Sus­pi­cion no ba­sis for a fair fight against ha­rass­ment

Dubbo Photo News - - Opinion & Analysis. - Com­ment by STEPHEN LAWRENCE

CHRIS Gayle, in­ter­na­tional cricketer. Scott Briggs, Min­is­ter of the Crown. Jamie Cle­ments, NSW La­bor Party Gen­eral Sec­re­tary.

Three pow­er­ful men be­came the pub­lic face of sex­ual ha­rass­ment in Aus­tralia in re­cent weeks.

Iron­i­cally, their re­spec­tive pun­ish­ments have been in in­verse pro­por­tion to the de­gree of proof against them, prov­ing per­haps that in the age of iden­tity pol­i­tics it’s dif­fi­cult, if not im­pos­si­ble, for any pub­lic fig­ure to fight what one might call “iden­tity ac­cu­sa­tions”.

The de­nial of cer­tain ac­cu­sa­tions serves only to demon­strate the in­tractable na­ture of the broader prob­lem of vic­tim­i­sa­tion, as the dif­fi­cult process of proof and de­ter­mi­na­tion gets in the way of the or­gan­i­sa­tion “tak­ing a stand” and demon­strat­ing their “zero tol­er­ance”.

De­fence of the ac­cused can demon­strate that the or­gan­i­sa­tion/per­son/of­fi­cial, “just doesn’t get it”.

Ja­maican Chris Gayle help­fully at least cleared up any need for trou­ble­some in­ves­ti­ga­tions and fact find­ing by com­mit­ting his crime on na­tional tele­vi­sion with true ego­ma­ni­a­cal sports­man aplomb. Sports jour­nal­ist Mel Mclaugh­lin was vis­i­bly un­com­fort­able when Gayle com­pli­mented her looks and sug­gested a post-game drink.

“Don’t blush baby” was his not so sooth­ing ver­bal balm.

Gayle’s re­luc­tant “I’m re­ally sorry for that” apol­ogy prob­a­bly de­serves a place in the top 10 non-apol­ogy pub­lic apolo­gies.

I couldn’t work out what was more sadly amus­ing – Gayle’s ar­ro­gance or his club’s Me­dia Man­age­ment 101 at­tempts to feed the beast with an in­sin­cere apol­ogy from the player.

Whether it was cul­tur­ally spe­cific ban­ter, a dare posed in the change room, true sex­ism, or a com­bi­na­tion of all three, there was no fight­ing the al­le­ga­tions for Gayle, just ar­gu­ing about what it all meant.

(Cocky sleaze bag was my con­clu­sion, es­pe­cially af­ter check­ing out his In­sta­gram ac­count – the guy has a strip stage in his house. Enough said). In­ter­est­ingly, some of the most damming cri­tiques of his ac­tions I read were in the on­line Ja­maican press. Cul­tural rel­a­tivism trav­els well it seems.

Ha­rass­ment or not, the pub­lic na­ture of Gayle’s con­duct to­wards the suc­cess­ful and re­spected jour­nal­ist en­sured it was some­thing very far from the in­sid­i­ous covert ha­rass­ment that hap­pens in work­places across Aus­tralia, where woman (some­times men) are be­lit­tled, pres­sured and made to feel very alone. His most ve­he­ment crit­ics wanted him rubbed out of the game and the so­cial me­dia buck­et­ing was tor­rid. Fined a tri­fling $10,000 by his club, Gayle fin­ished his sea­son and took to so­cial me­dia invit­ing his crit­ics to “kiss my black rass”.

The Scott Briggs saga is a murkier tale. Briggs was on an of­fi­cial visit to Hong Kong (as part of a world tour of pub­lic trans­port sys­tems – sus­pi­ciously jun­ket sound­ing) when he de­cided to con­clude his last day of of­fi­cial busi­ness with a night out on the tiles.

Chief of Staff and ju­nior diplo­mat in tow, the night con­cluded at a crowded bar at 2am. The ju­nior diplo­mat later com­plained that his be­hav­iour had not been “ap­pro­pri­ate”. From the me­dia re­ports it seems the com­plaint was he stood too close to the woman, com­pli­mented her on hav­ing pierc­ing eyes and kissed her at the end of the night – on the cheek ac­cord­ing to Briggs, on the neck ac­cord­ing to the diplo­mat (in the real world a cru­cial dif­fer­ence). Bad judge­ment at least has been proven.

Fol­low­ing a com­plaint, a com­mit­tee of Cab­i­net con­sid­ered the mat­ter and Briggs was forced to re­sign. Un­clear from the me­dia cov­er­age is whether the minu­tiae of the in­ter­ac­tions was sub­jected to fact find­ing, whether the lo­ca­tion of the kiss was de­ter­mined, whether the Chief of Staff and Briggs con­curred the com­pli­ment had been given, whether the close­ness of the stand­ing was con­firmed.

Con­text and facts in such mat­ters are ev­ery­thing. A slimy come-on to a ju­nior pub­lic ser­vant by a Min­is­ter of the Crown is loath­some, but if the for­mer Min­is­ter’s ver­sion is cor­rect, it’s not at all clear that’s what oc­curred. Did the pol­i­tics of the is­sue make a de­fence im­pos­si­ble? Briggs was sacked from the Min­istry but re­mains in Par­lia­ment, hop­ing no doubt for a restora­tion.

Jamie Cle­ments re­signed this week as Gen­eral Sec­re­tary of NSW La­bor. Last year a par­lia­men­tary staffer, with whom he had ap­par­ently pre­vi­ously had an af­fair, made a com­plaint against him.

It seems she had told Cle­ments she in­tended re­veal­ing to her fi­ancé the fact of the af­fair. Cle­ments, it was al­leged, locked the door of the room, warned her that such a rev­e­la­tion would ruin them both, de­manded a kiss and then ut­tered that most cliqued of misog­y­nist lines: “you know you want it”.

An in­de­pen­dent par­lia­men­tary in­quiry cleared Cle­ments, find­ing “in­suf­fi­cient in­suf­fi­cient cor­rob­o­rat­ing ev­i­dence, on the bal­ance of prob­a­bil­i­ties, to sub­stan­ti­ate the al­le­ga­tions”.

An ap­pre­hended vi­o­lence or­der ap­pli­ca­tion was later with­drawn. What was never with­drawn how­ever was a re­morse­less and ef­fec­tive me­dia cam­paign by Cle­ments’ political en­e­mies. Act­ing La­bor leader Linda Bur­ney didn’t even pre­tend the out­come ac­corded with due process.

“While there are clearly two dif­fer­ent ver­sions of events, this mat­ter needs to be re­solved now in the in­ter­ests of the party and its mem­bers”.

Cle­ments is left job­less, his political fu­ture in tat­ters. I find this im­pos­si­ble to cel­e­brate, be­cause I don’t know where the truth lies.

NSW La­bor MP Lynda Voltz this week crit­i­cised the ap­pli­ca­tion by the Par­lia­ment of the “bal­ance of prob­a­bil­i­ties” test to the ac­cu­sa­tion against Cle­ments.

“If this is the bar we are go­ing to set for women want­ing to make a com­plaint of sex­ual ha­rass­ment there will be a lot of women dis­cour­aged from com­ing for­ward”, she said.

The ob­vi­ous prob­lem of course is that the only stan­dard of proof we have below the bal­ance of prob­a­bil­i­ties is mere sus­pi­cion. Is this re­ally the stan­dard any­one, male or fe­male, is will­ing to ac­cept in the name of com­bat­ing the scourge of sex­ual ha­rass­ment?

To me the three tales of­fer an in­ter­est­ing in­sight into the rush to con­dem­na­tion that can oc­cur when an in­di­vid­ual ac­cu­sa­tion (or proven wrong in Gayle’s case) fits within a meta-nar­ra­tive of vic­tim­i­sa­tion.

None of the three is a par­tic­u­larly sym­pa­thetic char­ac­ter to many Aus­tralians (cricketer, politi­cian, political op­er­a­tive) but one can query whether we would (or should) ac­cept in our own non-pub­lic lives the treat­ment they have re­ceived.

Pub­lic pol­icy must be in­formed by wider so­cial re­al­i­ties, but ap­ply­ing a big pic­ture ap­proach to the in­di­vid­ual cir­cum­stances of con­tested in­ter­per­sonal in­ter­ac­tions be­tween ac­tual hu­man be­ings, in all their di­ver­sity and unique­ness, is rife with dan­ger for those in­volved.

The only stan­dard of proof we have below the bal­ance of prob­a­bil­i­ties is mere sus­pi­cion. Is this re­ally the stan­dard any­one is will­ing to ac­cept in the name of com­bat­ing the scourge of sex­ual ha­rass­ment?

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