Jack de Belin trial: Alleged victim too traumatised to remember seeing housemate

The woman who has accused NRL star Jack de Belin of sexual assault was too traumatised to remember a man standing at the door shortly before the alleged attack, a jury has been told.

The three-and-a-half week trial of Mr de Belin, 29, and his co-accused Callan Sinclair, 23, is expected to conclude on Wednesday with the jury to then retire to consider its verdict.

During his closing arguments on Tuesday, crown prosecutor David Scully told the Wollongong District Court that the jury should give little weight to the evidence of Troy Martin.

Mr Martin told the court during the trial that he briefly saw Mr de Belin and the woman, who cannot be named, naked in the bedroom of a North Wollongong apartment in the early hours of December 9, 2018.

Mr de Belin and Mr Sinclair have pleaded not guilty to five counts of aggravated sexual assault relating to the alleged attack of the woman inside the townhouse, which belonged to the St George Illawarra forward’s cousin Jake Lewis.

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‘Traumatised’ women in Poland are looking abroad for help after the country’s abortion ruling

Abortion charities are reporting a sharp increase in the number of Polish women turning to them for help after a constitutional court ruling last month to tighten legislation.

For Ciocia Basia (Aunt Basia), a Berlin-based group helping Polish women with abortions in Germany, the ruling worsens a situation already complicated by the pandemic.

“We have had a high increase in callers. Three times as many as before,” Cioca Basia volunteer Ula Bertin told AFP.

The Polish court ruling struck down a provision of the law that had allowed abortions in cases of severe foetal anomalies, triggering a wave of protests.

Even though the verdict is not yet in force, activist groups say Polish doctors are now even more reticent to perform permitted abortions lest they fall on the wrong side of the law.

Ms Bertin said that often women seeking help “were already in the process of arranging an abortion in Poland and now no one wants to do it. So they’re mentally exhausted, traumatised”.

“They’re punished twice because the child they were awaiting has turned out to be sick and may not survive, but they’re being forced to deliver. It’s emotional torture.”

People take part in a protest against the tightening of the abortion law in Wroclaw, south-west Poland, 30 October 2020


Other organisations are reporting a similar uptick in calls for help, despite the difficulties of foreign travel because of measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Abortion Without Borders (AWB), a multinational coalition, said that since the ruling it has helped 40 women travel or arrange to travel abroad for abortion – already more than double its monthly average.

Mara Clarke from AWB said the sudden increase in calls from Polish women was also due to the fact that “protesters were chanting the name of our organisation and phone number” at the mass nationwide demonstrations.

‘Scramble for another solution’

Since launching in December, the network has provided information on how to access pills to hundreds of Poles who then had at-home medical abortions – a grey zone in Poland, neither authorised nor banned by law.

For those requiring a surgical procedure, the coalition offers logistical and financial support so they can abort in Austria, Britain, Germany or the Netherlands.

Kasia Roszak, from the coalition’s Dutch group Abortion Network Amsterdam, said many recent callers had abortions planned at Polish hospitals and “were sort of left on their own”.

Some had got referrals for the procedure but were told that no one would actually undertake it. Others saw their appointments indefinitely postponed.

“So they had to scramble for another solution,” she told AFP.

Even before the court ruling, some who qualified in Poland would contact the group after sensing that doctors were playing for time to avoid the procedure.

“The legal abortion process was already complicated and not very user-friendly,” said Roszak.

Poland has some of Europe’s most restrictive abortion laws and the ruling would allow terminations only in cases of rape, incest and when the life of the mother is at stake.

A country of 38 million, Poland sees fewer than 2,000 legal abortions every year, according to official statistics. Women’s groups estimate that another 200,000 women abort illegally or abroad.

‘Parallel universe’

When Warsaw resident Hanna was in her early 20s and not ready to start a family, she got an abortion in the Netherlands with help from relatives there.

“I really liked how professional it was. Because I’ve heard from friends about Poland’s abortion underground, and it’s less pleasant,” the 38-year-old mother-of-two told AFP.

“There’s the feeling that you’re doing something illegal, that you have to visit the gynaecologist on the sly at night, and the fear that if something goes wrong there’s nowhere to file a complaint or to get help.”

People demonstrate against restrictions on abortion law by blocking traffic in the centre of Krakow, Poland on 2 November.

People demonstrate against restrictions on abortion law by blocking traffic in the centre of Krakow, Poland on 2 November.

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Ms Bertin from Ciocia Basia said Poles will burst into tears after a check-up because they feel they have entered “a parallel universe where the things that for them are taboo… are for us normal, simply normal”.

While Poles are now getting a little help from their friends abroad, the reverse was once true: thousands of Swedes travelled to Poland for abortions in the 1960s when they were banned at home.

Poland had unfettered access to abortion then, as today’s legislation was only adopted in 1993 as part of a church-state compromise after communism.

Swedish Gender Equality Minister Asa Lindhagen said she believes it is time to return the favour and has called for the government “to stand up for Polish women” and offer free, subsidised abortions.

“No woman should have to risk her life undergoing an illegal abortion.”

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How The Age dragged a traumatised reporter through the courts

The Age has been quick to target an ‘unethical’ workers comp scheme — forgetting, maybe, how hard it fought to deny a former journalist compensation for years of psychological trauma.

union movement the age
(Image: AAP/Joe Castro)

When I saw The Age recently go hard on the “immoral and unethical” workers’ compensation system in Victoria, I thought of “journalist YZ“, who developed PTSD covering crime and courts for the newspaper for ten years.

YZ, given the acronym so she could remain anonymous, reached a private settlement with The Age over her own workers’ compensation claim in March. The Age fought her for six years. Its workers’ comp insurer EML had the former journalist examined by five psychiatrists. 

YZ took a redundancy from The Age in late 2013 when nightmares, panic attacks and other symptoms of PTSD made it difficult to function. 

In addition to covering more than 30 homicides — including Melbourne’s “gangland war” and the murder of four-year-old Darcey Freeman, thrown by her father from the West Gate Bridge in 2009 — YZ reported on other fatalities, funerals and disasters.

After complaining she was done with “death and destruction” in 2010, YZ was transferred to the sports desk. But before long and against her wishes a senior editor told her that she was being reassigned to the Supreme Court round. This meant covering dozens of horrific court cases, including the trial of Freeman’s father and the murders of several other children.

The Age contested whether YZ was suffering from post-traumatic stress and denied knowing there was a foreseeable risk of psychological injury to its journalists during a three-week hearing in Victoria’s County Court in late 2018. It simultaneously argued that YZ knew “by reason of her work she was at high risk of foreseeable injury”.

Counsel for The Age cross-examined YZ for five straight days, while YZ’s newborn baby was looked after in a court side room.

“It was the longest, most brutal cross-examination I’ve ever seen,” said YZ’s lawyer Bree Knoester, a high-profile expert in media trauma. “Ninety percent of my clients would not have held up.”

The trial judge ruled in YZ’s favour in February 2019, the first time any news organisation in the world had been found negligent for failing to protect a journalist from psychological injury. 

“In the modern workplace, there is a positive duty upon the employer to take active steps to prevent the risk of foreseeable injury,” Judge Chris O’Neil said. He awarded YZ $180,000 in damages for psychological suffering. She did not seek economic losses. 

The Age, part of the Nine multi-media network, appealed.

Last December the Court of Appeal upheld part of the lower court decision — that The Age was negligent and in breach of its duty of care to YZ from 2010-13, when she’d been given little choice to cover the Supreme Court. In other words The Age was, during that period, on notice about YZ’s mental health. The Court of Appeal did not uphold the judge’s verdict relating to the 2003-10 time period.

“At the heart of the Court of Appeal decision was a finding of negligence … They said the breach occurred during a specific time,” said Knoester. “We always believed that YZ had not been adequately protected by her employer and the finding that she was not still remains, despite the appeal. This remains a win for YZ. It’s never been about damages.”

The appeal court ordered The Age and YZ to go back before the County Court to determine if the damages would be altered. The two sides then reached a private settlement.

“It nearly broke me,” YZ told me. “During the County Court trial, I was forced to relive a lot of the trauma I’d been exposed to. Many family and friends had to give evidence, and The Age’s lawyers even went as far as subpoenaing my [employee assistance program] counselling records, which Age management had constantly assured staff were completely confidential sessions. That’s how desperate they were.”

YZ said she wanted to prove that The Age breached its duty of care towards her. She wanted to change the way The Age and other media organisations treated journalists repeatedly exposed to trauma so other reporters didn’t have to suffer like she had.

I asked YZ if The Age had ever apologised to her. She laughed and said: “No, but plenty of colleagues I worked with got in touch after reading the County Court decision to express their disgust at the way I’d been treated.”

Despite everything, YZ said she was pleased that The Age had been reporting some of the flaws in the Victorian workers’ compensation scheme.

“Hopefully, these stories will help lead to much-needed changes so people injured at work can receive the treatment they need and the compensation they are entitled to so they can get better, get back to work and get on with the rest of their lives as soon as possible,” she said. “No one should have to go through years of hell to get justice.”

A spokesperson for The Age told Crikey: “The Age, and parent company Nine, takes the mental welfare of its employees seriously and has a range of support and training measures in place to ensure the wellbeing of our people. Nine’s wellbeing strategy forms a core part of Nine’s workplace health and safety strategy demonstrating a significant investment by Nine to enhance the approach we take to safeguarding our people.”

Those measures include training with the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, vicarious trauma sessions hosted by Nine’s EAP provider Converge, and mental health first aid training, the spokesperson said.

Dean Yates was a journalist at Reuters for 23 years until he was diagnosed with PTSD in early 2016. He was head of mental health and wellbeing strategy at Reuters for nearly three years until January 2020.

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