Sexual Harassment- whose story is it to tell?

Sexual Harassment- whose story is it to tell?

By Cassandra Charlesworth

Last week ABC journalist Ashleigh Raper was confronted with what must have been a nightmare scenario. The former NSW state political reporter was forced to issue a statement detailing a night in 2016 when she was allegedly touched inappropriately at a Christmas party by Labor politician Luke Foley. At the same time, she was forced to defend the reason she hadn’t come forward to publicly discuss it earlier. It was not a statement she sought to make, nor was it her decision to reveal the incident at all. Instead, the matter was thrust into the spotlight by NSW Corrections Minister David Elliott who made the allegations in parliament, without naming Ms Raper, but also without her consent and under the protection of parliamentary privilege.

A lose-lose situation

In a statement last Thursday, Ms Raper came forward to tell her story as debate and innuendo raged and media interest crept ever closer to her door.

“This is a position I never wanted to be in and a statement I never intended to make,” she said.
Ms Raper then candidly explained why she had chosen not to make a complaint at the time or in the period after.
“It is clear to me that a woman who is the subject of such behaviour is often the person who suffers once a complaint is made,” she said.
“I cherished my position as a state political reporter and feared that would be lost.
“I also feared the negative impact the publicity could have on me personally and on my young family.
“This impact is now being felt profoundly.”
And herein lies the bitter pill for any victim of harassment; you are damned if you do and equally damned if you don’t.

Let down

At the heart of any discussion about harassment are two key themes: misuse of a perpetrator’s power and the absence of a victim’s choice. Ms Raper was confronted by this not just once but on multiple occasions. Not only was she faced with an initial alleged encounter she did not choose to be in, the choice she made not to reveal the incident was also taken from her.
By Saturday, Mr Foley had retreated from the position of Labor leader to the back bench and Mr Elliott had belatedly apologised for how he had raised the incident.

And there was talk Ms Raper had been “let down” by both men. Let down indeed, but not just by two men – by a society where the very nightmare Ashleigh Raper sought to shield herself and her family from becoming a reality, where victim shaming is a very real threat and where she is named on the front page of every newspaper in a public frenzy she never asked for and did everything to prevent. Ms Raper has not presented herself as a victim, but she is a victim nonetheless, not just once but numerous times at the hands of people, systems, entrenched thinking, and rhetoric that wield their power to frightening effect.

From every angle it is absolutely a position she should never have been in and a statement she should never have had to make.
But as a result of her tenacity and as the year that brought us the #metoo movement comes to a close, maybe, just maybe in the future, fewer women will be the “subject of such behaviour” and even less will suffer the “profound” effect.

What are your thoughts?

Image Source - ABC reporter Ashleigh Raper, left, and NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley

Cassandra Charlesworth

Cassandra Charlesworth is a features writer with 20 years’ journalism experience. She loves a good old-fashioned story and getting to the heart of a great yarn. She’s also a mum to three children who have encouraged her to hone some secret skills. Nimbly navigating Lego pieces left on her loungeroom floor and creating stylish Barbie attire from all manner of household objects are just a couple of credentials she’s recently added to her resume.

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