Legacy Under Threat: As Greens, We Must Do Better Than Bob Brown’s OpEd On Sexual Assault Survivor

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A young Greens volunteer was sexually assaulted in Canberra. That’s scandalous enough, but the party’s response to the assault has added to the injury. Former Greens candidate Christina Hobbs weighs into the debate, in response to a staggering OpEd by party founder Bob Brown.

This week I’ve realised that in the aftermath of #MeToo, disappointment packs a particular punch when it is your hero who lands the blow.

Bob Brown has been an inspiration for much of my life. It is our common shared values of social justice and environmental sustainability that led me into a career with the United Nations. It is his legacy that inspired my first non-violent civil disobedience to protect the Liverpool Plains. I joined the party he founded, and in 2016 I represented the Greens as the ACT Senate Candidate.

It is with huge sadness therefore to see how Bob has chosen to publicly respond to a story written by the survivor of a sexual assault, seeking to use his clout to discredit and diminish her voice, and failing to recognise the immense courage it took her to speak out.

In an article printed last month in The Saturday Paper, a woman described how she was sexually assaulted by a senior Greens volunteer after leaving an election night party in 2016.

She believes the Greens failed her, and so do I. It should be a moment for radical introspection. Yet Bob began his response to the paper by referring to her as an “anonymous correspondent”, and described her criticism of the Greens as “anonymous pillorying”.

Bob may not know her identity, but I do. She was one of a number of young women who became the glue of the campaign. She is a hard working, smart, talented and effective campaigner for our movement, passionate about progressive values.

The author is not an anonymous agitator hiding in the shadows; she is a brave survivor using an alias so that this incident is not the first story that future employers, future partners or even future children read about when her name is searched online.

Bob’s letter descends into classic victim blaming, stating that she should have “immediately reported” this assault to the police, but “inexplicably” did not do so for many months. I am shocked that Bob does not recognise how difficult it is for survivors to report what has happened to them. Instead of saluting her courage and bravery in seeking justice, he has chosen to blame and criticise her.

This woman did go to the authorities, and it appears the police have decided not to press charges. Bob appears shocked by this, even though you would imagine that the former leader of Australia’s most progressive political party would know how hard it is to prosecute this type of case.

In his response, he says the police “should re-open their investigation of what reads as an open-and-shut case of rape”.

This kind of comment appears to be an attempt to shift the focus to the police as opposed to scrutinising the failures of the party itself to prevent and respond to such an incident. He says the Greens “could not and should not have been expected to substitute for the criminal justice system handling such a heinous crime”.

The young woman in question is not asking the ACT Greens to “substitute” the justice system, and it is absurd to suggest this. She does however believe that the response of the party to her earlier reports of harassment, prior to the assault, fell on deaf ears. She considers that the assault was not properly followed up when she did report it, and that the Greens haven’t fully acknowledged failings or offered her a genuine apology.

In part, this is because she disputes ACT Greens Minister Shane Rattenbury’s current public account of how the matter was handled.

Volunteers are generally entitled to the same protections as employees under workplace health and safety, and anti-discrimination laws. There are also laws that mean that, in certain situations, organisations can be held legally responsible for the actions of volunteers.

If the ACT Greens had stronger processes and guidelines in place before the election began; if senior officials and staff had been trained on strategies for creating safe workspaces; and if those in oversight positions had been empowered to properly monitor the campaign, this assault may never have happened.

Looking back, I also should have done more to raise issues relating to culture in the early months of the campaign.

If nothing is clearer it is that progressive political ideology is not enough to protect women. Rape is the consequence of unbalanced power. If checks and balances to power are not in place to support all employees or volunteers to thrive, then the #MeToo movement has shown us that sexual assault and harassment will prevail no matter what sector of our society.

As a young woman, our volunteer has never held the power in this story, and following Bob’s letter in The Saturday Paper, even less so.

Publicly detailing a sexual assault is incredibly brave. As a powerful man in the progressive movement, Bob could have used his influence to listen, to understand, and to help mediate. This could be a powerful moment for the Greens to say, “Yes #UsToo”.

Instead, Bob has used his clout to back the words of another powerful man – a Greens Minister who can hold his own.

There is no shame in admitting that we can and must do better. Our membership demands it. The ACT Greens, including Minister Rattenbury, have stated that they are already working on it.

Will our party go far enough in order for this young woman to gain closure? I don’t know. But if progressive organisations cannot be leaders in protecting and promoting women in the workplace, then we will lose authority to advocate on fundamental issues of workers rights, gender equality and justice.

The elected leaders of the Australian Greens should immediately distance themselves from Bob’s remarks. The nation’s most progressive political party must ensure such an incident never occurs again.

Christina Hobbs

Christina Hobbs was the ACT Greens 2016 Senate Candidate. She is currently working as the Head of Operations for a Specialised agency of the United Nations in Iraq.

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