WHEN WA playwright Hellie Turner switched on the TV in her Sydney hotel room, she knew she’d found the subject for her new play.
The story of 12-year-old Xan Fraser, gang raped and left for dead, was being told in harrowing detail during a 7.30 report on the ABC.
Equally horrifying was young victim’s treatment by the justice system, Turner says.
“I was looking for a documentary project that moved me … something I was concerned about.
“When I saw that program it rang something deeply in me.”
Set in a rink-side courtroom Project Xan moves between present day, with Ms Fraser herself reading her own words from the trial transcript as that 12 year old, and the 1982 trial of the three accused.
The youngster had been going roller skating with a friend, when another girl talked her into going to a party instead.
Plied with alcohol and rendered unconscious she was taken outside by the young men, stripped naked and repeatedly raped and sodomised, then had her head shoved through the steering wheel of a wrecked car where she was later discovered.
Despite admitting to their actions, the three were only convicted of indecent dealing and attempted rape, and trial judge John Macrossan, who went on to become a chief justice, ordered just two year’s probation. In his sentencing remarks, Justice Macrossan argued the 12 year old girl may have consented to the acts committed against her if she’d been conscious, and was “imprudent” for getting drunk.
“The girl has not been, so far as I can judge, in any way upset by her experience,” he said.
Ms Fraser’s life was in tatters. Given no counselling at all, she was victimised and bullied at school because of the rape and trial, but it wasn’t until 30 years later she read the trial transcript and judge’s comments.
“I started reading and I was screaming, guttural screaming for over an hour at what he had said about me as that child,” Ms Fraser says in the interview.
During the trial the 12-year-old was grilled over how much make-up she was wearing and whether her jeans were so tight she had to lie on the bed to do them up.
Project Xan turns a spotlight on the blight of rape culture and victim blaming, Turner says.
“The collective ‘we’ is immersed in a culture that carelessly encourages the normalisation of sexual assault, a culture which fails to address the status quo, a culture which actively reinforces the inglorious practice of slut-shaming and victim blaming.
“Project Xan asserts the need for this to change.”
It’s on at PICA, on James Street, Northbridge November 8–19, with an audio description session for the vision impaired or deaf/blind Saturday November 19, 1pm.
by JENNY D’ANGER