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Narelle Fraser was due in court, but ended up in a cafe with no memory of how she got there.

It was an otherwise unremarkable weekday morning when Narelle Fraser found herself sipping a coffee, inside a quiet Melbourne cafe.

The coffee shop, located opposite Victoria’s Crown Court, was bustling and Narelle was in a world of her own.

This wouldn’t be unusual, of course, except for the fact that Narelle was meant to be in that court – and when the court staff located her – she had no idea why she wasn’t.

Narelle couldn’t recall leaving court. Just 20 minutes ago, she’d stood behind a rape victim in the witness box. There were two offenders, both with their own defence. The victim was, in Narelle’s words, “getting hammered,” and she felt as though the young girl was being, “raped all over again”.

It had been Narelle who convinced the victim to take the stand, she told Meshel Laurie and Emily Webb on Australian True Crime.

When she had gone to her house that morning to collect her, the young girl was curled up in the foetal position, adamantly refusing to go. Although Narelle could absolutely understand why, she also knew that unless that girl testified against her rapists, they could never be convicted.

Meshel Laurie and Emily Webb interview policewoman Narelle Fraser about her experience with PTSD on Australian True Crime. Post continues below. 

So as Narelle watched that young girl be publicly ‘hammered’, she thought angrily to herself, “this is bullshit”. Ultimately, she felt responsible.

And then, she must have escaped to the coffee shop.

When the court staff found her, Narelle was mortified. The magistrate, the defence, the prosecution; everyone was looking for her. Why on earth was she sipping, slowly, on a coffee?

For the rest of the afternoon, Narelle could not piece together what had happened. This was the first time she seriously asked herself; “What’s going on?”

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She decided to take some leave, and in her words, “clear her head”. But the brief holiday didn’t seem to do her any good. It was then Narelle decided it was time to see a doctor.

For the first five minutes, she cried and cried. She was strong, she explained through tears. She loved her job. She knew how to deal with horrific cases, she’d been doing it for 27 years. Why now?

The doctor told Narelle he was almost certain she was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a condition she had never even heard of. He referred her to a psychologist.

It was a matter of minutes before a psychologist came to the same conclusion. What Narelle had experienced in the coffee shop was amnesia. Her mind had simply shut down.

The psychologist asked Narelle what cases stood out for her. She asked what jobs were particularly horrific, in an attempt to understand the cause of Narelle’s trauma.

“There were just so many,” Narelle told Laurie and Webb. “I just couldn’t work out which ones to tell her.”

That night, Narelle went home and began compiling a list. She identified no less than 33 jobs that had affected her profoundly. They included the brutal murder of Maria Korp, a Melbourne woman who was attacked by her husband’s lover.

Found in the boot of a car in Melbourne’s CBD, Narelle climbed in with her decomposing body, in an attempt to find signs of life. On a whim, Narelle laid her head on Maria’s chest and felt it rise and fall, indicating that Maria was, in fact, alive. She was quickly rushed to hospital, but never regained consciousness.

Not long before the coffee shop incident, Narelle was assigned a case on online child abuse material. It was her job, for two full days, to watch 1700 tapes that contained brutal sexual abuse towards innocent children, and rate it from one to five, five being the worst possible. 1400 of those tapes received a classification of five.

Narelle Fraser. Image via YouTube.
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"It was just so distressing to me I couldn't control my emotions," Narelle says. Several times she found herself audibly gasping in shock at the material in front of her. "That was one job when I started to unravel," she says.

Narelle uses the analogy of a bottle to explain her experience with PTSD. Some cases were a drop, and others were a decent pour. But by the time she stood in court, alongside a young rape victim, her bottle had begun to overflow.

Today, Narelle is a keynote speaker and presenter, raising awareness about the prevalence of PTSD in the police force. Her message is a clear one: it takes courage and determination to face your vulnerabilities, and it's time we all more readily faced them.

You can listen to the full episode of Australian True Crime with Meshel Laurie and Emily Webb, here. 

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner or in Australia, contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for support or beyondblue 1300 22 4636.

You can visit Narelle Fraser's website, here

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