Tag Archives: Sexual harassment

Family violence and the middle class

31 Jan

 

Family ViolenceI’ve just read yet another white, middle-class journalist, female this time, assert that there are forces other than misogyny and gender inequality that are accountable for family violence, and that this type of violence is perpetrated in predominantly low-income families. This view is also held by Miranda Devine.

I wrote about this last year when Martin Mackenzie-Murray made the same claims in The Saturday Paper, and Mark Latham also claimed that current opinion on family violence had been hijacked by feminists who wrongly hold that the problem is rooted in patriarchal notions of male entitlement and domination that result in gender inequality. According to both men, domestic violence predominantly occurs in low-income families, including indigenous families.

What all these commentators fail to grasp is that while poverty, unemployment, alcohol, drug use and any number of disparate justifications can be found to *explain* male violence against intimate partners and children, all of these factors are the symptoms, and not the cause. A violent male believes that he is entitled to harm his partner and children. Whether he is poor, unemployed, drunk, sober or stoned, or middle-class, he first believes he is entitled to act out his dissatisfactions on the bodies and minds of his family.

I’m at a loss to understand why some journalists are so anxious to deny that family violence occurs in middle-class families. The assumption they make is that because domestic violence isn’t as evident or as frequently reported by middle-class women, it can’t be happening. This is ridiculously disingenuous, and bordering on the ignorant. Data about domestic violence comes from samples to which researchers have access. Women who report family violence to police are more likely to be from a low-income demographic, and/or living in poverty. Middle-class women have far more options available to them to either hide the abuse, or escape it. They are far less likely to end up in a system to which researchers have access.

There is no reason at all to assume that middle-class men have less of a sense of entitlement than men in the so-called “welfare classes,” to use Ms Devine’s phrase. For example, middle-class men sexually abuse children: educated priests, teachers, judges, entertainers, business men, coaches, there are abusers in every profession, as we know from the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Abuse. Middle class-men rape women. Middle-class men murder women. Are we to assume, for some reason I can’t for the life of me fathom, that middle-class men, while capable of every other kind of violence against women refrain from attacking their families, leaving that particular expression of entitlement and domination to their lower-class bros?

There is no “typical” female victim of domestic violence. There is no “typical” male perpetrator of domestic violence. All that is required is that a man believe he is entitled to abuse his partner and/or children, and this sense of entitlement crosses all classes.

It might be more comfortable to think of family violence as an us and them problem: it’s only the “welfare classes” and indigenous families, not people like us. While the middle-classes readily acknowledge gender inequality expressed in the imbalance of women on boards, in unequal pay, in the lack of female CEOs, in child care services that keep us out of the workforce, in sexual harassment in the workplace and so on, for some reason it is assumed that male entitlement and domination will not manifest in middle-class family life: that expression of patriarchal culture is apparently reserved only for the disadvantaged.

Well, no, it isn’t. And the questions we need to ask are: a) why is there a current push to persuade us otherwise, and b) what effect does the denial of middle-class family violence have on our so far futile efforts to reduce/end all domestic violence?

 

 

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Briggs, Pearce and power

29 Jan

Power

I know there are differences between the Jamie Briggs’ scandal and the Australia Day shenanigans of footballer and Roosters’ vice-captain Mitchell Pearce: there was no dog involved in the politician’s folly, for example.

Apart from that, both men have attributed their ill-advised sexual advances on women (and a dog, in Pearce’s case) to an excess of alcohol, and both have admitted prior knowledge of the negative effects of that substance on their behaviour.

The other common denominator in both cases is power. As an elite footballer, Pearce enjoys the kind of power most of us will never experience. As a government minister, Briggs also enjoyed a level of power over others that most of us will never experience. Unfortunately, both men seem to have a corresponding lack of governance over themselves.

In Plato’s Republic, Socrates takes issue with the man who “although he is incapable of governing himself undertakes  to govern others,” and argues that self-governance should be a pre-condition for the governance of others. This recommendation makes complete sense to me: If you can’t control yourself, what business have you exercising control of any kind over another?

In both cases, the men sought to exercise their power through sex. In Pearce’s case, when the woman refused him he actually said he’d fuck her dog, he didn’t care, which rather sounds as if a) he believes he’s got a right to stick his penis in anything with a pulse, and b) for Pearce, there’s not a lot of difference between sex with a woman and sex with a dog.

Neither woman sought sexual contact with either man, and both women experienced the advances as unwanted and upsetting.

I guess alcohol doesn’t help when it comes to reading signals, and I’m reasonably certain the dog didn’t send out an invitation anyway.

This situation, of men drunk and sober advancing on women who have not the slightest desire to be advanced upon, occurs probably every minute of the day somewhere in the world, with a continuum of consequences for both parties involved. It’s my opinion that such advances are always about power, before they are about sexual desire. The very acting upon desire for a woman who has demonstrated none for you is an exercise of power, of entitlement, and the unexamined assumptions that because you fancy her she has to fancy you, or that it doesn’t matter if she doesn’t you’ll have her anyway because you want to and, if you have enough power over her, because you can.

Given Socrate’s prescription that self-governance is a prerequisite for the governance of others, it’s entirely appropriate that men in positions of power such as Briggs and Pearce are stripped of those positions when they are unable to control their sexual impulses. I’ve read many arguments about the hard time Pearce was enduring, and the demands on elite sportsmen. Jamie Briggs’ wife Estee defended his behaviour, claiming Prime Minister Turnbull had over-reacted, and her husband flies a lot, which he doesn’t find easy.

Honestly. Women aren’t stress relievers for powerful men who aren’t coping with their lives. Sex can be, but only with people who want to have it with you. Leave the dogs alone.

PS: Nobody can know how hard it has been to leave Chris Kenny out of this post.

 

 

 

 

 

By a man for men: repeat after me, blokes

6 Jan

Harassment

 

Guest post by Dr Stewart Hase

There is a belief in the minds of too many men that it is somehow appropriate for males to force themselves sexually on women. It is borne from a sense of entitlement that men feel they have of women: that somehow she does not have the right to resist and that her vagina is his right.

We have had a disgusting reminder of this aspect of the minds of men in the recent episode (for those not living in Australia or asleep) where a minister of the government recently sexually harassed a staff member while they were both on a business trip to Hong Kong. There have been at least two brilliant exposes of this event from Kate Galloway and Jennifer Wilson on this blog, for those interested in reading the women’s view.

However, I am a bloke and I want to give my blokey point of view on this. One of the most shameful of the various dimensions to this saga is that at least one of the above mentioned female correspondents received a large number of abusive and extremely violent responses because she criticized the behavior of this minister, Jamie Briggs. The sense of entitlement over the bodies of women in the minds of some men is so strong that they think it essential to defend those who have been caught. You don’t need to be a shrink to realize that what they are doing is guiltily defending their own predilections in a phenomenon that psychologists call projection.

Not only has this abuse occurred on an industrial scale but yesterday one of the most senior members of the current government, Peter Dutton (I refuse to call him ‘The Honourable’) sent a text of support to Jamie Briggs telling him that a certain newspaper reporter, who had publicly chastised him, was a ‘..mad f*&^@ng witch’. So, there’s a wonderful role model for our citizens about how to treat women who ‘bell the cat’ from someone who should be calling for the head of Jamie Briggs and distancing himself as a matter of moral and ethical course.

Curiously enough, Dutton was part of a committee that sacked Briggs from the ministry when the event was publicized. So, in public Dutton is appalled by the sexual harassment of Briggs but in private he is supporting his gender buddy. Duplicity knows no bounds it seems and the message is clear that sexual harassment is just fine. The reason Dutton’s message was revealed was because he sent it to the newspaper reporter by mistake (his incompetence knows no bounds either). He then apologized publicly. Of course, if he had not made this mistake then he would have got away with revealing what he really thinks.

And, of course, there has been the usual round of victim blaming and excuses. He was drunk was the first and she shouldn’t have been there was a second. So, it is fine to sexually harass someone if you are drunk. ‘Your honour, the alcohol made me do it’. And worse, that she was somehow responsible for his behavior. It’s the old, ‘she asked for it’ routine. This is the Western equivalent of women wearing a a burka and chador so that they won’t cause men to become aroused. ‘She made my penis get out of control, your honour’. There was also the usual barrage of misinformation that one sees in these sorts of cases that attempted to obfuscate and blur the true story and focus on the victim not the perpetrator. The truth is lost in the fog of misdirection.

Let’s remember that this staff person is an employee of a government minister who is in an extremely powerful position. Briggs knew this and would have known too that his victim would have been more likely to succumb to his advances because of his power. Clearly he suffers from the delusions reinforced by too many movies and TV series about the ‘rights of men’. His victim knew it too and has been extremely brave to have reported the incident, which, incidentally, she attempted to deal with, in the first instance, without publicity by talking to a senior staff immediately.

The mechanisms behind this almost exclusively male belief about their rights to the bodies (and minds presumably) of women are not hard to find. The fact that he is a naughty boy for behaving badly and she is a slut for letting him are powerful messages reinforced by families, in the first instance, and by society in general. I travel a lot and I am astounded at how pervasive misogyny is among ‘normal’ men in every country and town that I have visited.

I’m a bloke. I understand impulses and sexual desire. As a psychologist I am aware of the biological drivers for these impulses and desires. I also understand being drunk. Been there and done that in spades. So, trust me my fellow-men, when I say that there are many men out there who can control their impulses, who can challenge this belief about entitlement, and their potential power. And that latter issue is the raw meaning behind all this. The need for power.

So, what’s so different about those who know where the boundaries are, who know what is right and what is wrong? It’s not all about education because perpetrators come from both the educated and uneducated. It’s not about race.

It has to do with self-awareness, respect for fellow travelers on this planet, about self-confidence and a healthy belief in self, and knowing how to use power well rather than for self-interest. It is about being civilized and raising ourselves up from the primal swamp where impulse and narcissistic behavior was a matter of survival.

Blokes, we are better than that. It’s time for all of us, including our leaders, to stand up and be counted. It is time to really take a stand against this scourge. We need to behave well and recognize when we have not done our best and be accountable. We need to support and listen to women who tell us about how they want to be treated rather than abuse and attempt to disempower them. Guys, we don’t need to be bullies to have fulfilling relationships. In fact the former will prevent the latter.

Repeat after me blokes. ‘ One: I need unambiguous permission to make sexual advances to a woman and if she makes it clear that advances are not welcome then I need to back off. And this means I need to raise my emotional intelligence beyond the age of three years of age and really listen to what women are telling me so that I can read them appropriately. Two: I should never make sexual advances towards women (or men for that matter) who are my staff. Three: I should not be getting drunk with my staff if I am their manager. Four: No means no. Five: I need to make it clear in words they understand to any male I know that their behavior is or was inappropriate if they have been guilty of sexual harassment (or bullying).’

 Dr Stewart Hase is a registered psychologist and has a doctorate in organisational behaviour as well as a BA, Diploma of Psychology, and a Master of Arts (Hons) in psychology. Stewart blogs at stewarthase.blogspot.com where this post was first published

Well, Jamie, shit happens

2 Jan

shit-happens-wi-border.001

 

Following the post yesterday on the Jamie Briggs sacking:

The Australian today has published details of the complainant in the Jamie Briggs’ alleged sexual harassment scandal that allow the woman to be identified, while simultaneously trumpeting that it is withholding her name in order to protect her privacy.

This is one of the many reasons women hesitate to report sexual harassment and assault, especially when the alleged perpetrator is a public figure.

The Australian also reports that some MPs are greatly unsettled by the decision to sack Briggs because of alleged sexual harassment, as it sets the ministerial bar “impossibly high.” Respecting women, much?

Just don’t touch us without permission, how’s that for starters? Can you manage that? Because if you can’t be in charge of yourself, you shouldn’t be in charge of the country.

It’s worth repeating that Briggs was the subject of two LNP inquiries into the behaviour that provoked the complaint lodged against him. In the first instance, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet engaged an independent official to investigate the matter. It was subsequently referred to the cabinet’s governance sub-committee, members of whom included Warren Truss, George Brandis, Julie Bishop, Peter Dutton, Scott Morrison, Michaelia Cash and Arthur Sinodinos. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull described the allegations as “a serious matter.”  The decision of the subcommittee was that Briggs had to go.

If even that bunch of charlatans couldn’t find a way to get Briggs out of it, it must have been serious.

It’s simple to avoid the situation Briggs created for himself, but apparently it isn’t easy. There are at least two obvious considerations. The first might be: if you are in a relationship that is committed to monogamy, don’t make sexual advances to other people. The second might be, if you are in a position of power, do not make sexual advances to a subordinate. The third might be: if you disregard the first two recommendations fasten your seatbelt, because you may well have just blown your life, the lives of your spouse, your children and the individual you harassed, to bits.

The problem with men such as Briggs is that they apparently don’t believe these very human rules apply to them. Perhaps the most useful thing Briggs has achieved in his career thus far is to demonstrate, albeit it entirely unwillingly, that these rules do apply, even to LNP ministers, and that his peers have enforced them against him.

For Briggs’ “conga line of apologists” , as Paula Matthewson puts it, including The Australian, to attempt to discredit the complainant despite the outcome of his peer review, is, while despicable, sadly unsurprising given the prevalent attitude towards women who complain about the unacceptable behaviour of men.

The sub-committee who decided Briggs must go likely had more than one agenda, nevertheless, it is one small step towards justice for women who take a stand against harassment in the workplace. I can only hope this is not undone by the rabid attentions of a media hellbent on protecting out-dated male privilege and presumption of entitlement, regardless of the vile behaviours this engenders.

Perhaps we can offer to Jamie the consoling words his pal Tony Abbott offered to those he rendered unemployed during his brief term as a failed Prime Minister: see this as a liberation, mate, an opportunity to learn something entirely new.

In the meantime, Jamie’s struck another blow at the supposedly monolithic sanctity of heterosexual marriage, demonstrating yet again that its biggest threat isn’t from anyone in the LGBTI community who wants equal access to the institution, but from those already ensconced who just can’t seem to honour their commitments.

For an excellent analysis of the Briggs affair and how to recognise and set sexual boundaries in the workplace, see here, by Kate Galloway

For interesting insight into how the Press Gallery handles these issues, go to Andrew Elder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We need to talk about what Jamie did.

1 Jan

 

Brigg's Family Xmas card

Brigg’s Family Xmas card

Jamie Briggs resigned this week from his ministerial portfolio in the Turnbull government because of “inappropriate” behaviour towards a female public servant late one night in a Hong Kong bar, when he found himself apparently disinhibited by alcohol and the lateness of the hour.

Briggs was rapidly supported on Twitter by at least two of his colleagues, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann and Queensland MP Ewen Jones, both of whom describe Briggs as a good, decent man and a better bloke having a bad day. The Australian journalist Chris Kenny also came to Brigg’s defence on Twitter in a desperate attempt to frame the incident as being all about alcohol and staying up late in bars, with no reference to the alleged sexual harassment.

The public servant, it should be noted, did not complain that Briggs was drunk or up late, but that he had sexually harassed her, according to one report telling her she had such “piercing eyes,” before falling upon her neck. Mrs Estee Briggs, (who, like her husband, also worked for John Howard) is standing by her man, and has declared Prime Minister Turnbull’s sacking of her husband from the ministry an “exaggerated over-reaction” unwarranted by the triviality of the incident.

Some of us women set the bar low for ourselves, but perhaps we shouldn’t expect that the rest of the community will hold similar standards. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard women defend partners who act “inappropriately” towards them and other women, and what astonishes me every time is their expectation, indeed demand, that the rest of us hold the same minimal expectations.  Stand by your man by all means, but don’t tell others we’re “over-reacting” when we refuse to embrace your low standards.

It’s interesting that if a woman is drunk, and sexually harassed or assaulted, society’s default position is still that she shouldn’t have been drinking. On the other hand, the Briggs incident reaffirms for us that there are people in positions of considerable influence and power who still believe that if a man sexually harasses woman when he’s drunk it isn’t his fault: he’s really a decent bloke who’s had a hard day, and he can blame it on the drink. The woman, on the other hand, is a moll and a slut for getting out there and getting pissed and assaulted, and nobody even asks if she’s had a hard day.

I mean, really. When are we going to get past this? Ever?

I don’t know what Briggs’ defenders mean by “decent.” For mine, if you’re married and cheating on your spouse, you aren’t “decent.” You’re duplicitous, deceitful and probably more concerned with your own needs than those of your wife, family and lover. Infidelity demands a strong sense of entitlement, bordering on narcissism. It’s all about what the cheater thinks he/she needs, not the people he/she will damage. I mean, if you aren’t getting what you need in your partnership, have the courage to do something about it that doesn’t require duplicity and betrayal, or accept your lot. Deceiving the people who trust you is no way to address your needs.

As a man bent on betrayal once told me: I know I am behaving abominably to my wife and family, but you are so good for me. 

Says it all, really.

The point of this is that if a man (or woman) can justify the betrayal of those he/she cares most about, why would he/she think twice about betraying anybody else? We may know little else about the cheating spouse, but we do know with absolute certainty that he/she is a liar.

Ministerial standards are high, as they should be if governments are determined to give individual ministers the kind of power over others granted to Immigration Minister Dutton, for example. Why on earth should such power be in the hands of a man who has proved himself a liar, capable of intentionally deceiving his own wife? He’s demonstrated what he is willing to do to achieve his own ends: are we to be so naive as to think he’d only do this to his wife, and not the country?

The incident may not have been “illegal,” as Briggs hastens to assure us, though quite what he means by that I don’t know. It certainly highlights yet again that women are still seen by some societal groups as irrelevant in comparison to the needs and ambitions of men. Briggs was daft for getting drunk and staying up late, but hey, he’s human and works hard. Let’s not mention the predatory sexual behaviour: it was only a woman.

I don’t know the extent of Briggs’ harassment of the woman involved, what I do know is that until men like Briggs stop believing they are entitled to our attention and our bodies we have to call them on every incident, no matter how “trivial” it might seem to someone else. We are not comfort women for when such men are having a difficult time. We aren’t cuddly things for such men to grab and grope. Such men as Briggs are not inherently entitled to our bodies, our emotions, our attention and our time.

The “trivial” nature or otherwise of the sexual harassment is irrelevant here: what matters is the belief men such as Briggs hold that they are entitled to us whenever they feel the need of us. Nothing will substantially change for women until such men are disabused of this sense of entitlement, and until women who support these men demand higher standards from them instead of enabling them. We’re not “over-reacting” in thinking your husband should be fired, Mrs Briggs. It’s bad enough that men such as Jamie Briggs harass and assault us in the first place, we don’t have to lower our standards to yours as well.

Please note: I very rarely delete comments and even more rarely block people. However, I’ve just deleted an abusive comment from a poster called “Simon,” and will continue to delete and block abuse. This is a courtesy notification, so if abuse is on your mind you don’t waste your time.

 

On sexual harassment: Revisiting Helen Garner’s ‘The First Stone’

14 May

Helen Garner The First Stone

Published in 1995, Helen Garner’s account of the scandal surrounding the then Master of Melbourne University’s Ormond College, Dr Colin Shepherd, after allegations of sexual harassment were made against him by two female students, is agonisingly current all these years later, and ought to be read and re-read by anyone interested in feminism, sexual harassment, and power in human relationships.

The book opens with the transcript of Dr Shepherd’s first police interview, after the women lodged complaints of indecent assault against him. Ultimately, the charges against him were dismissed, it being concluded that it was a question of “oath against oath.”  Shepherd subsequently lost his job, became “too hot” for anyone to employ, and his wife and children suffered appallingly as a consequence of the media circus.

Throughout the book, Garner asks the question, why did the women take this matter to the police as a first resort?  Melbourne University did at that time have procedures in place to address complaints of sexual harassment. Garner interviews the outgoing Women’s Officer of the Student Union:

“I asked her my forlorn but crucial question: how and why did the police get involved in this case? She answered me with a firm statement.

‘The procedures here didn’t lead to justice…The procedures at the moment,’ she said, ‘are structured so that you get an apology and you get the behaviour to stop – and that’s all.’

‘Isn’t that already quite a lot?’

She looked at me narrowly. ‘I’m against people having to go through conciliation before there can be retribution.’

‘Retribution?’ The Old Testament word took my breath away. 

‘If you want some form of justice,’ she went on, ‘for the harasser to be punished, you’re seen as asking too much. You’re being “nasty.”‘

‘What sort of punishment would you envisage?’

‘In the industrial award for academics,’ she said, ‘there’s a clause that deals with serious misconduct. Dismissal is appropriate if the charge is found to be proven – and if it’s harassment that constitutes an assault.’

‘Assault?’ I repeated, confused. ‘Dismissal.’

The Women’s Officer, Christine G-, explains “icily” to Garner that young women don’t have the knowledge or power to control exchanges between themselves and harassing lecturers and tutors.

‘As you get older,’ [says Garner] you begin to understand that a lot of men in harassment situations are weak. You realise that behind what you saw as a force, all those years, there’s actually a sort of terrible pathos. Blokes who come onto girls are putting themselves out on a limb – their self is at risk. You start to learn that women have got a particular power of their own, if only they knew it.’

‘A girl in her first tute,’ she [Christine G] said stubbornly, ‘doesn’t know that.’

‘That’s true – but our job as feminists is to teach them this, surely. To a woman of my age, blokes who behave as Colin Shepherd was accused of doing aren’t scary, or powerful. They’re just poor bastards.

She bristled. ‘They may be “just poor bastards”, but they’ve abused their power. Sexual harassment is ultimately not about sex. It’s about power.’

Of course these problems are real, Garner writes. Every woman knows it. But this constant stress on passivity and weakness – this creation of a political position based on the virtue of helplessness – I hate it.”

Garner incurred great feminist wrath on the publication of her book. She encountered great feminist wrath throughout its writing: doors were slammed in her face by women close to the situation, and she was never able to interview the two women at the heart of the matter. As Garner makes clear many times, she wanted to understand the experiences of the two complainants. She wanted to hear their side of the story, and why they had acted as they did, for example, refusing to take the matter to the Equal Opportunity Commission until after it had been dealt with in the courts and dismissed, rather than before. At every turn, she is met with hostility, rage and icy dismissal. She writes:

“What sort of feminists were these, what sort of intellectuals, who expected automatic allegiance from women to a cause they were not even prepared to argue?”

During the writing of the book, Garner takes a job with Time Australia, reporting the trial of a man accused of having murdered his girlfriend’s two-year-old son. She writes:

“The horrors I heard in the Supreme Court each day threw the Ormond story into merciless perspective…it seemed the site of an absurd, hysterical tantrum, a privileged kids’ paddy.”

Garner is unable to obtain an answer to her question as to why the complainants:

“…charged past conciliation into the traditional masculine style of problem-solving: call in the cops, split off the nuances of character and relevant context, and hire a cowboy to slug it out for you in the main street at noon, with all the citizenry watching.”

Garner’s book sprang into my mind yesterday, after thinking about how the matter of the offensive tweets I posted yesterday was handled, and after reading commenters’ responses to that post. The situations hold different positions on a continuum: Dr Shepherd was charged with indecent assault after allegedly fondling a young woman’s breast. Garner reports that the young woman:

“…told the court that Dr Shepherd had got down on his knees before her. Which of them does the word humiliated apply to, here?”

Perhaps what needs to be said today was said by Garner at the end of her book, in 1995:

“…I know that between ‘being made to feel uncomfortable’ and ‘violence against women’ lies a vast range of male and female behaviours. If we deny this, we enfeeble language and drain it of its meaning. We insult the suffering of women who have met real violence, and we distort the subtleties of human interaction into caricatures that can serve only as propaganda for war. And it infuriates me that any woman who insists on drawing these crucial distinctions should be called a traitor to her sex.”

Coalition moral high horse is nothing but a braying donkey

22 Apr

Before Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and his braying band of born to rule big mouths get too comfortable up on their freshly saddled moral high horses, they might do well to consider this: Speaker of the House of Representatives Peter Slipper has a history. The LNP is aware that this history includes, according to this account, alleged sexual harassment and sexual behaviour that some of their number found unacceptable enough to complain about:

According to the court documents, the Howard government was aware of Mr Slipper’s sexual relationship with another young male adviser – and other allegations of sexual harassment – as early as 2003.

Megan Hobson, a former adviser to Mr Slipper, approached John Howard’s then senior adviser Tony Nutt after she – and two other women – had viewed a video featuring the Speaker and the young male adviser.

According to the court documents, the video included footage of Mr Slipper lying on a bed with the male adviser and hugging him in “an intimate fashion”.

After hearing her concerns about the video, Mr Nutt allegedly told Ms Hobson to “forget all about it”.

The Coalition has overnight moved from “forget all about it” to “he must step down these are serious allegations.”

While the staffers Slipper allegedly harassed are adults, the Howard government’s attitude reminds me of the church officials who, when informed of the sexual predilections of some of their priests, simply shuffled them around from parish to parish, rather than call them to account and deal with the damage done to children in their care.

Sexually harassing an adult in your employ is an abuse of power. It’s against the law. It can cause a great deal of distress, sometimes long-term, for the unwilling recipient. It’s not a situation anyone should have to deal with when they arrive at their workplace every day. What the Howard government did, and what the Coalition has continued to do ever since, is cover-up serious allegations made against Slipper because it was expedient for them to do so, in spite of these alleged actions being against the law.

It’s a given that sexual abuse of all kinds perpetrated on  both adults and children can only continue to the extent that it does with the collusion of others. Institutions look the other way, or actively cover up  and repress allegations. It’s a given that we aren’t going to make big inroads into sexually abusive behaviours until institutions cease to enable the alleged perpetrators by protecting them from scrutiny. This is everyone’s problem. Politicians need to be leaders in this. They need to take action and be seen to take action when allegations of this kind are made against one of their number.

The Coalition doesn’t have a leg to stand on in the Slipper scandal. The way the situation was initially handled by them is disgraceful. They covered up allegations of a crime. They told complainants to “forget all about it.”  They showed utter disregard for staffers who had allegedly suffered sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is sickening. No less sickening are those who hold positions of power that permit them to do something about it, and instead choose to cover it up for their own gains. Get off your moral high horse Mr Abbott. It’s really just a braying donkey.

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