Amy Taeuber, #MeToo and a culture that protects perpetrators

Before #MeToo wasn’t that long ago & the consequences remain devastating.

Over the weekend I was contemplating the circumstances of both Amy Taeuber and Amber Harrison, who have been entangled in bitter, high-profile battles with Channel 7 this year.

For Taeuber, this was the result of her employment as a cadet reporter being terminated a few weeks after she made a complaint about a senior member of staff making lewd remarks.

For Harrison, it was the result of an affair with the chief executive Tim Worner after which she also had her employment terminated.

Channel Seven appears to have spared nothing in pursuit of these women, so Tauber and Harrison have both faced the full force of a corporation unleashing its power in their individual attempts at retribution. There are no surprises about who these David v Goliath legal battles favor.

The reason both Taeuber and Harrison entered my train of thoughts this weekend was because of #MeToo. I wondered how differently, if at all, their public battles might have played out if they arisen in a post-Weinstein world.

Despite being relatively recent, the climate in which the workplace grievances of Taeuber and Harrison became publicly known, seems vastly different. The status quo then, as it has been for perpetuity, was guilty til proven innocent for victims and innocent til proven guilty for alleged perpetrators.

It was widely accepted that complaints of harassment really only arose in the peculiar and unusual cases of vexatious or too-sensitive women. That conspiracy has been shattered in the wake of #MeToo and it is unintelligible to dispute that sexual harassment is commonplace. But is the world really any different?

Last night Amy Taeuber took to Twitter to release a statement that suggests despite #MeToo the playbook of old remains in use.

It seems that despite Amy having lost her job and being far less powerful than a large corporation, a smear campaign is allegedly still underway to further discredit her.

It reveals the toxic underbelly that #MeToo has exposed. The shocking thing about #MeToo isn’t simply that so many women have been abused or assaulted or exploited by men far more senior and powerful, it’s the extraordinary lengths that so many others have gone to cover that up. To protect perpetrators and punish victims.

The lengths Harvey Weinstein reportedly went to punish women who didn’t comply with his demands are sickening, but worse still, are the lengths he went to silence the press from revealing his predatory predilections. He employed an elaborate and systemic method, including hiring ex-Mossad spies, to shut down investigations and put off victims and reporters and it wasn’t administered by him alone.

For many women the cost of being harassed – by Weinstein or anyone else – is impossible to quantify.

Director Peter Jackson has revealed that Ashley Judd and Mira Sorvino were blacklisted from appearing in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. At the time Jackson didn’t know the real reason they were blacklisted but it’s obviously too late to change anything. The careers, livelihood and potential of so many women have been stymied by sexual harassment.

And while there might have only been one abuser in many of these cases, there were almost always many more enablers who conspired to protect the powerful. Who compounded the punishment for being harassed.  In some instances, like Jackson’s, the protection might have been unknowingly offered but in others there is no such doubt.

Consider the recent allegations about one-time TV darling Don Burke. It is evident that senior management at the Nine Network knew of his misconduct and yet did nothing to curtail it.

The same could be said, it seems for Fox News with regards to Roger Ailes.

In the past 48 hours two American reporters have broken their non-disclosure agreements to speak out about being sidelined from Fox News after being sexually harassed.

Tamara Holder and Rudi Bakhtiar, both of whom lost their jobs on account of being harassed and then sidelined for complaining, were unwilling to listen to Rupert Murdoch characterize sexual harassment as a rarity at the network, peddled by a single bad egg.

They both state the culture of harassment at the network was widespread, known and permitted. Holder and Bakhtiar continue to pay the price for having been harassed – neither had their career fully recover.

The shocking thing remains that too many power brokers cannot plausibly pretend to be caught off-guard by the flood of allegations of sexual harassment and assault we are in the midst of.

It is clear from Taeuber and Holder and Bakhtiar alone, that an organisational culture that permits harassment doesn’t let the punishment of victims  stop there. It continues even in the wake of a worldwide reckoning the likes of which many women never thought we’d see. And that’s a limited case study of three women who just happen to have spoken out in the same 24 hour period. Imagine their experiences replicated hundreds and thousands of times over.

Change is underway but there is no doubt that #MeToo is only the beginning and there is a hell of a lot of work to do to make this right.

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