Tania Billingsley hasn't been a pleasing victim; too articulate, too politicised, too keen to sternly demand that heads roll.
Her extended media statement, produced while waiving anonymity in her sexual assault accusation against a Malaysian diplomat, doesn't elicit sympathy, though we'd be willing enough to give it. Rather, it ranges from justified anger at mismanagement of her case by police, politicians and diplomats, to admonishing the world at large for the fact that her experience happened, and some men do bad things.
I'd rather stick to her comments on "rape culture" than explore her polemic against the PM and others, while lauding Labour's David Cunliffe's odd lament for being a man. Rape Crisis couldn't have written a better plea on its behalf. And that's the problem: her statement reads as if produced by a press officer, not a 21-year-old woman in the wake of a trauma.
I hope she wrote it herself, but either way it was misjudged. Sexual assaults are nasty, it takes time to recover from brutality, and for most people politics doesn't instantly link with direct emotional experience. Anger at the botched investigation is one thing, and valid, but she veers off target. I want to empathise, I agree with much of what she says, but she gets in the way.
What bugs Billingsley's detractors is her obvious political standpoint, and, seemingly, a willingness to exploit her misfortune in the run-up to the election. Then there's her outline of what she calls rape culture, the way "our society normalises, trivialises and ... condones rape," continuing that women are obliged to see "all men as threats". Such comments enrage men who live decent, responsible lives as well as men who see any woman as fair game. But there she's on safer ground, whatever her big-picture politics, because we've all been there. It is a truth universally acknowledged by women that no man, however decrepit, disfigured, stupid, intelligent, obese or fitness freak, whether blood relation, stranger or criminal, rich, poor, or trusted friend, won't have moments of fancying his chances. Some - you can't predict which - will cross the line into criminal assault, and women are wise to be always alert.
You learn the hard way. There doesn't seem to be another. These assaults, mostly falling short of rape, but still scary, are commonplace as, no doubt, is rape. There are men who think we should be flattered, and they need their heads read. What we feel is disgust.
I like to hope that the days of the mad lunger will pass, that men and women will become wiser, but at the rate we down drugs and alcohol that would be a slim hope, and unlike Billingsley, I don't see how politicians of whatever persuasion could make it happen. An equally articulate victim is the 15-year-old US girl who survived the slaughter of her immediate family by playing dead. Days after her parents and four siblings were killed she declared she was on the road to recovery. "Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times if one remembers to turn on the light," she told a crowd at a school. You'd have sworn that this young woman, who had the presence of mind to call police, thus saving her grandparents' lives, was only acting in a TV drama.
Articulate self-possession like hers, and Billingsley's, sits oddly with enduring shocking experiences. We don't expect it. In Cassidy Stay's case it's religion, not politics, holding her together. That's the American way, which makes her an admirable victim in that world.
Yet we surely know the truth, that in reality her recovery will continue, with setbacks, over a lifetime, and that she's speaking now in a state of shock, before the full impact of the mass murder hits her. What we admire is an agreeable illusion, a fairytale ending, unlike the grim truth Billingsley called to mind.