'They buried allegations of sexual violence’: The shattering incident that made a young man walk away from politics

‘They buried allegations of sexual violence’: The shattering incident that made a young man walk away from politics

The events of the past month have been an incredibly distressing and particularly triggering time for anyone that has ever been impacted by gender violence and inequality. I say this not just as a person who cares deeply about gender inequalities (and not just because “I have a daughter/a sister/a mother”), but as a man who has witnessed firsthand the demonstrable impact that gender violence has had on women.

My experience in 2016 forever changed how I understood the experiences of women impacted by gendered violence and the trajectory of my professional career.

After the 2016 federal election night, instead of celebrating the success of the campaign, I found myself advocating for three women who had been mistreated, neglected, and in one instance sexually assaulted by members of the party. It is out of respect for the privacy of these women, and the many others who have shared their experiences with me, that I will not name all those within the Greens who aided and abetted the coverups which followed. There were many others however that also played a role.

Following this horrific incident, I, and other Greens members, notified the leader of the ACT Greens – not once, not twice but on multiple occasions. We also notified multiple elected office-bearers on multiple occasions over the course of the 3 years that followed. We followed the processes that the Party had set out to address incidents of bullying, harassment, exploitation of vulnerable people, and sexual assault.

Initially, we notified the campaign manager and staff, followed by the internal party meditation process (managed by untrained volunteers), before participating in an “independent review” which buried the allegations of sexual violence. After being unsuccessful within the ACT branch we contacted the Australian Greens Head Office and elected representatives.  

Further inaction, silencing and then public discrediting of myself and the women involved ensued.

On April 12 2018, now current leader of the Australian Greens, Adam Bandt posted on his public Facebook page, requesting women within the Greens that experienced sexual violence or harassment to come forward. I contacted Adam about the incidents I had witnessed but never heard back. I also never heard back from the former leader of the Australian Greens, Richard Di Natale and other Australian Greens elected representatives.

Former NSW Greens Senator, Lee Rhiannon contacted me to apologise for the conduct of the Party. She was the only person to do so.

The founder of the Australian Greens, Bob Brown, also responded, reasoning at the time that these were matters for the authorities.

We had followed the party’s internal processes under the reassurance from party officials that they would address our concerns.

What’s more, research shows that for many victims of sexual assault, coming forward can be a harrowing part of an already traumatic experience and there is no ‘model victim’.

The events of 2016 had a devastating impact on these women– my friends. Watching what they went through and seeing powerful and influential people effectively close ranks to silence them, has left me shattered as well. I left politics behind and I am currently studying law at ANU with the hope that I can contribute to the prevention of domestic and family violence in Australia.

I now work at Diversity Council Australia (DCA) where I provide training and advice to organisations that are serious about gender equality and want to use their influence to lead the charge for social change.

I am not the first to make this observation, but my role at DCA makes it very clear to me that the culture of Party Politics would do well to heed advice and protocol from the corporate sector when it comes to responding to allegations of sexual misconduct.

Of course, both sectors face legal repercussions for not responding appropriately to formal and informal complaints in the workplace. But framing these matters as simple legal questions avoids the fundamental humanity, brutality, and trauma of survivors’ experiences.

While I do not have the lived experience of women that have faced workplace sexual harassment, and the fear that accompanies reporting these incidents to their employers, as a man in a gender-unequal world, I can empathise, and use my position to call out inappropriate behaviour. After all, DCA’s research shows that when men confront sexism our actions are taken more seriously.

This experience has also made me realise how critical it is that we have strong leadership and accountability on the words and actions of elected representatives when it comes to violence against women in every aspect of life. Certainly, the Party did not live up to its Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women and Girls Principles and the broader political rhetoric of calling out institutional neglect.

The training I deliver on behalf of DCA invites leaders– especially men–to listen, learn and disrupt existing structural inequalities. Male leaders, especially, need to listen, learn, and understand that their actions have a profound impact on the community and a lack of understanding further perpetuates the inequalities that women experience every day.

When sexual assault or harassment occurs within workplaces, and more broadly throughout society, we must listen. But we also need accountability. We need action. And we need leadership.

It is the responsibility of everyone in our community to become educated; to listen and believe survivors. It can no longer be (and should never have been) women’s responsibility to change continuing structural inequality. But as those who hold many positions of power in Australia – men need to stand up and become accountable.

Another International Women’s Day has now passed, and all the well-meaning organisations and advocates who showed up for gender equality this week are going back to business as usual.

But business as usual is failing us. It is failing women, and by failing women it fails all our society.

On March 15 I will be attending the #March4Justice event at Parliament House because violence against women happens on all sides of politics and stopping it requires leadership from everyone.

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