Is this Australia’s turning point in terms of sexual harassment, assault? | News about sexual assault

Canberra, Australia – Australian politics appear to face a toll after a wave of allegations of sexual assault and harassment by several politicians and members of Parliament staff in the nation’s capital.

Allegations have so far been made against a male political staff member, who allegedly raped a colleague in 2019, against Attorney General Christian Porter, accused of sexually assaulting an acquaintance when they were both teenagers in 1988 ; and against a senior assistant to a parliamentarian, who allegedly sexually harassed several teenage girls.

“The 1990s saw a sudden increase in the number of women in parliament, but even now only a quarter of politicians are women,” Blair Williams, researcher at the World Institute for Women’s Leadership, told Al Jazeera. Australian National University.

“Our parliaments are focused on the representation of men, by men. It’s a toxic culture that excludes women, making what we’ve seen recently possible. “

Just weeks after child sexual abuse survivor Grace Tame was named Australian of the Year, former Liberal Party employee Brittany Higgins went public with allegations she had been raped in Parliament in March 2019.

Higgins had just started working for Minister Linda Reynolds at the time. Less than a month after taking office, Higgins said a senior staff member assaulted her on a couch in Reynolds’ ministerial office late that night. The man was fired the following week for what Reynolds, who is now defense minister, described as a security breach.

Two questions lie at the heart of this initial scandal: first, how a young woman could be raped inside Parliament itself, and second, how the ruling Liberal Party handled the incident.

Higgins said he received little support and felt that reporting the incident to police would end his career and negatively impact the election in a matter of months.

Three other women have since presented allegations against the same man.

Attorney General faces questions

Barely a fortnight after Higgins made his allegations, Parliament was shaken again. This time, a senior minister was accused of raping a 16-year-old woman during a debate trip around a competition in 1988.

Initially, the man was not named in the media due to Australia’s strong defamation laws, but after days of rumor, Attorney General Christian Porter identified himself as the accused. Porter was said to have been 17 at the time of the incident.

Porter and Prime Minister Scott Morrison have repeatedly denied the allegations. Morrison has also so far refused to conduct an independent investigation into whether Porter is a fit and suitable person to serve as attorney general, the country’s first law enforcement officer.

“[Porter] is an excellent attorney general, ”Morrison told media Wednesday. “He is an innocent man under the law.”

Porter’s accuser committed suicide in June 2019, which means the allegations cannot be brought to criminal court. Similar problems were encountered in the trial of former Melbourne Archbishop George Pell for child sexual abuse, in which one of the two alleged victims also committed suicide.

Meanwhile, allegations also emerged against Frank Zumbo, a senior aide to Craig Kelly, a Liberal MP. Six young women have filed formal complaints against Zumbo, claiming he is physically and verbally inappropriate with them.

One woman, Anna Hobson, was only 16 when she was interned in Zumbo’s office. Hobson told ABC Australia that young interns had to greet Zumbo with hugs and kisses, and that he inappropriately touched her on several occasions.

Parliament’s working culture

Zumbo has denied all the allegations but has been the subject of a police investigation since April 2019. An order of apprehended violence prohibiting him from approaching within 100 meters of a former intern has already been granted.

The Morrison government has now appointed Gender Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins to lead a review of the work culture of Parliament. She is expected to file a preliminary report by July and full findings by November.

“During my time working in this field and particularly in the workplace over the past 30 years, I have never seen a moment like this,” Jenkins said in an interview with ABC.

“We are at a turning point.”

Australian Attorney General Christian Porter leaves a press conference in Perth earlier this month after introducing himself as the anonymous cabinet minister accused of raping a 16-year-old girl. [File: Stefan Gosatti/AFP]

The accusations that Australia’s political culture is sexist and dangerous to women are not new. In October 2012, then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard accused then-opposition leader Tony Abbott of sexist behavior towards her. Gillard was frequently targeted not only for being a woman, but also for being single and not having children.

“I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man; I won’t, ”said Gillard in his famous speech. “If he [Abbott] wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn’t need a motion in the House of Representatives, he needs a mirror.

Gillard delivered the speech shortly after House President Peter Slipper was accused of sending sexually explicit messages to a male aide. Slipper later resigned.

Toxic environment

Experts say that women’s participation in Australian politics has never been well received and has contributed to the persistence of the toxic environment.

Williams of the ANU points to a viral petition from current and former New South Wales state students calling for sexual consent education to start earlier. Thousands of testimonies from women on the petition indicate that they were sexually assaulted and harassed by students in private and selective boys-only schools.

“These schools are where the men who become politicians come from,” Williams explained.

“It’s no wonder what’s going on in Parliament, seeing as the schools that lead men to Parliament happen to be.

“Men want to be in charge, so they create institutions and support networks that promote men’s power over others,” she added.

“Porter has wanted to be Prime Minister since he was a child … it is encouraged in them that they are there to rule over others.”

‘Boys clubs’

Women’s rights advocates across the country have expressed dismay that institutional cultures supporting sexual violence still exist in Australia as of 2021.

“We cannot rely solely on politicians to regulate ourselves and ensure the security of parliaments,” said Tanja Kovac, CEO of Gender Equity Victoria.

“If parliaments continue to ignore how they anchor gender inequality through their own conduct and their own rules, we will continue to see cultural issues leading to sexual and gender-based violence.”

Greens for Women spokesperson Larissa Waters agrees the government needs to do more to change institutional tendencies to become ‘boys clubs’.

“Mr. Porter’s statement is a message to all survivors of sexual assault and rape that this government does not believe them. This will have a deterrent effect on survivors and will almost certainly deter others from coming forward, ”Waters said.

At the March 3 press conference where he tearfully denied all accusations, Porter said he “always followed the rules” and said he was being unfairly targeted.

“If I resign from my post as Attorney General because of an allegation about something that just didn’t happen, then anyone in Australia can lose their career, their job, their life’s work, on the only basis for a print charge, ”Porter said.

“I guess if I quit and that set a new standard, there wouldn’t really be a need for an attorney general anyway, because there wouldn’t be a rule of law to protect in this country anymore.”

Sexual harassment and violence are rampant in all areas of Australian life.

One in two women and one in four men have been sexually harassed in Australia, according to the 2016 Personal Safety Survey.

In 2017, police recorded 25,000 victims of sexual assault, while data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare revealed that 17% of women had experienced sexual violence. [Loren Elliott/Reuters]

In 2017, police recorded 25,000 victims of sexual assault, while data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare revealed that 17% of women had experienced sexual violence.

Indigenous activists say no one should really be surprised at the allegations of sexual violence now being made against Australian politicians.

“This country is dangerous for women, gender mavericks and non-binary people. Even more so if you are transgender, have no money or are indigenous, and the Prime Minister’s comments reinforce the toxic culture that made this possible, ”indigenous activist Meriki Onus wrote in IndigenousX.

“Those who seek to silence us fail to see how all facets of violence and injustice are intertwined and their origins in this country. The Predatory Sexual Violence We See Happening [today], started with the colonizers.

Williams of the ANU is also keen to stress that sexual violence is not confined to a single political party, nor only to politics itself.

“It’s a larger societal issue of the culture of rape, misogyny and patriarchy,” she said.

“These are the issues we need to tackle at all stages of life, from early childhood, to get the message across that sexual violence is not okay.”

Protests across the country are scheduled for March 14 and 15, including at the Parliament of Canberra.

Thousands of people are expected to join.

“The current uprising is something I thought I would never live to see,” said Biff Ward, a women’s activist since the 1970s who will speak at the Canberra march.

“Each wave does something profound that builds on the above.”

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