Nina Funnell: an agent of change

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Amy Gray

When the world read the extraordinary victim impact statement written by the woman raped by Brock Turner, things started to change.

It was the same for Sydney writer and women’s activist Nina Funnell, A week after the victim impact statement was shared, Nina came forward with her own story in the Daily Telegraph. Her harrowing story outlines not only her attack but also the subsequent grilling she received from friends, co-workers and complete strangers.

Upon both pieces going viral and Funnell’s longstanding advocacy work and support of documentary ‘The Hunting Ground’, she says, “I decided I was going to do a year of reporting, and push out an article per week.”

Funnell’s commitment is now shaping the national conversation about rape and rape culture. She initially focused on campus rape, a growing concern with claims universities are protecting their prestige instead of women, and then realised rape culture was too pervasive to ignore.

“I’ve broadened it to include not just university but the feeder schools – because these just don’t happen at university”, she says.

Since then, Funnell has broken many exclusives, including the “sick pornography ring” where men actively share stolen photos of underage women, targeting individuals and Australian schools.

The exclusive came when Funnell “got a tip off from a young woman who was aware of the site”. Though the site was eventually shut down, it has since re-emerged.

The discovery was shocking, even for a hardened reporter like Funnell.

“That website for me was one of the most upsetting things I’ve ever had to report on. It wasn’t just the fact that so many women were having their rights violated, it was the tone of the conversation around that, it was the triumphing and the predatory nature”, she says.

“That there were girls pleading to have their photos removed, [the men] were vindictive and misogynist which I found the most confronting aspect”.

In light of her commitment to report on sexual assault for a year and the knowledge many journalists experience trauma when covering horrific news, I ask Funnell how she manages her personal and professional trauma.

“It’s incredibly confronting and vicarious trauma takes a toll and it’s often not something that journalists discuss openly”, Funnell says.

But, she continues, “It is impacting me. The piece that I did on the web site was difficult but it’s all difficult.”

There are high points for Nina Funnell. She recalls a recent protest at University of Sydney where students stopped an Open Day, wielding spray painted mattresses criticising the university’s failure to tackle on-campus rape. Funnell was moved by parents yelling out “don’t worry girls, we’re listening”, exhorting them to carry on and realise they would have support.

Funnell rejects any professional praise for her work forcing Australia to discuss sexual assault. “It’s not just me – it’s you, it’s Jane [Gilmore], Clem [Ford] and a million other women”, she says.

“It’s that ongoing sustained pressure that’s going to lead to cultural change. Yes, it is taking a toll, it’s not easy but there are pay offs – it’s a huge privilege to be trusted with people’s stories.”

We’re only approaching Funnell’s third month of focused reporting – the next nine months are going to shake things up and ensure women’s right to safety remains part of the national conversation.

Bring it on.

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