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Tag Archives: rape

Sexual Assault in Canberra

Who knew what? In many cases of sexual assault in politics, events take place behind bolted doors, the perpetrator and victim bound by ties of power, seediness and suppression. The victim is left with an odious and onerous task: to report the event. The risks can be considerable. Careers can be ruined. Retaliation from the political tribe can be remorseless.

Parliaments present a paradox. Encrusted with surveillance, crawling with security, safety would surely be guaranteed for all who work within their walls. But the environment of power, ambition and conspiracy lends itself to hierarchies, asymmetries, and inequalities. Politicians find themselves with access to budgets, forums and staffers. There are receptions and meetings to attend, liquor to consume in abundance, deceptions to cultivate. The risk of wandering hands is ever present.

The staffers, in turn, are mindful of their careers, insecure about their futures to the point of neuroses. They are expected to be unconditionally loyal to politician and party. Nikki Savva, herself a former staffer turned scribe, remembers the time: “The hours were long, the demands never-ending, the stress phenomenal and the fear of stuffing up overwhelming.” The staffer is permanently vulnerable and precariously positioned. Reasons for terminating employment are broad and susceptible to abuse. The parliamentarian can, for instance, do so for having “lost trust or confidence in the employee.” When politicians become arbiters of trust, the condition of the absurd has been affirmed.

Maria Maley, an academic from the Australian National University, busies herself with the sordid business of researching political staff. Over the Australian summer, she interviewed eight former political staffers about their time spent in the offices of ministers and electorate offices at both state and federal level. Her findings were not earth shattering. Staffers were bullied, subject to sexual harassment by colleagues and bosses. “It is hard to know how common this is,” Maley suggests, “as the world they inhabit is secretive.” She is being unnecessarily coy.

On March 23, 2019, Brittany Higgins, a Liberal Party staffer, was allegedly raped in the offices of Australia’s Defence Minister, Senator Linda Reynolds. Having initially contacted police, she felt a deep reluctance to press matters further. An election was about to be called. A month ago, Higgins resigned her political job and recommenced the complaints process with the police.

Both the Defence Minister and then chief of staff Fiona Brown were told by Higgins about the incident. Both expressed shock and promised to support the staffer if she decided to take the matter up with the police. In a manner excised of empathy, Reynolds had decided at the time that it was appropriate to hold a meeting with Higgins at the same venue the attack is claimed to have taken place.

The political machine is coming into full play to stifle. Apologies have come from the Defence Minister and the Prime Minister. “At the time, I truly believed that I and my chief of staff were doing everything we could to support that young woman who I had responsibility for,” explained Senator Reynolds to her colleagues in the chamber. Her intention and aim at the time had been “to empower Brittany and let herself determine the course of her own situation, not by me, not by my staff, not by the government as a whole, but by Brittany.” A true philosophe, is the minister.

Morrison did not do much better. On the morning of February 16, he showed striking emotional immaturity in employing an advertising gimmick. He had, he told journalists, spoken to his wife the previous day. “She said to me, ‘You have to think about this as a father first. What would you want to happen if it were our girls?’ Jenny has a way of clarifying things.” Evidently, things were rather cloudy for the prime minister prior to Monday.

 

Image from pedestrian.tv

 

The tenor of these apologies is tactical. Assault can be managed. Assault can be contained within a bureaucratic compass. And there was the issue of privacy, a weapon often used against the victim to muzzle matters and preserve the status quo. We kept quiet to help her and observe protocol.

Reviews into the complaints processes of Parliament House and the Liberal Party have been promised by Morrison. Much of this is due to ascertaining, or not, as the case often is, the scope of responsibility and prospects for reform. Reviews should be fiercely independent but the Morrison government is taking few risks, despite having conceded to the opposition that a third, independent inquiry should also be initiated. In one line of inquiry, the Liberal Party will be investigating itself, with West Australian MP and former vice-chancellor of the University of Notre Dame Celia Hammond steering matters.

With a former, overly remunerated university vice-chancellor managing the show, putative efficacy is all but guaranteed to fail. Hammond’s conservative Catholicism is also well known, and her views on sex Victorian in reservation.

Complaints regarding staff safety are currently made through the Department of Finance. There is no standalone body to perform that task. Various female members of parliament not affiliated with the major parties have decided that this be redressed. One is Rebekha Sharkie of the Centre Alliance. “I don’t think sitting within the Department of Finance with a minister still in government of the day is really going to provide that level of confidence.” As for Labor, Anthony Albanese has voiced support for “an arm’s length, independent body that is able to investigate and provide support to anyone in this building who has an issue with their safety.”

The looming question remains: Who knew what and when? Morrison is adamant that blissful ignorance reigned till the story broke, going so far as to publicly rebuke Reynolds for having not told him about the allegations. When asked in parliament by the opposition leader Albanese as to whether it was acceptable that the Defence Minister had kept the matter quiet for two years, Morrison was sharply insistent. “It’s not and it shouldn’t happen again.”

The whole matter is smelly enough to be drawing out the sceptics. Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull found it “inconceivable that [the matter] wasn’t well known to at least key members of the prime minister’s staff.” Higgins also has an account that rather holes the narrative, claiming that one of Morrison’s senior advisers had called her some months ago to see how she was coping. At least another member of the prime minister’s staff was also charged with handling her complaint. A pattern, distressing and invidious, is rapidly emerging.

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When will Conservatives ever treat women with a modicum of decency, even dignity?

And to think that Morrison knew all about it. Well, to be more precise, both the Liberal and National parties knew of this rape before the 2019 election. In fact, right in the middle of the campaign.

Had it been disclosed at the time, it might have made the difference between winning and losing for Labor.

Shades of John Howard and children overboard again, but more important, however, this time is just who decided to do a hush job. You might recall his very Christian reaction when he became Prime Minister, but when a young woman was allegedly raped, he decided to cover up.

According to the victim, staffer Brittany Higgins, her rape took place in Defence Minister Lynda Reynolds’s office on 19 April after a Friday night drinking session.

The election was held on 18 May.

The damage that such an act would have done to the conservatives – both Liberal and National – during an election campaign would be immeasurable. So what did they decide to do?

Well, on the surface, at least it looks as though they decided to double up on her pain.

The poor girl involved says she didn’t make a formal complaint because she wanted to hang onto her job and not do any harm to the reputation of the Liberal Party. What reputation one might ask?

A follow-up meeting was held inside the same office; the offence is alleged to have taken place a decision the Government concedes is “regretted.”

What moronic individual made such an inhumane decision knowing that it would almost certainly do further harm. Was it intended to?

The issue of the toxic treatment of women inside Parliament House and men’s behaviour within the Liberal and National parties yet again raises its ugly head. Remember Barnaby Joyce and the affair that led to his marriage’s breakup. Remember the Attorney-General Christian Porter kissing in a Canberra pub.

Back to Brittany Higgins, it was reported that:

“… a man working for then-defence industry minister Linda Reynolds took a 24-year-old female media staffer into Parliament House after a Friday night drinking session in March 2019 and allegedly raped her inside the defence industry minister’s office.”

On the Ministers, couch to be exact.

She should hang a sign on her door. “No defence here.”

Her story follows many other women known and unknown who have experienced similar situations.

The junior staffer was very new to her job – just four weeks, in fact – before this horrendous experience occurred. She then had to endure the decision between making a formal complaint or keeping her career.

After it was made perfectly clear that she might lose her job, she was shunted into Employment Minister Michaelia Cash’s office before Ms Higgins resigned.

A statement from a member of the Prime Minister’s Office said the reports about the incident were “deeply distressing.”

“At all times, guidance was sought from Ms Higgins as to how she wished to proceed, and to support and respect her decisions.

Throughout the entire process the overriding concern for Government was to support Ms Higgins’ welfare in whatever way possible.”

It sounds like they were falling over backwards to help her make the right moves to their advantage.

 

Brittany Higgins and Scott Morrison (Image from huffingtonpost.com.au – Photos from Channel 10 and Getty Images)

 

But after all this time, even after being denied access to video footage of the two’s movements, Ms Higgins has decided to ask the AFP to investigate. The why of that is another question. Given their record of investigating this Government, I wouldn’t say I like her chances.

Come Tuesday morning, the Prime Minister in a solemn mood to fit the occasion, fronts the media with apologises for everything under the sun. He had discussed the matter with his wife overnight and now looks at it from the point of view of what if it were his children.

 

 

His first defence was that he never knew, no one had told him anything. I found this to be wholly implausible, and secondly, that it was all a disgrace and he would move Heaven and earth to right everything. But as I said initially, I contend that the Prime Minister knew about it and wanted it covered up.

Of course, “not knowing anything” gave him the excuse to repair matters. Had he known, would not he have the obvious question; “Why didn’t you do something then?”

Samantha Maiden gets its right when she reports that:

“If history is any guide, he the Scott Morrison’s response to Brittany Higgins’ shocking account of sexual assault at Parliament House in Canberra will be open and shut.

He will urge her to take the matter to the police – which she did at the time – and perhaps suggest that is the beginning and the end of the matter?

But is it?

Or, do political parties owe the people that work for them – in this case a 24-year-old young woman – a more significant duty of care if they are sexually assaulted at work?”

If I might add to that, I think that Morrison gets away with his teary act too often and the “I wasn’t told” defence is just a poor excuse.

But time never diminishes the crime. What is needed is for men to grow up and be the men they are supposed to be. These events are just another addition to the many incidents of mistreating women.

My thought for the day

History is just an ongoing commentary on the incompetence of men.

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Sexual assault: ask the right questions or you’re part of the problem

There was a brief spat on Twitter this morning with a couple of men who thought the question to ask about the fourteen-year-old girl raped in a Geelong Park at 4 a.m. was, what we her parents thinking, letting her out at that time in the morning?

The attitude persists that girls and women must restrict our lives to protect ourselves from sexual assault, rather than the obvious solution, which is that men must not rape us.

The one good thing to emerge so far from this awful event are the words of Detective Senior Sergeant Jason Walsh, from Victoria Police’s Sexual Crime Squad, who expressed regret and amazement that people feel free to question a sexual assault victim’s actions, when what ought to be under scrutiny are the actions of perpetrators.

I find it amazing, he said, without getting into politics, that we question girls and we question their behaviour when we don’t even ask, ‘what’s four blokes out doing, allegedly sexually assaulting a young girl?’
“You know, that’s my take on that sort of question, and I’ve been in this sexual assault field for many years, and I find it amazing that people straight away question females for their actions, and they’re not questioning the males. I mean, what are four males doing allegedly sexually assaulting a young girl? That’s a question I’d ask.”

The self-serving myth that women “ask for it” one way or another is still pervasive, an estimated 70% of sexual assaults are not reported, of those that are reported only a minuscule number actually make it to court and even less result in convictions. The court process can be so horrendous for the victim that it’s frequently described as “being raped again,” and I recently read a paper written by Kylie Weston-Scheuber, Supervising Lawyer, Sexual Offences Unit, Office of the DPP (ACT) in which she states that should she find herself a victim of sexual assault, there are days she has doubts about whether she’d subject herself to the trauma of court proceedings.

Ms Weston-Scheuber also comments on the popular notion that women make this stuff up, by pointing out that the court process is so grueling, in itself it ought to be evidence that the woman has suffered sexual assault because nobody would subject themselves to the trauma without extremely good reason:

…the trauma and indignity of giving evidence in a sexual assault trial is the strongest disincentive imaginable to continuing with a fabricated sexual assault allegation. However, the law precludes the prosecution from even raising the spectre of this feature of a witness’s evidence, which might be thought to be strongly corroborative.

Of course, the reality that many complaints don’t go to court doesn’t mean a victim wasn’t sexually assaulted, and it doesn’t mean the alleged perpetrator is innocent. While the victim doesn’t have her chance at justice, however traumatising that chance can be, neither does the alleged perpetrator have the chance to clear his name. He remains, for the rest of his life, an alleged perpetrator of sexual assault. Insufficient evidence, or the victim withdrawing out of fear of ongoing traumatisation, does not equate to exoneration of guilt.

There is something terribly awry with a system that causes sexual assault victims to be further traumatised in their fight for justice. However, it is within such a system that questioning the victim’s responsibility for the suffering inflicted on her by the perpetrator is still regarded by some as legitimate. So if you do ask why she was in the park, drunk, wearing a short dress or whatever victim-blaming inquiry you come up with, perhaps you need to ask yourself, why am I blaming her?

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

 

Listening to voices of domestic violence and other talking points

John Paul Langbroek brought me to boiling point the other week with his comments about domestic violence. This shows how out of touch and neanderthal the QLD LNP’s thinking is on this issue. Langbroek blamed the QLD economy for Domestic Violence. He had the audacity to use the serious crime of domestic violence to take a political stab. If any issue needs to be bipartisan, it is this one. Mr. Langbroek, domestic violence can happen to anyone. It is caused by controlling and violent behaviour by the individual perpetrator. Nothing else. There are no excuses.

For Langbroek to say this sickens me, as it gives the perpetrator an excuse for their violence. To use the recent tragedies as political point scoring deeply disturbs me and his own party should question his leadership and personal character.

I think it is important that many people speak up about how we as citizens see what important changes are necessary to develop an effective system to eradicate domestic violence. Many victims, survivors and their family and friends need a safe space to share stories and provide recommendations. I have outlined some of the changes I feel that need to occur to protect victims, below. These are simply talking points and do need further debate:

National Domestic Violence Portal – Listening to voices
Although domestic violence is receiving a lot of attention and progression and enhancement of services is now in the spotlight, I believe we need to hear more. I have discussed this issue with many women and some men and everyone’s story is different. We need to gather data about the stories and concerns of victims who have suffered and are suffering and listen – really listen to their recommendations. I say this because our country is a diverse country. Something that may work for people in the inner city in Melbourne, may not work or be enough in my town of Rockhampton in Central Queensland or further out west in rural communities.

There are so many antecedents of domestic violence, so many antecedents of victims not receiving the support they need and so many factors which prevent victims from remaining safe from harm. There are many victims who do not want to speak up about their own ordeal in public or online and that should be completely respected. The fear of domestic violence for some never goes away. For some people in small towns or close knit suburbs, there are family and friends to deal with, as well as the ex-partner forever more. If a victim is suffering from domestic violence in their current relationship, it is highly unlikely these victims will speak up. Sometimes for child custody reasons, or caring for aged parents, both people from the relationship need to remain in the same town.

I believe a National Domestic Violence online portal will also capture the men who do not want to publicly speak up. The issue of men as victims of violence is relatively silent. We need to understand the underlying constructs of domestic violence for both genders in heterosexual relationships and also same-sex relationships, as well as many men and women from different ethnicities. These people should have a confidential voice, which is linked to a Government Department with professionals working in this area to receive their stories and recommendations. Alternatively, Universities could be paid to collect this data and analyse findings for recommendations.

Violence is violence
Domestic Violence perpetrators need to be viewed the same as a stranger. Government, agencies, law enforcement and our justice system need to stop looking at domestic violence through a lens of ‘a personal situation.’ If it was a stranger who committed these violent acts, then they would be arrested and charged and the victim could probably even sue them as a victim of crime. Police and the legal system need to treat this as individual violent behaviour on another. Justifying the violence within the relationship as not as important as if committed by a stranger, gives the perpetrators even more power and it says that violence within a relationship is acceptable in our society.

The line of questioning
I hope this doesn’t happen now; but if the police still ask questions about what the victim did to provoke the violence (do you make his meals on time for him etc.,), that needs to cease immediately (this example is from a story from a victim of domestic violence more than 20 years ago). A review of the line of questioning needs to be undertaken so that victims are understood and supported. A victim should never feel that the violence is their fault, or the violence is acceptable due to the line of questioning developed through a gender-role lens, a religious lens, a disability lens or a culture lens.

Rape is Rape
Rape and excessive violent rape within a relationship have been crimes for a long time. It needs to be treated that way in all cases and the perpetrator arrested and charged and complaints taken seriously. Domestic violence agencies, need to promote advice about the safest procedure to victims. The authorities need to treat this as serious violence inflicted onto an individual. Victims of rape need to be supported. Legislation needs to be scrutinised and court processes need to be scrutinised. For example, if a woman was raped and remained in the relationship out of fear, would the police drop the case or pursue it? This is a question I do not know the answer to, but I fear at times victims of rape are not supported due to current procedures in our police work and legal systems. However, considering the current climate, a review in my opinion would assist as well as collating and analysing the data from stories from victims, who have gone to police or the court process with rape as a factor and improvements could be recommended from there.

Media portrayal of domestic violence
The portrayal in the media of domestic violence using pictures of women with black eyes etc., does disturb me. There are many techniques a perpetrator can use which show no marks. For example, being dragged around the house by the hair and given Chinese burns, placing a plastic bag over a person’s head, being locked in cupboard and covered with vile filth etc., does not give a woman a black eye. Making a woman beg does not give a black eye. Controlling every move a woman makes and not allowing her to have any of her own thoughts or decisions or autonomy does not give a woman a black eye. My main fear with this is some women will think they need to be battered, bruised and bleeding before they are in a domestic violent situation. My other fear is that there is such a gender focus on women, that this will make men even more reluctant to speak up if they are victims.

The way societies belief system is shaped so quickly through intense media, I fear, will have some victims not be believed by people they reach out to if they ‘don’t look like a victim.’ I am concerned this will reduce the self-efficacy of victims to use the complaints system. The Government through the media needs to be more three-dimensional and tell people what exactly constitutes violence and the many different forms of violence and use strong words to explain the actions. “This behaviour is a crime and we will take you seriously.” The Government through the media also needs to discuss all relationships including male victims and LGBTI victims in same sex or various gender-spectrum relationships.

Dedicated response units
The Government needs to have special dedicated response units for immediate response in every single town. This should be their only job. There are so many anecdotal stories by victims who say that the police did not show up, or there wasn’t an officer available. My concern is for regional and rural communities where they often have skeleton police staff. I understand some people think a surplus is the most important thing for our country; but I would be happy to excuse the debt or pay extra into a levy to fund a dedicated domestic violence response unit in all towns. It should not be something that ‘we desire when we get the money.’ It is an absolute necessity right now.

There are also many victims who flee to another town and live in constant fear they will be found. If we established dedicated response units, we have the technology to enable victims to register with these response units to be on high alert. A victim is not always safe just because they have left the immediate area where the perpetrator lives.

Safety is paramount
Many times victims are embarrassed to go to the police and they just think everything will be OK – they can deal with it, there are children and extended family to worry about too and the judgements passed by family and friends. It is a complicated situation and everyone’s situation is different. Police need to put in place a process where a victim is immediately counselled by a professional (not a police officer) about their safety needs. It should not just be a statement to the police and you go home. The threat of violence and the violence towards men by other men or women also needs to be treated seriously.

A network needs to be set up so victims are removed from their town immediately if they are in immediate threat of their life. Being in the same town is unsafe. The Government needs to pay for flights and immediate accommodation in another town. Victims should not have to save on no income until they can have enough to get out. I knew a woman once who told me that she had an allowance from her husband of $10 per week and she saved out of that for six years to get out. This is not acceptable.

Safety rights versus custodial and access rights
There are victims forced to remain in towns due to custody arrangements. If violence has been a factor in the relationship breakdown, this in no way should apply. The safety of the victim and children must be the only concern. The custodial and access rights of the perpetrator should not ever be given a higher priority than the safety of the victim. I understand this is a complicated issue and I do have a concern that some will use this as a tool to prevent access from the non-custodial parent in a non-genuine case. However, it is a point worth debating and solutions provided by those within the family courts and domestic violence systems.

Relationship Awareness
Relationship awareness needs to start in Primary School. I think if girls and boys are educated about how we should treat each other in relationships all through primary and highschool, warning signs will be evident and it will strengthen people. Relationship awareness must include the cycle of domestic violence. Victims must be made aware that some perpetrators will continually be violent, plateau, adorn the victim with gifts and love and then back to violence and how to recognise these signs and how to respond.

Often, domestic violence is a slow progression in a relationship, from manipulation and control, complete erosion of self-esteem, to financial dependence to physical violence, some victims do not understand that what is happening is not normal, as it is gradual. They do not understand the violence they experience is a crime. What goes on within a couple’s walls sometimes, some women and men think is normal and they are reluctant to go to the police when the violence starts to occur. If relationship education was put into place early in life and continued throughout, warning bells would occur and hopefully many will end the relationship before physical violence occurs.

Disclosure to religious organisations and other organisations or professionals
Victims disclosing to professionals such as doctors and counsellors must have an obligation to act. Domestic Violence agencies also need to work with churches and other organisations and professionals to educate them on the advice that should be given to victims of violence. It is not helpful to a victim if a religious organisation, doctor or counsellor encourages a victim to stay and ‘work it out.’ It is my concern that there are some organisations or professionals who victims feel comfortable to disclose to, but the response is ill advised and harmful. I do not know the answer to convincing a religious priest or pastor or a deeply religious doctor etc., that the sanctity of marriage is more important than the safety of the victim, but the conversation does need to be started and solutions need to be recommended from the hierarchies within these establishments in conjunction with the Government and penalties should be applied where appropriate.

Parents
It is our duty as parents to speak to our children about what a respectful relationship means. I am not going to say how this should be done as each family is different and each family has different dynamics; but it should be as essential as driver safety, drugs and alcohol and stranger danger. It is a continuous conversation we must have.

Be a real friend
Speak Up. There is no point being sympathetic after the victim has left the relationship. There is no point recounting the number of times you thought about how wrong it was the way the perpetrator treated your friend after the victim has left the relationship and is probably in more danger now than if they got out earlier. Tell your friends that what is happening is wrong at the time and support them to speak to someone who can help them leave the relationship and stay safe. Don’t just sit back and think you are interfering.

Mental Health funding
Some survivors of domestic violence can spend the rest of their lives suffering from PTSD, Anxiety and Depression and other illnesses. Mental Health funding needs to increase so victims can access services that can assist them to heal. This is critical for victims and perpetrators for not only self-healing but also for future healthy relationships. Once again, this is not something we ‘should do when we have the money’ it is a necessity now.

Perpetrators
There are undoubtedly going to be some perpetrators who are violent and will have an intent to cause harm regardless and our legal system does not keep offenders jailed indefinitely. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that there are many antecedents which do enable controlling and violent behaviour in people and that there are some perpetrators who can be rehabilitated and never offend again and go on into healthy respectful relationships. Sometimes this could repair a family and sometimes they may move onto another relationship. If we want a collegial and civil society, we must invest in community education and programs to assist perpetrators in changing their behaviour and thought patterns forever and provide any other treatments they need. This must be treated in the same way as other offenders for other crimes. Like other offenders rehabilitation must be a consideration and a commitment from Government and funding to community organisations provided. As with other suggestions, this is not a ‘we will do when we have the money, we need a serious investment in this now.’

Conclusion
These are my suggestions, built from my own awareness of domestic violence and discussions with many people over many years. I welcome any further suggestions or continuation of a discussion on any of the points I have raised. I have purposely kept this post gender neutral, as I do not want to discount any individual who may be a victim of domestic violence or discount their lived experience or what they may recommend.

 

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