'It was unfair & horrific': Catherine Marriott on having her name leaked

‘It was unfair, frightening & horrific’: Catherine Marriott on having her name leaked by the National Party

If you were looking to understand why speaking out about sexual harassment takes courage Catherine Marriott’s interview with ABC’s 730 host Leigh Sales is instructive. It’s similarly enlightening if you have ever wondered why a person might avoid speaking out altogether, let alone seek retribution.

Catherine Marriott is the rural advocate from Western Australia who shot to national prominence earlier this year when allegations she made about sexual harassment by the former-deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce made headline news.

Days after she had disclosed the allegations to the WA-branch of the National Party via a confidential legal letter, a decision that had taken two years to summons the courage to make, it was leaked. Salt in the wound doesn’t suffice.

Marriott, a formidable and credible interview subject, explained to Sales that she would not publicly disclose the details of what actually happened on the night in question for the reason that she doesn’t want to be defined by it. She doesn’t want those details to pop up every time someone googles her name or meets her. Instead she explained what happened afterwards.

“[After the incident] I walked up to my hotel room and I burst into tears. I then couldn’t sleep that whole night. I didn’t actually sleep for a week. I rang two of my closest friends and I told them what had happened, and they said they couldn’t believe … they were just absolutely shocked, and they said, ‘You can’t tell anyone. You cannot tell anyone … you will be destroyed if this comes out’.”

Initially she chose silence but three things happened that made her reconsider.

The global #MeToo movement and the words of 14-year-old Dolly Everett, who committed suicide after allegations of bullying, to ‘speak even if your voice shakes’.
“That cut me to the core,” Marriot said. “I was sort of like, ‘Take a good hard look at yourself. What’s wrong with you, Catherine?’”

The final straw was a question from a long-time friend who knew about the incident.

“She said ‘You’ve spent your entire career building capacity in young people, if you choose to say nothing and five years from now this behaviour is still going on, will you sleep at night?’ And the answer to that was unequivocally no,” Marriott said. “I wasn’t brought up to run away from things that frighten you, although it took me time to get courage.”

Marriott contacted a legal friend and asked what she could do with the proviso that it not be made public. A without prejudice legal letter raising her complaint was drafted and sent to the National Party and within days her worst fears were realised.

“My name was leaked and that is one of the most frightening things that you will ever have to live through is when you finally…Sorry I said I was not going to cry … anyway, you live through – you finally find the courage within yourself to stand up for what you believe in and then all control is taken away.”

That betrayal – a devastating power play – is monumental.

The National Party launched an internal 8-month internal investigation that concluded earlier this month there was “insufficient evidence” to make a finding which Marriott describes as infuriating.

Barnaby Joyce declined an interview with 7.30 but gave a statement.

“I absolutely deny any allegation of sexual harassment. I asked that this be referred to the police if the complainant wished to pursue this issue so I had the capacity to defend myself, as I firmly believe the complaint to be spurious and defamatory.”
Marriott’s explanation for why she didn’t take the matter to the police is likely to resonate with many victims of harassment or assault.

“If I went to the police, it’s me versus him, which is a toxic space to be in. It will create no outcome for anyone else. It puts what happened that night on the public record and on top of that, I’m exhausted after eight months,” she said. “I would have had to go through our court system which is two, three, four years long. How much would that cost me?”

She concluded the emotional toll without any guarantee of an outcome just wasn’t worth it.

Can you blame her? Can you blame anyone in that position?

It sadly accurately explains why sexual harassment is so rarely policed. Even making a complaint in a workplace often triggers a process that rarely deliver outcomes but that exacts a heavy toll – emotionally and financially – because often times women leave organisations.

“If you think about it, 20% of people that have been harassed and handed in a complaint are leaving the work force,” she said.

Changing that and ensuring political parties and workplaces have adequate processes for dealing with harassment complaints is ultimately what Catherine Marriott now wants to achieve.

“The outcome which I’m looking for is to create change across Australian work places to help raise awareness of the fact that this is an issue that is costly. We do need to make changes.”

There is a growing number of men and women who agree and are supporting Marriott in this endeavour. Follow the #standwithmaz hashtag to see how.

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