Grace Tame Calls On The Media To Stop Asking Survivors “To Perform Their Trauma”

Grace Tame Calls On The Media To Stop Asking Survivors “To Perform Their Trauma”

Grace Tame, at a purpose sector summit of over 600 business leaders, has called on business and media to stop expecting survivors of trauma to ‘perform’ their experiences for the sake of storytelling.

At Purpose Conference in Sydney, in conversation with Michael Bradley, Managing Partner of Marque Lawyers, Tame – who has extensive experience with trauma related topics with the media – discussed the responsibilities of media and business when it comes to working with survivors.

Addressing the responsibility of a corporate entity wanting to engage with a survivor or vulnerable person, Tame said, “Businesses should come at the idea of working with survivors, or anyone who’s a vulnerable group, not thinking that they can own them or expect them to perform their trauma or ask that question of ‘please give us your story’ or ‘tell us your story’.”

“If you put a survivor in the pressured position of; if they don’t say yes they’re going to let you down, such as in a contractual obligation, that actually recreates the abuse dynamic because you’re always going to be bigger than the survivor, whether you think you are or not, whether you think you have more power than them or not – you’re always going to have more power than them. But if you invite the survivor along for a one-off opportunity, to educate your business on their terms or support them and their efforts financially, where they can choose what to do with your support on their terms – that is the best way.”

“Put the survivor or vulnerable person in the driving seat – give them the power because that is what they have not had their entire lives and they keep experiencing manifestations or recreations of that dynamic, and you probably wouldn’t even realise it.” said Tame.

“Because institutions, and agents of those institutions, intentionally or otherwise, keep recreating that experience wherein they are the ones holding all the power. They are the ones asking the questions, they are the ones doing the thing and they are the ones making the survivor feel like they don’t know what’s coming next. Survivors are just living out their trauma over and over again. Give survivors – and the people who have lived the experience of discrimination, vulnerability, re-traumatisation – a chance to state their needs.” said Tame.

Michael Bradley agreed with with Tame, saying, “We’re in this time where survivors – and other people with trauma – are coming forward, and we’re normalising the experience of trauma in the sense we’re saying ‘it’s not your shame, it’s not your guilt, it’s not your burden’ and there are obviously enormously positive social consequences of that, and yet, each time we put someone like Grace on the stage or on the screen we are exposing her or whoever it is, to the risk of re-traumatisation and fresh traumatisation, and the responsibility that places on us…is enormous. Ninety percent of where that goes wrong is ignorance and the other ten percent is malice. Our advice is do not ever ask a person with trauma to perform their trauma, do not coopt their story, do not ask them to tell their story. It is their story, it is theirs to hold, and to tell on their own terms as and when they choose. And when they do, when they choose to share with us any part of their story say ‘thank you’ because it is an enormous privilege.”

Tame also discussed the impact of a recent experience of the media interviewing the convicted perpetrator who abused her.

The media outlet said they did so to give their stories ‘balance’ and allow the perpetrator their right to ‘share their side of the story’, “There is a thing called ‘devil’s advocacy’, which is exactly what it sounds like; it’s advocating for the devil – people think it’s something else besides that… but it’s not, it’s just devil’s advocacy. We have been groomed collectively as a society, such is the insidious nature of grooming that it isn’t obvious! Popular culture, television shows, films, books and the media narratives we’ve been consuming – at such a superficial level – means now there is this acceptance of grooming and it’s seeped into our unconscious. This is now at such a point we don’t realise how messed up it is to give a voice to perpetrators of sexual violence!” said Tame.

When speaking of her experience of watching her abuser, when challenged or when complaints were made against him, switch his communication and actions from perpetrator to victim himself, and noted, “This is what perpetrators engage in constantly (the narrative switching), and I see the media engage in it constantly too, because there is no system for accountability, for the media’s

role in perpetuating violence and abuse culture. They flip between entitlement to cause harm, but then, when the spotlight is turned on their behaviour…what do they do? They flip to disentitlement. They deny, they blame shift, they deflect, they distract, they gaslight, and they intellectualise their behaviour. It’s called DARVO; deny, attack, and reverse the victim and offender roles. It is so common.” said Tame.

“People seem to think that there is this real need to forgive, it comes from this idea we need to be kind to everyone – these abusers aren’t kind! They abuse their victims and your good faith if you keep giving it to them,” said Tame.

“The media outlets (that seek perpetrators comment) are an example of this relentless ‘both side-ism’, which doesn’t actually serve any purpose – because the experience of abuse by definition is not equal. It involves someone in the position of power, preying on a vulnerable target – no, you don’t need to give equal rights and equal say to these people.” said Tame.

The discussion warned of the impacts of consistently making survivors of abuse stand up to their perpetrators. Bradley discussed the example of another client he works with – a refugee who had spent eight years in a deeply traumatising experience of long-term detention – called out the media’s role here, “Our client decided he would speak out about his experiences, and do a major Australian TV media interview. Without warning during the interview, a very senior Government official who was actually responsible for our client’s long term detention was allowed to ask him questions about his experience and how he was,” said Bradley.

“But it was extraordinarily careless, callous, and the wrong thing to do, and surely a 12 year old would know not to do that to a person suffering trauma; don’t put their abuser in front of them pretending they weren’t their abuser. Nobody at any point – not the panel, not the TV producers – nobody at any point said ‘no, we shouldn’t do that’.” said Bradley.

“They don’t care about your trauma, or your re-traumatisation, which ultimately would have been the upshot of the event. They care about their program, they care about their ratings, they care about their advertising dollars – that is what drives the media these days. Education as a purpose of the media, has sadly been usurped by sensation.” concluded Tame.

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