Rochester News

Breaking the silence

By Charmayne Allison

AS A policewoman and detective for 27 years, Burnewang’s Narelle Fraser willingly waded, day after day, through the sewers of Victoria’s underbelly.
Working in the rape squad, child exploitation squad, sex crime squad, missing persons and homicide, she was daily immersed in the darkest, most twisted depths of humanity.

But knowing her actions were helping others, she loved every minute of it.

Until one day her mental health, which she didn’t realise, refused to realise had been fraying – suddenly snapped.

“I had done probably hundreds of warrants with paedophiles, child pornography, child and sex abuse,” she said.

“One day I went to a job where myself and a colleague had to sort through 1700 child pornographic videos – we had to grade them from one to five.

“The police do everything they can to help you to manage. But of course, I had a façade that I’m right, I’ll be able to manage this.

“But then this one video came up and I remember I had a reaction I couldn’t control. I just looked at it and gasped.”

It was like she had been hit with a sledgehammer, the breath knocked out of her lungs.

After a quick break she went back to work – but something had shifted, broken.

“When the job phone would go, I’d feel sick and I’d go to the bathroom. I had unbelievable diarrhoea at work because I was so anxious and nervous,” she said.

“A lot of people who are deceased or have been murdered seem to be wrapped in tarps or covered with a tarp. So anytime I saw a tarp anywhere, I’d feel like being sick and get heart palpitations.

“I’m a really social person, I love my friends and going out, but I found I was becoming very withdrawn and insular and didn’t want to leave home.

“I was unravelling. But I didn’t understand why.”

When Narelle was diagnosed with PTSD, it was like the blinkers came off.

“The first question I asked was, ‘what is that’?” she recalled.

“When he explained it to me, I can remember going ‘yep, yep, yep’ in my head.”

Narelle went to see a local doctor and psychologist, without whom she doesn’t believe she’d be in the healthy position she is today.

She also, eventually, made the heartbreaking decision to step down from her dream career in the police force.

Narelle’s PTSD triggers will never disappear – but she has learnt to manage them.

And living on a tranquil property in Burnewang with her husband and surrounded by friends, life is filled with hope.

“I ignored the signs and they were there,” she said.

“Educate yourself about the signs of stress and don’t think you are above it all, don’t think you are superwoman, because I did, and I paid the ultimate price by losing a career I loved.

“But I now know if I’d done something about it and sought professional help sooner, maybe I could still be doing what to me is the best job in the world.

“Seeking help is a strength, not a weakness.”