Tac­ti­cal as­sault

The Saturday Paper - - Letters & Editorial -

To glance at this week’s head­lines was to see just how much Aus­tralian gen­der re­la­tions have shifted in the past year. No longer are we ig­nor­ing women’s sto­ries – the ap­proach is now one of con­trol, min­imi­sa­tion and pun­ish­ment.

In a Syd­ney court, Eryn Jean Norvill was ac­cused of giv­ing tes­ti­mony “rife with con­tra­dic­tions, in­con­sis­ten­cies and re­cent in­ven­tion” by Ge­of­frey Rush’s lawyers dur­ing his defama­tion suit against The Daily Tele­graph. It was tes­ti­mony she never wanted to give, sparked by ac­cu­sa­tions she never wished to be pub­licly aired. Her iden­tity be­ing bound for­ever in the pub­lic imag­i­na­tion to his al­leged in­dis­cre­tions was a choice made by oth­ers, though one for which she has to bear the re­al­ity.

At the ABC, jour­nal­ist Ash­leigh Raper re­leased a state­ment, de­tail­ing an al­leged 2016 as­sault by New South Wales La­bor leader Luke Fo­ley, forced to speak up after Lib­eral politi­cian David El­liot dis­closed the ac­cu­sa­tion with­out her in­volve­ment or con­sent un­der the veil of his own par­lia­men­tary priv­i­lege. Fo­ley re­signed, al­though he took the op­por­tu­nity to la­bel Raper’s state­ment “false” and threat­ened to drag her into a lengthy court bat­tle by launch­ing his own defama­tion pro­ceed­ings against the ABC. The mes­sage was clear: those who voice al­le­ga­tions of as­sault, even in con­fi­dence, will face the spe­cial wrath the jus­tice sys­tem re­serves for women.

“This is a po­si­tion I never wanted to be in and a state­ment I never in­tended to make,” Raper wrote in her state­ment.

Her words echoed those of Cather­ine Mar­riott, whose name was leaked to the me­dia after she made a for­mal, pri­vate com­plaint to the Na­tional Party about Barn­aby Joyce’s al­leged sex­ual ha­rass­ment. “What was most dif­fi­cult and what pre­vents a lot of peo­ple in cir­cum­stances like this [from com­ing for­ward] is the reper­cus­sions of be­ing dragged through a scan­dal,” Mar­riott’s lawyer Emma Salerno told The Aus­tralian. “It’s the last thing my client wanted.”

It’s a pat­tern of be­hav­iour, a back­lash to the threat of power re­dis­tri­bu­tion – con­trol, min­imi­sa­tion, pun­ish­ment – ef­fec­tive, bru­tal tac­tics.

Be­cause in the past year, we have been told re­peat­edly that per­sonal nar­ra­tive has power. That in­di­vid­ual sto­ries of ha­rass­ment and as­sault can serve to shrink sys­temic in­equal­i­ties down to a hu­man scale, ren­der­ing them im­pos­si­ble to ig­nore. Women may not have struc­tural or his­tor­i­cal power, but their sto­ries have power.

If we ac­cept that, then to deny a wo­man the right to tell her story, on her terms, is in it­self a form of dom­i­na­tion. Is, in it­self, an at­tempt to dis­em­power – con­sciously or sub­con­sciously. And to at­tempt to con­trol a wo­man’s story, to min­imise her trauma, to pun­ish her for dar­ing to speak it – that is a form of abuse.

The stark re­al­ity here is that the dark drive to si­lence women of­ten has vi­o­lent ends. Jaymes Todd was free to stand in court this week and plead guilty to stalk­ing, rap­ing and killing Eury­dice Dixon in a Mel­bourne park ear­lier this year. He was given the op­por­tu­nity to val­i­date the hor­ri­fy­ing nar­ra­tive of that night, pieced to­gether by de­tec­tives over the past few months. Dixon was never given the chance to tell her story. It is a right that was taken from her and one that is wrested, ef­fec­tively, from so many other women on a

• daily ba­sis.

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