Barbera's Experience Applying for a Protection Order
Barbera* experienced workplace sexual harassment and applied for a personal protection order. She let us put her story on our website to help other's who have similar experiences; to remind them that it's not their fault; and to provide helpful advice about what to do prepare for protection order hearings.
* Not their real name.
My need for a protection order stemmed from a professional relationship with a male colleague (Paul*) 30 years older than me. After a year working together he attempted to make a sexual advance toward me and physically restrained me when I rebuffed. I brought the incident to the attention of my employer, who terminated his employment. After a couple of weeks I began to receive regular text messages, Facebook messages and phone calls from him which I ignored. I also blocked him on all social media. I began to get increasingly worried over the months as the tone of the messages changed from regret and anxiety to blame and anger.
One morning three months later, Paul was waiting for me outside work with a handwritten letter. That morning I feared for my life. A part of me worried that he would run me over with his car. I was hysterical, and phoned the police to lodge a report. The police recommended I get a protection order against him and referred me to Victim Support ACT.
I went to the Magistrates Court and was granted an interim personal protection order against Paul. Despite having the order in place, I struggled to be at work because he knew where I was. I suffered with anxiety, found it difficult to sleep and lost my appetite. I’d take different routes to work or organise appointments for first-thing in the morning so I wouldn’t have to go straight there. I began to suffer from frequent migraines and had to keep missing work to see my doctor. Eventually I went on stress leave because I had worn myself down to a shadow of the person I was, and the employee my work had come to expect.
Five weeks after my first court date, I returned for a conference with him. I was terrified. I already hadn’t been sleeping well, and that morning I was a nervous wreck. When it was my turn, the registrar told me the interim order hadn’t been served, meaning Paul had not been given the order and would attend the conference. There wasn't much we could do. I felt a range of emotions - mostly anger, fear and disappointment.
In that five weeks I had mostly believed I was safe from him, but the reality was if he had contacted me or confronted me, there would’ve been little I could actually do – an interim order is not valid until it has been served on the person. It turned out that the order had actually been served on Paul a few days before the conference date, so he had in fact attended the court. He refused to discuss the matter further until he had sought legal advice, so my case was adjourned for another two weeks.
When I returned to the court two weeks later, Paul offered to accept undertakings but refused to accept responsibility, instead chiding me for my “interpretation” of events. I realised that despite him doing the wrong thing, he still held all the power, as he warned me that if I did not agree, he would be “forced” to take me to court. I refused to accept his offer and decided to proceed with a hearing in front of a magistrate. Our court date was set for nearly three months later, so I relaxed a little bit. The interim order was still in place.
Three days after this court appearance, I met with my case manager from Victim Support ACT for the first time. She was knowledgeable, supportive and helpful. She recommended counselling and referred me to a psychologist, who I saw six times over the coming months. Victim Support ACT paid for the appointments so it didn’t cost me anything. Meeting with the psychologist greatly relieved my anxiety, as she helped me to find coping techniques.
In the end, I had to change jobs because I just found it too hard to continue to be there, day after day, knowing that he knew where I was.
I began to find my sanity, and before I knew it, three months had passed and the court date loomed ahead.
I hadn’t updated my LinkedIn profile with my new job details because I hadn’t found a way to block him on that particular platform and I knew he could view my profile if he so chose. I eventually got a notification that Paul had indeed viewed my LinkedIn profile. My first reaction was despair. It was eight months since the first incident when he’d been fired, nearly three months since we were last in court, and I had hoped he had calmed down and moved on. This notification, his name staring at me from my phone, announcing he’d viewed my profile, hit me like a train: he was still obsessed, he was still looking for me, he still wanted to know where I was. My second reaction was determination. I had fears that the magistrate wouldn’t take my case seriously, that it was an infatuation and nothing more, and this gave me the drive to continue, to fight for my case, to have my day in court.
The court process was terrifying. I felt like it was designed to intimidate me, when I was already in a vulnerable position. Despite the general feeling of the courts, my interactions with everyone there - from Legal Aid ACT to security staff to Registrars and the Magistrate - were positive.
There were so many times where I wanted to just drop the case. It would’ve been easier to just shrug it off, to just put up with the harassment - I kept telling myself that it wasn’t like he was hitting me - but to look at it objectively, Paul was still a man, much older than myself, who I’d only ever had a professional relationship with, and who had become fixated on me to the point where I feared for my safety. And my stubbornness got the better of me because I wanted him to know that his behaviour wasn’t okay.
Looking back, it was one of the hardest things I have ever gone through. It took up the better part of a year of my life. It took my job, because I found it hard to continue to work there. It affected my physical health and my mental wellbeing. It affected my relationships with people. By the time I got to the hearing with the magistrate, it was the first time I had been face-to-face with Paul in six months, and I remember thinking, “Really? You’re going to let this guy ruin your life?” Being in the room with him was not as terrifying as I had imagined in. In fact, a sense of calm washed over me, because I knew that I was doing the right thing.
No matter what the outcome, I think it’s important to know that you’ve done the right thing. You’ve made a stand against something that’s unacceptable. I am glad that the services provided by Victim Support are available.
I have also put together some information about how to prepare for attending court for a protection order conference or hearing.