While the 17-year-olds remained focused on the end of semester exams, my interest had been detained by something that seemed a little more tactile – a poster. The purpose was access to justice. I know, it sounds a little Gotham city. But the phrase, ‘Quick! To the Batmobile!’ was never on the cards, mainly because the only form of transport available was a bright yellow, 125cc Vespa and yellow isn’t really a crime-fighting colour.
One by one we were asked to talk about our areas of interest – why we’d chosen to study law to begin with – and then find like-minded peers to form a group. I know, right. I can hear the collective groan as everyone recalls their own experience of group work. Trust me, I had the same reservations.
But our group was different. Like Batman, we didn’t possess superpowers but we were passionate and, together, we could harness our unique talents to create a poster that would kick arse. And get us a decent grade to boot.
Our tutor handed out individual contracts, on which we were required to record our contact details, topic of choice and repercussions for those who did not participate.
Contract Law was a unit in itself and I guess this was their way of getting us used to making legally binding promises. Except the exchange of contact details had already taken five minutes of the fifteen allocated. There was no way we were giving up any more of our time to go through the rest of the contract. We promised our tutor we’d get to it next time. We didn’t.
We chose domestic violence. We knew we wanted to focus on women but we didn’t know how to begin. The statistics depressed us – the violence was pervasive and yet so much remained behind closed doors. Society mainly saw the physical aspect but even that wasn’t easily remedied through legal avenues. Most awareness campaigns contained images of black eyes and bruises. Although invaluable, we were well aware there was a slightly more insidious aspect to domestic violence. It came packaged in non-violent forms but could still constitute abuse.
It was the heartbreaking story of Breeana Robinson that inspired us to do more. During her three-month relationship, she was bombarded by abusive text messages from her boyfriend, described by the media as ‘a cruel and obsessive man.’ One message contained 34 reasons why he thought Breeana was ‘not worthy.’ She jumped off the balcony of her Gold Coast apartment, mere minutes after receiving such a text.
Technology had become such an integral part our lives, not one of us had considered it could be used for evil. In our world, a GPS device was used to find the location of new restaurant; it was not a tracking system, hidden in the boot of a car, designed to stalk. Social media was a way to connect with friends and follow famous cats like Maru as he attempts to master the art of box diving. It was not a tool to track your whereabouts using location services.
In terms of our group, technology in the form of reply-all emails made the process easier but was no substitute for meeting in person. By Week Five we were still as passionate but no further ahead. Over the Easter break we conceded defeat, agreed to an out-of-class catch up and began the process of coordinating schedules. The day arrived and I was at home in bed, sick. Of the six group members, only two showed up. They did the best they could but there’s only so much that can be achieved when two-thirds of your group is MIA.
One group member and I also shared a torts tutorial. I knew that Stacey was my kind of person when she’d complained in the third week about law school’s aversion to the use of colour in assessment. I was from the school of thought where any document could be improved with a hot pink heading but law school was black and white all the way. And Times New Roman font. Eurgh.
Stacey and I, having completed a major piece of assessment for torts the day prior, decided that we’d had enough and traipsed down to the Bookshop to procure a coffee and work through ideas for the poster. We decided the best way to get the poster back on track was to have a concrete outline, including example images ready to present to the other members of our group before the next tutorial. That gave us less than 48 hours to come up with a prototype. In hindsight, we should have known better.
I returned home via the bottleshop – if I was going to do this I’d need sustenance – and began the process of creating images. With Legally Blonde playing in the background I created fake character, Emily, along with her fake boyfriend, Blake. They were a beautiful couple. On the outside they were perfect.
Behind closed doors, things weren’t so pretty.
I’d produced a series of fake tweets, an Instagram post, an entire Facebook post plus comments but was starting to wane. I’m not sure if it was the five hours sitting at my computer staring at images or the content itself but I’d had enough. I went to bed, a little sad. My Emily and her abusive boyfriend were fake; the reality for others wasn’t so kind.
I awoke, sent the images through to Stacey who, in turn, began to mould them into some kind of poster using PowerPoint. iMessage had usurped Laura for the role of my best friend. It was such a useful way to communicate – instantaneous and easy. It also came with emojis. I emojis. It would take three lines of text to convey the same meaning you can get from one emoji and even then it’s not the same.
My computer would ding with the arrival of a new message, which allowed me to go off and do my own thing, knowing that I’d be notified when something required my attention. We presented our ideas to the group. They liked it, made suggestions where needed and new tasks, along with strict deadlines, were allocated. We had less than three weeks to pull this thing together and with 40% of our grade riding on it, we couldn’t stuff it up.
And then, without even realising it, technology began to consume Stacey’s and my life as well.
Five minutes later, my computer would ding again.
Pre-poster, the ding heralded the arrival of a text message from a friend and would likely result in a fun conversation or an invitation to go somewhere (usually a sneaky drink with Laura). But now it was associated with a request for modified image or the creation of a new one. Or, even worse, it was another friend, asking me if I was okay, thus taking me away from the poster and need to reply to Stacey with said picture, modified as requested. After the fifth ding in as many minutes, I felt an overwhelming desire to throw my computer at the brick wall and watch it smash into a million tiny little pieces.
Stacey never stated as such but I know the frustration was reciprocated. A modified image from me meant she had to move the poster around, sometimes creating an entirely new poster to fit everything on. I felt terrible every time I messaged her, knowing that I was creating even more work for her to deal with.
With less than two weeks left to go and the need to have our poster at the printer’s five days before the due date, we put word out to the other four members of our group, requesting final copies of their research. We knew it meant the creation of more images – and even more versions of the poster – but it had to be done. Two group members replied but two remained suspiciously quiet.
Things hit crisis point two days before the poster was due at the printer. We’d anticipated to be making minor edits and proof reading for typos. Instead I awoke to an email that contained last-minute feedback that was two days late and would involve extensive changes to the poster. Meanwhile, the much-needed research from the remaining two group members remained elusive.
I’d had little sleep and my eyes were sore from staring at my computer screen for hours on end. Even worse, I was sick of reading Blake’s text messages to Emily. I was tired of seeing the impact he had on her life. They weren’t even real; he was a character I’d fabricated to demonstrate how insidious domestic violence could be but instead he’d consumed me. I hated him and his incessant need for control. I hated how much power he had over Emily. In fact, because of Blake, I hated all men.
Just like Batman and Robin, we were trying to fight injustice but we didn’t have a Batmobile – or Batman’s utility belt chock full of useful tools. We had an A1 poster. And even that wasn’t anywhere near finished. It seemed futile, which I imagine is how many women who were living with domestic violence felt on a daily basis.
I needed a break but knew that if I left my computer I’d never go back. Instead I popped over to Facebook to see what Maru was up to and whether or not he’d yet to managed to conquer a new box. A friend had just uploaded an inspirational meme. These usually pissed me off – I’m unsure how a picture of a crappy picture of a sunset, superimposed with flowery text, is meant to make me feel better. But this time it was exactly what I needed. The picture was terrible but the text resonated.
You are stronger than you think.
I had two options. I could let the poster and its content consume me. Or I could suck it up, get stuck in and finish it off in the hope that, one day, somewhere, a woman would see our work and know that she too had options.
And then I realised that Batman wasn’t the only one who had access to a utility belt. Sure, mine didn’t contain tear-gas pellets or plastic explosive grenades but it was still useful. My utility belt had Laura’s number, which led to an impromptu catch up and the opportunity to debrief. It had a yoga class, which gave me a chance to leave my computer behind, even if it was only for an hour. It also contained a crappy chick flick, combined with a block of chocolate, which gave my brain the much-needed break from life.
The time away from the poster was enough to remind me that I had an equally passionate classmate. Sure, I’d expected six. But two was better than one, which was also better than none. And, together, we pulled our poster together. And it was awesome. We kicked arse.
Although Emily was a fabricated character there are many real ‘Emily’s’ out there who are currently dealing with domestic violence. It doesn’t matter whether the abuse is emotional, financial, physical, sexual, social or spiritual – it’s all about intimidation and control. Support is available. You can visit 1800 Respect* to find out more.
* The site has a ‘quick exit’ button on the top right-hand side, which will automatically exit you from the site and take you to Google. Just make sure you clear your browser history so your research remains a secret.
The above is a replica of the image from Batman Wiki. Credit goes to the artist and I offer my heartfelt thanks for being the inspiration that led to the production of Emily’s Utility Belt. I beseech you – please don’t sue me! As a poor student who’s only in her first year of law I’ll be relying on lines from Legally Blonde to defend myself. http://batman.wikia.com/wiki/Utility_Belt.