I testified in court. If you are able to do so, I urge you to. I can’t speak for anyone else’s experience or what is best for them. All I can say is that although it was the worst day of my life (or so it seemed) it was also infinitely empowering. I didn’t know how things would turn out but as I got to spell out what he’d done to me and look into the judge’s eyes…I felt real power. The defence smashed it pretty quickly with vulgar and caustic rebuttals but I just repeated the truth – over and over – and he realised that I was in fact a very good witness. It got easier as the day went on. And the result was that the accused asked to plead guilty if the DPP would remove the threat of twelve months jail. Now testifying was fucked up. No way around that. I would have possibly agreed to anything at the end of that day. But I’m pretty proud of myself that before any other evidence was submitted – and his slew of lying accomplices had the chance to try to slam my character in court – he caved. You bet that feels good.
Given that experience, I almost spontaneously combust when I read other examples of victim blaming tactics used to deny claims of sexual harassment, assault and rape. I understand the adversarial legal system on an intellectual level but it can fuck right off in this area (and family violence, child abuse…).
Earlier this year the media reported on a pending sexual harassment case. According to the International Business Times, “Philip Goodman, chairman and sole director of Rivers Australia, is again on the hot seat after a former employee has lodged a sexual harassment claim, his second in a span of two years.”
Today’s brief article addressed the defence barristers claims. Or as the sub heading said, “boss’s ‘counter claims'”. A counter-claim would be if she also molested him. Gross misuse of the term here, editor! After you testify, the defendant and his legal team come at you (in this case, Sallyanne Robinson, a Brit in Australia on a work visa at the time) with anything they can. All of the claims generally centre around mental health and promiscuity. They can’t come out and call you a slut anymore but they paint the picture in other ways pretty bluntly.
As if that would actually BE a defence for unlawful assault.
Here are some excerpts:
Herman Borenstein, SC, for millionaire Rivers Clothing boss suggested to Ms Robinson “that she lacked a sense of humour about the CEO calling her Madame Lash in front of co workers. He asked if she was hypersensitive and over reacted”
Yes, because sexual harassment is just Regular Guy Banter. He was Having Fun. Mucking Around. Geez, lighten up. You’re probably an uptight feminist lesbian.
Ms Robinson complained to her supervisor and Goodman ignored her for a while then approached her, “Do you still think I’m trying to get into your knickers?”
It was flirting and you are an uptight bitch. You think so highly of yourself that you think everyone wants you.
Borenstein said that ex colleagues had a list of “humiliating allegations” he wished to put to Ms Robinson; she “abused alcohol and would get ‘so wasted’ she had to be carried home”
This is to insinuate that the victim was out of control, had personal issues and could do anything if she could get that drunk. Because alcohol always equals women who never say NO. Obviously.
Colleagues allegedly reported that Ms Robinson “was obsessed with her own breasts”
What. The. Fuck. I can’t believe he read that out with a straight face but it was deliberately used to insinuate that the victim was overtly sexual. Breasts! She liked them! Breasts! *old man drool* Ugh.
Berenstein accused Ms Robinson of “urinating on her partner every morning in the shower”.
Well, bugger me. I thought the breasts thing was stupid. Bizarre. Used to insinuate the victim is kinky? Dirty? She urinates??? I can’t believe that a judge would let that through the gate.
Next, he said that Ms Robinson had previously “been a burlesque dancer”.
Slut. Slutty slut slut. They can’t ask if she’s ‘easy’ so they draw tenuous links from gross innuendo allegedly given to the legal team by employees. (Obviously not the employees who have backed up claims of a harassment culture inherent in the company for a decade, as stated in one of the above articles).
Ms Robinson told the court that colleagues had seen her upset after Goodman had made her model underwear for him, alone, with only a towel to change behind.
At first glance, one may ask, How did he make her do that? It’s pretty weird… I didn’t model underwear for the shithead I took to court – I was a school teacher – but you can bet your ass that manipulative men in powerful positions can have you in situations that you just can’t believe are happening…your mind goes in slow motion because who would actually do that? And you need your job. It’s how you are staying in the country. And please, ladies, don’t talk back, make a fuss, say no or rock the boat. Appease.
Who do you think you’re talking to? I own this company.
The links above also detail various accounts of Indecent and Sexual Assault where Ms Robinson was groped and poked like a piece of meat. He grabbed a breast and told her they were ‘good natural ones’.
The next textbook question is ‘if this is true, why didn’t you tell someone straight away? Why wouldn’t you tell your boyfriend?’ because unless you screamed it out in a staff meeting or called the police on day one, it couldn’t have happened, right? Ms Robinson said that she didn’t tell her partner for a long time as he wouldn’t have wanted her to go back to work and she was also concerned about her visa status. I believe her 100% I didn’t tell my boyfriend until I gave a statement to police. Eight months after it started. He saw me upset, was at my house when I got late night phone calls from my boss over and over, saw the creepy text messages. But I lied. I said it was manageable. The guy was just a pest. I lied because I preferred to be in denial. And my boyfriend would have been at the school the next day to bash this guy’s head in (I’ve had days where I regretted avoiding that). It was my first professional teaching role. I loved my job. This was a career at stake. I was on a six month contract. Very dicey ground. The boss makes it clear, as all abusers do, that no one would believe you. Some, like mine, take proactive steps to set up their defence as they go. I worked up the courage to seek help the first time and I was met with derision and rejection. ‘Actually, he’s already approached me about that. He said you’d say that’. Gobsmacked.
In one of the articles about this Rivers case, Goodman (just seen the ugly irony in his name there) claims that Ms Robinson had mental health issues and exhibited problems during the entire course of her employment.
The Other Ultimate Dismissal. If you’re not The Slut you are The Crazy Bitch. Probably both! Classic strategies. Up yours, Freud. Hysteria. Hysterical. You can’t trust females. Hormones. Probably a ‘bunny boiler’ and all that.
Suddenly the victim crying on the stand medicated for her PTSD might be a horny, vindictive woman with loose morals and a permanent hangover. Same thing. All the effing time.
The upside? They all use the same bullshit. It’s standard. They don’t care. Just got to ‘muddy the waters’. Cast aspersions. But don’t worry too much. Those bastards use the same defence tactics and prosecutors and support people know this. They can help you prepare. There is some small comfort in the sameness of their approach.
We know that sexual confidence or emotions have sweet eff all to do with whether someone is a sexual predator or a criminal. But how often do we hear that a child ‘led a man on’ to contribute to her own vulgar rape, or the way we treat rape and murder of sex workers with minimal outrage and barely an inch of media column. Because sexual. Women. Sluts. Made him do it.
We need to smash this shit into a thousand pieces. And that means talking about it in all its gory detail. It takes women like Sallyanne Robinson, Kate Shea and hey, even anonymous me, to make some noise when the worst happens. To hang in there through the shitstorm that follows. Be The Slut and The Crazy Bitch in some people’s eyes. Vocally support others when their turn inevitably comes around. Sometimes people are really ignorant and it takes what happened to Jill Meagher to rattle their cages.
We may never reach a freedom and safety utopia but my fervent hope is that we make our voices heard until our last breath. And encourage all others to do the same.
Which reminds me…
Walk through the city of Melbourne tomorrow, everybody, shouting loud and proud for SlutWalk 2013. Some may not like the name, nobody likes the word but fighting is fighting and I can tell you from last years experience, it feels really bloody good to yell your heart out and demand respectful attention with some of the best women in the country by your side!
Do it. Do it for Sallyanne Robinson, Kate Shea, Jane Doe from Steubenville, Jill Meagher, Jazzy O and everybody in between. Do it for your mum, sister, the daughter or niece you love. Do it because it’s the right fucking thing to do.
Speaking out and being heard helps every single woman feel stronger, more supported and less alone. When they need it the most.
If you don’t walk tomorrow, there are so many other ways to help. Just talk to those close to you. Talk to strangers on the Internet.
Know that if you are the one needing to tell, there is someone out there who wants to hear you.
- “I’m Sick of Talking about Sexual Harassment!” (blogs.scientificamerican.com)
- Bikram “Yoga” Choudhury accused of rape, sexual harassment, racism, homophobia, and unsafe practices related to the color green (boingboing.net)
- One In Five Women Have Been Sexually Harassed By A Boss (thinkprogress.org)
- 19th Woman Accuses Mayor Of Sexual Harassment (4umf.com)
- Belfast Businessman To Pay £36,000 For Sexual Harassment, Homophobic Slurs (eile.ie)
- Speaking Up: McKee, Goddard, KnightSec and KYAnonymous (fromawhispertoaroar.com)