Trolls, Fame and Blame : Helen Razer on Charlotte Dawson
Back in the mid to late nineties, I was relatively famous. Oh. I know. I know. That’s a petty, unbecoming claim and one I would not dare to make were it not for the fact that it is both (a) true and (b) information necessary to the unfolding of this story. A story, by-the-bye, that ends with me not being famous at all. Obviously.
Stay with me, here. I promise this story has a point which is neither me nor my yawning lack of fame! This story is about another girl. We’ll get there.
When I was twenty-one, I landed the kind of job that exists more in teenage imaginations than it does in the actual world. I became a broadcaster on the ABC’s FM music station, Triple J. A fan, a show-off and a chatterbox, I couldn’t have dreamt of a job more suited to my otherwise useless talents. I talked non-stop about rock for a living.
Every life has its moment of perfect combustion; that white-hot time where you find yourself ideally suited to your environment and your era. This was mine. “Indie rock”, as we called it then, became immensely popular and so did the people associated with its dissemination. So it was that a loud, frequently unpleasant and elitist young feminist who dressed EXACTLY like Courtney Love ended up in all the women’s mags and frequently drunk on television panel shows calling people “sexist” and “racist” for no good reason.
Look, I’m certain I was annoying. I was under-informed and over-exposed. I fired ten-dollar words like bullets from my MAC-red mouth and I disagreed with everyone on principle. I can say with some confidence that I would have found me annoying. People didn’t have social media as a means of critiquing the “top down” media back then so I get that some young people would have felt frustrated revulsion for this smart-arse apparently “representing” them and the music they loved. I get it. I do.
But, I didn’t really “get” the jar of urine appended with the anonymous note “Die Slut” that arrived one day in the mail. I didn’t really get that men I’d never met yelled at me to tell me that they wouldn’t find me worth raping. I didn’t get that one stranger had a world view so shattered into pieces that all he could see was some luminous version of me. The better known I became, the more brutal the attention became. It reached its perverse acme with the stranger.
The stranger pursued me for months; maybe even a year. He spent most of his days in and around my office waiting for a chance to hold me. He was, as a doctor who had committed him to the psychiatric care from which he often fled told me, “delusional” and, as such, was utterly sure in his belief that I was his wife. His wife, apparently, whom he had wed “in a special place”. “A special place”! My life was beginning to feel like a cheesy daytime thriller. Radio Horror: The Grunge Rock Stalker Story.
To cut a long story short, he broke out of the psych unit, lied his way in to my workplace again and embraced me. I then lost my shit for some time.
Now, I’m not telling you this story to tap your sympathies. First, on a global scale, my experience of harassment was quite manageable and, fourteen years later, I’m fine. Second, I spent much of my late twenties in a very public posture of sympathy-tapping. I told My Story of My Stalker to magazines, newspapers and television programs. Here’s a hint: if you want every over-50 you meet to look at you as though you’re walking pensively in a drift of meadow-grasses, DO agree, as I did, to appear on both Australian Story and Sixty Minutes. Otherwise, I can’t recommend the experience.
I don’t like to recount this stuff. Not the years of death threats, vicious insults or the very persistent, very unpredictable stalker. Moreover, I don’t like to talk about the way I “dealt” with it. Or, rather, didn’t. But I’m moved to talk about it all because of – here she is finally – that other girl. I want to talk, in as much as I can, on behalf of Charlotte Dawson.
To be clear, I don’t know Ms Dawson more than the merest bit. I have interviewed her and once she gave me the number of a FABULOUS makeup artist but beyond this, I have neither knowledge of nor personal interest in her current fortunes.
What I do have, however, is an interest in compassion. I’d like to see people with a little more of it for Charlotte and I think I am uniquely placed to foster this understanding. The criticisms I have noted of Charlotte in recent days are so similar to those I once heard.
The most insistent advice-slash-criticism Charlotte has been given is to “just ignore it”. I remember this; in fact, I heeded it. I did ignore the urine. I did ignore the jibes about my lack of “rapability”. For months, acting on advice, I ignored the stalker. Thanks to my studied ignorance, two things happened: First, I wound myself into a knot of fear from which it would take years to unfurl. Second, the police were annoyed that I’d let the situation fester.
Of course, the credentialed psychologists who use the Internet (i.e. busybodies) think that Charlotte should just “ignore the trolls”. I’m afraid this makes me sarky and mean.
Is that the case, Dr Conflict-Resolution? Was it years of study that led you to this conclusion? What a shame that this view is not supported by anything but your very nosey nose.
When you’ve had your life upturned by violence or its threat, then come talk to me about ignoring it all. Trauma has its own logic. Sure, Charlotte’s management of her tormentors may not have been executed according to the Psycho Handler’s Handbook. But it wasn’t particularly inflammatory. She didn’t “ask” that threats be made against her life any more than I called up Curious Gifts and said “Send me a jar full of urine and a note that wishes for my death! Send it right away!”
The other common volley at Charlotte speeds along the lines of, “Well why doesn’t she just turn the computer off?”
Does anyone genuinely believe that a death threat – however it is uttered – can just be switched off? Even by a media-savvy, confident loudmouth bitch.
I was told a thousand times to forget about the stranger. To turn him off. I couldn’t. Before I could forget him, I needed to learn everything about him. I sought his name; his date of birth; any fragment that would help me make sense of a puzzle with me as its unfortunate clue.
I needed to stay vigilant. Or, my fighting animal did, at any rate. Certainly, there was no real point in me calling the police, my employers or the psychiatric unit where the stranger was held over and over again; it was like I was hitting “refresh” on a browser. I had to stay “connected” to the movements of my attacker. I thought. I was acting from instinct. I am certain Charlotte has felt a little like that in recent days.
There are other questions about Charlotte’s behaviour, too. If she was legitimately anxious, why did she talk to media? If she is REALLY so cut up about a little thing like a death threat, then WHY does this “alleged incident” coincide with the launch of her book?
As for the latter question, I’d like to say WHAT THE EFF ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? Instead, I shall say that Dawson always has something to promote. Of course, her hospitalisation was going to coincide with some professional obligation because she is a single woman who has worked without pause her entire adult life. Furthermore, being of my vintage, Charlotte knows that “breakdown” and “stalker” publicity is that rare kind of bad publicity. She’d only have to check my press clippings and subsequent disappearance from the media landscape to work than one out!
And to the former question, and all of them really, I’d say this: there is no correct way to respond to ugly, unsolicited threats. In fact, if this had happened to you, you could very well find yourself in a corner throwing your own poo at passersby while singing the hits of Nicki Minaj.
Terror has its own logic. I hope, in or out of the spotlight, you never have to learn its terms.
And I hope that somewhere the daughters that Charlotte and I never got around to having are preparing to enter a world where loudmouth ladies are just loudmouth ladies and not women who asked to be beaten down.
Readers seeking support should contact Lifeline – 13 11 14 and www.lifeline.org.au or Beyond Blue at www.beyondblue.org.au
Helen Razer is an occasional broadcaster, frequent writer and incessant yabber-pants. Follow her on twitter @HelenRazer or at Bad Hostess
More details about Charlotte Dawson’s harassment by Twitter trolls here.
Images via News.com.au