‘MY FAM­ILY’S BEEN THREAT­ENED’ Tracey Spicer re­veals the toll of her fight to make a dif­fer­ence

The jour­nal­ist on fem­i­nism, rais­ing girls and mak­ing a dif­fer­ence

WHO - - Content - By Abi Moustafa

Walk­ing through the streets of Jaipur, Tracey Spicer was stopped in her tracks when she spot­ted a tod­dler in the arms of an older man, and when she looked closer, she was shocked and dis­turbed to see he was touch­ing her in­ap­pro­pri­ately. She knew then she might not have the power to save that lit­tle girl from abuse, but she vowed to cam­paign hard enough to help one girl at a time. Speak­ing to WHO ex­clu­sively, the former Chan­nel Ten news­reader dis­cusses be­com­ing an “ac­ci­den­tal ac­tivist”, set­ting an ex­am­ple for her chil­dren and a pos­si­ble re­turn to TV.

You played a huge part of bring­ing #Metoo to life in Aus­tralia. How did it feel? It was quite over­whelm­ing, but I felt I had a duty of care to ev­ery woman and girl – and re­ally any­one re­gard­less of gen­der – to hear their story. For so long peo­ple have been si­lenced, par­tic­u­larly [those who suf­fered from] vi­o­lence and sex­ual as­sault. So when I saw the Metoo hash­tag break in the US, I put out a tweet and said I wanted to do sto­ries on two men I knew were preda­tors in my in­dus­try.

What was that re­ac­tion like?

The next day I re­ceived 2000 dis­clo­sures from a bunch of peo­ple all over Aus­tralia, shar­ing their sto­ries. It’s been a real priv­i­lege to be a wit­ness to these peo­ple’s sto­ries. Some of them have never told any­body be­fore so this is a huge mo­ment in his­tory.

Were you wor­ried about your safety?

I think any­one who speaks out about in­equal­ity does get threat­ened, par­tic­u­larly any­one who speaks out about fem­i­nism. I guess I’m kind of ac­cus­tomed to it af­ter re­ceiv­ing a cou­ple of death threats five or six years ago. I know how to man­age it now, I know which ones I need to take to the po­lice. I’m com­fort­able block­ing or mut­ing peo­ple if they get too ag­gres­sive. If peo­ple are get­ting an­gry, it’s be­cause we’re ef­fect­ing change. That’s shaken peo­ple up and I un­der­stand why they’re fright­ened and an­gry. So as long as I’ve got good strate­gies to pro­tect my­self and my fam­ily, then I’m pretty re­laxed about it all.

Did you con­sider your fam­ily be­fore putting your hand up for #Metoo?

I felt I had to do it for the sake of my chil­dren and the gen­er­a­tions to come, be­cause we might have them go­ing into work­places or on the streets where they feel vul­ner­a­ble and un­der threat ev­ery day. The only way to ef­fect change is to speak out, so the ben­e­fits ab­so­lutely out­weigh the dis­ad­van­tages.

How do you feel about Bill Cosby’s re­cent con­vic­tion?

I think it’s re­ally im­por­tant peo­ple who are sur­vivors of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and in­de­cent as­sault see con­se­quences for peo­ple. A lot of the peo­ple who emailed me said: “Oh God I couldn’t be­lieve it, this per­son just kept of­fend­ing and there were no con­se­quences – he kept get­ting pro­moted.” What hap­pened to Bill Cosby, it’s im­por­tant that we have high­pro­file in­stances where peo­ple are held to ac­count, oth­er­wise peo­ple who are vic­tims and sur­vivors think, “Oh what’s the point of talk­ing if noth­ing is go­ing to change.” I know Har­vey We­in­stein was an im­por­tant story, but I think the Bill Cosby case – they were very clear con­se­quences af­ter a long time, af­ter many women came for­ward. That’s ex­tremely sig­nif­i­cant and will give a lot of women com­fort know­ing if they do speak out, some­thing might hap­pen.

Will it be the first of many?

Yes. Al­though I do think the move­ment has gained more trac­tion in the United States than it will in Aus­tralia. For a cou­ple of rea­sons – we have defama­tion laws in this coun­try that clearly pro­tect the rich and pow­er­ful. We also don’t have a first amend­ment for free­dom of speech. I did have dif­fi­cul­ties do­ing my sto­ries in Aus­tralia, so it’s more the slow burn in this coun­try and that’s why we started NOW Aus­tralia, be­cause I knew the in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism wouldn’t be enough – we needed a not-for-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion to con­tinue the mo­men­tum and help peo­ple re­gard­less of what in­dus­try they work in.

Can you tell us more about NOW Aus­tralia?

In Jan­uary, I started con­nect­ing with peo­ple who reached out to me on so­cial me­dia say­ing, “If there’s any­thing you

“I had to speak up for the sake of my chil­dren”

want to do, like start a Time’s Up in Aus­tralia, I’d love to be in­volved.” So I gath­ered a group of about 30 women from some very dif­fer­ent back­grounds to­gether to build this not-for­profit, which we launched in March with a crowd-fund­ing cam­paign. Some work in law, some in HR and some in the sex­ual as­sault sec­tor. It’s just a re­ally di­verse and in­clu­sive group – a re­ally fan­tas­tic rep­re­sen­ta­tion of dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties, in­clud­ing peo­ple from the Is­lamic com­mu­nity, lots of women of colour, women who are LGBT. We wrapped that up in June and now we’ve got an ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor on board who is build­ing a ser­vice – and scop­ing it out prop­erly, be­cause we don’t want to repli­cate any ser­vices that are al­ready of­fered. We want to be able to fill the gaps in the ex­ist­ing sys­tem.

You’re also in­volved in Spon­sor #1000, a World Vi­sion ini­tia­tive. How did you get in­volved in the cam­paign?

I’ve been an am­bas­sador with World Vi­sion for more than a quar­ter of a cen­tury and had the great priv­i­lege of work­ing with com­mu­ni­ties – par­tic­u­larly women and girls in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries – do­ing doc­u­men­taries, cov­er­ing sto­ries, try­ing to make the peo­ple of Aus­tralia aware of the plight of girls in par­tic­u­lar.

Which coun­try has touched you most?

The coun­try I went to that re­ally af­fected me most was In­dia. Five years ago, we went out to a pros­ti­tute vil­lage on the out­skirts of Jaipur where the young girls – once they turn 12, have to choose be­tween be­ing a child bride or a pros­ti­tute. Which is an un­fair choice for a young girl. I then dis­cov­ered that the rate of fe­male fe­tus geno­cide in In­dia has ac­tu­ally been go­ing up in re­cent decades, with more abort­ing of fe­male fe­tuses. Af­ter the ul­tra­sound tech­nolo­gies that came in, a doc­tor will say, “You are def­i­nitely hav­ing a girl, you should con­sider an abor­tion.” Fe­males are seen as less than boys, as a bur­den even be­fore they’re born.

Why is this cam­paign so im­por­tant to you?

It’s so im­por­tant be­cause World Vi­sion does won­der­ful work across the globe, in­clud­ing to ed­u­cate girls, and we know that when girls are ed­u­cated they’re much less likely to marry young and they’re much more likely to ed­u­cate their daugh­ters. So ed­u­ca­tion is the path­way out of poverty, and it’s a grass­roots cam­paign that can not only lift a girl out of poverty, but also her fam­ily and her com­mu­nity – I think the rip­ple ef­fect is huge. I also be­lieve that while #metoo is fan­tas­tic, it still hasn’t helped those who need it the most, for ex­am­ple, in Aus­tralia in low-paid in­dus­tries, peo­ple in marginalised com­mu­ni­ties and glob­ally, girls in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries. These peo­ple, they might not have pub­lic toi­lets in a cer­tain area, so if girls have to go to the toi­let out in the field or some­thing, they’re more open to be­ing sex­u­ally as­saulted. Just lit­tle things like that can change the lives of vul­ner­a­ble girls. The sta­tis­tics are quite fas­ci­nat­ing, that af­ter nat­u­ral dis­as­ters girls are dis­placed. Women and girls are more af­fected by the cat­a­strophic flood­ing in Bangladesh be­cause a lot of them lose their homes and they’re go­ing to cities to work in the sex trade. The in­fra­struc­ture is sort of swept away with the floods and the toi­lets are swept away, then the girls are more vul­ner­a­ble be­cause they’re out in the open, so in a lot of ways girls are dis­crim­i­nated against all over the world.

What’s the most shock­ing thing have you seen while work­ing on this cam­paign?

We went to a pros­ti­tute vil­lage, I saw this lit­tle girl … She would have been about three or four and she just had these big, dead, empty eyes, like she’d been through ab­so­lute hor­ror. This older man in a stained sin­glet was bounc­ing her on his knee and re­ally touch­ing her in­ap­pro­pri­ately for a young girl and there was noth­ing I could do about it. I wanted to just grab her and take her away from these

“Girls choose be­tween pros­ti­tu­tion or get­ting mar­ried”

cir­cum­stances, but I knew there was no way that I could do that. She’s go­ing to have to grow up in that vil­lage and at 12, face that choice … it was just hor­rific.

Did you speak to these girls?

We sat on the floor of one of the huts and I spoke to a group of moth­ers and even though I’d ex­pe­ri­enced a lot of aid trips, I guess I came to it from a pretty naïve per­spec­tive. Be­cause I asked: “Do you dream that one day your girls will go to school?” And they laughed like it was the fun­ni­est thing they’d ever heard. It was so out­side of their realm that their daugh­ter could go to school they said, “No, no, no—we’re re­ally happy with World Vi­sion be­cause prior to World Vi­sion com­ing in, the girls had to be­come pros­ti­tutes at 12 … We’re happy that girls now have a choice of be­ing mar­ried and cer­tainly in the next gen­er­a­tion or the gen­er­a­tion af­ter that maybe girls will be able to go to school, but things take a long time to change.” That re­ally struck me. It’s not easy to come in there with a quick-fix so­lu­tion. And that’s what I like about World Vi­sion, they work with these com­mu­ni­ties for decades to ef­fect long-term change.

How has be­com­ing a mum changed you? Has it made you more em­pa­thetic?

Oh def­i­nitely, my kids are 12 and 13 and I talk to them about the aids that I’ve done – we’ve spon­sored a child in Africa and her photo is on the fridge. We talk about the chal­lenges she faces and how they are so dif­fer­ent to those that priv­i­leged kids in Aus­tralia face. But I also ex­plain to them that gen­der in­equal­ity is on a spec­trum and even though the chal­lenges that girls face in Aus­tralia are quite dif­fer­ent, they still arise from the fact that girls are val­ued less than boys and women are val­ued less than men. Things like the gen­der pay gap, the lack of women in lead­er­ship, the huge skew­ing in so­ci­ety’s wealth to­wards men com­pared with women, too. So we have huge dis­cus­sions about it.

You’re very pas­sion­ate about ac­tivism, but do you ever miss your news­reader days?

I con­sider my­self an ac­ci­den­tal ac­tivist. I’ve al­ways been in­ter­ested in per­sonal jus­tice and in­equal­ity – I’ve al­ways done those sto­ries as a jour­nal­ist. I still con­sider my­self a free­lance jour­nal­ist. Oc­ca­sion­ally I’ll miss news­read­ing or host­ing, but not very of­ten, to be hon­est. I’m more in­tel­lec­tu­ally chal­lenged and en­er­gised by dig­ging [up] sto­ries that are not of­ten told in so­ci­ety. I’ll watch a news ser­vice these days and I’ll see car crashes, rob­beries and mur­ders, but you don’t of­ten see the rea­sons be­hind why. When I be­came a jour­nal­ist – when­ever we would re­port on do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, we were told it was “just a do­mes­tic”. These days I’m more in­ter­ested in the rea­sons be­hind the story, rather than the ac­tual sto­ries them­selves.

Would you go back to TV in some ca­pac­ity?

Pos­si­bly! I’ve never had a five-year plan with my ca­reer, I just tend to take op­por­tu­ni­ties as they come and I’m kind of re­laxed about it. I’m re­ally happy with what I’m do­ing now, speak­ing and writ­ing about is­sues I’m pas­sion­ate about – what­ever comes from that in the fu­ture I am pretty re­laxed about. Once every­thing dies down, I’ll prob­a­bly write an­other book. But be­yond that, who knows!

Spicer with her daugh­ter Grace.

The ac­tivist spoke to moth­ers and daugh­ters in New Delhi, In­dia, in 2013.

Tracey and friends walked in sup­port of those march­ing on Wash­ing­ton DC in de­fence of women’s rights and protest­ing Don­ald Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion on Jan. 21, 2017. Tracey at a NOW Aus­tralia Event ear­lier this year, along­side Erin Brock­ovich and Yumi Stynes.

Tracey with former Chan­nel Ten col­leagues Natar­sha Belling and Ron Wil­son in 2000.

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