Greens Founder Bob Brown’s Intervention On Sexual Assault Was Classic ‘Victim-Blaming’: David Shoebridge


A growing scandal around the handling of the sexual assault of a young Greens volunteer in the ACT was recently exposed by The Saturday Paper. Party founder Bob Brown weighed into the debate earlier this week, attacking the victim for her public anonymity. NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge responds*.

In my work as a Greens MP I have campaigned to the best of my ability to provide justice to victims of sexual assault and sexual violence. Much of this work has been focused on institutional failings and holding to account churches, schools and other bodies who have repeatedly failed to protect children and others in their care.

I have also sought to highlight how state and federal governments continue to fail victims of violence, especially sexual violence. I have challenged Ministers, Attorneys General and Premiers whose policies have actively reduced the support given to victims of violence.

I have seen how they say they care for victims but how their actions put the lie to this.

As a Greens MP, when I see victims of abuse being ignored, denigrated or abused by persons in power it is my job to stand beside and support victims. So I will not be silent when I see the former Greens Leader Bob Brown writing a public letter that shows appalling disrespect to a victim of sexual abuse.

A young woman was sexually assaulted while working as a volunteer for the Greens. She told people in the party about the assault immediately. She expected the party to respond in a way that reflects our public positioning of supporting victims, having zero tolerance for sexual abuse and caring.

David Shoebridge, MLC. (IMAGE: Thom Mitchell, New Matilda)
David Shoebridge, MLC. (IMAGE: Thom Mitchell, New Matilda)

Instead, she was marginalised. She saw the alleged assailant being treated with more respect than herself. Her needs were not prioritised. She felt the party didn’t care about her. If that is her experience then we failed her. Badly. She told her story in the Saturday Paper. I believe her.

Enter Bob Brown who wrote a public letter responding to her story. He said that: “The crime in the presence of a third person sympathetic to the victim, should have been immediately reported to the police. Inexplicably, your adult, articulate and anonymous correspondent did not do so for many months.”

This is nothing short of victim blaming. There are many reasons why women who suffer sexual violence do not report to police or other authority figures. One of the main reasons is they often fear they will be blamed, questioned and end up themselves being seen as the problem rather than the assailant.

Bob Brown went further and referred to the young woman’s story as “anonymous pillorying”, ignoring the fact that a young woman complaining about being sexually assaulted is 100% entitled to withhold her name from the public.

This is a protective measure for a person who has already been violated.

In any event, while her name may not have been published in the news article it is well known to the Greens from whom she has never sought to hide her identity or seek anonymity.

There is much more I could say about Bob Brown’s response including that the only empathy he clearly expresses is for a fellow Greens elected representative rather than the young woman who was sexually assaulted.

Working with victims of child sexual abuse, I have seen firsthand how the failure of institutions they had trusted added greatly to the pain they suffered from the initial abuse. Victims of sexual violence need and deserve our support. They need to be believed, respected and protected, not attacked.

I have seen church leaders try to say that their organisations had no role in addressing sexual abuse cases – that these were police matters, not their business. I have seen leaders attack victims and challenge their version of events with the goal of protecting their friends and colleagues, as well as their institutions. I was not silent then and will not be silent now.

To the young woman, I say sorry. You deserve so much more. You deserve justice. You matter.

* This article has been republished with permission, and is a lightly edited version of a post David Shoebridge published on his public Facebook page.

David Shoebridge is a Greens member of the New South Wales Legislative Council. His portfolio responsibilities within the Greens include: Forestry; Industrial Relations; Planning & Heritage; Firearms; Justice and Local Government.