Such a PISS-OFF!

    Reply
  3. Don Franks

    Thanks for writing this. I was in the guy’s band for several years. The news was a complete shock to me and I agree that the punishment was derisory. Grant did not appear mentally ill in any way in the time leading up to his conviction publication.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.