Charles Waterstreet Forgives The Women He Sexually Harassed Amid Growing Q&A Row


UPDATE: Charles Waterstreet has pulled out of tonight’s Q&A. See end of story for details.

Tonight, Sydney barrister Charles Waterstreet will appear on a special #metoo episode of ABC’s Q&A program. One of the panellists might like to ask him about ‘forgiveness’. Chris Graham reports. It takes a certain kind of man to play a video of yourself getting a handjob 20 minutes into a job interview with a young law student applying for a job as a paralegal in your office.

So perhaps we shouldn’t be all that surprised that that man – Charles Waterstreet, one of Sydney’s most prominent criminal barristers and the real-life inspiration for the popular ABC television series Rake – thinks that the women he has sexually harassed need to be forgiven.

Over the Australia Day long weekend, in a long, rambling post on his Facebook page, Waterstreet offered up this:

“… [A] stripper told me at a Mind, Spirit Body Conference that I sexualise everything, her criticism was right, I will do better…”

As #metoo apologies go, it’s a start. It’s also where Waterstreet should have stopped. Unfortunately he didn’t.

“Whatever grief I caused others, I apologise, Any grievance anyone has for me, I forgive you and ask your forgiveness, I embrace myself sinner and sin eater and part time Saint….”

Setting aside the thought of Waterstreet ‘embracing himself’ publicly any more than he already has, it’s nice to know that he’s been able to find forgiveness in his heart towards the women to whom he showed his ‘beautiful penis’, uninvited.

And on that front, there’s been a few. There’s Tina Huang, the young paralegal who attended a job interview with Waterstreet, won the job and then resigned a few hours in. Huang didn’t get to watch him ‘embrace himself’ per se – instead she got to watch his ‘beautiful penis’ being stroked by two sex workers in a video on Waterstreet’s phone.

Tina Huang, a 21-year-old law student who led the call out of Sydney barrister Charles Waterstreet.

And then there’s people like Genevieve Wilks, the paralegal (now lawyer) who worked for Waterstreet for 10 months, and was subjected to extreme workplace sexual harassment for the entire time.

On Wilks’ first day at work, Waterstreet gave her an autographed copy of a book, replete with nude images of himself. She later got to see a pencil drawing of his ‘beautiful penis’ (that’s actually how Waterstreet described it to her); she was subjected to email remarks like “omg, we gotta find each other on tinder” and “this sounds corny but I adore you, your (sic) plain but sincere”; and throughout, Waterstreet routinely watched pornography in his chambers in front of staff.

Wilks told New Matilda: “[When I applied for the job] he actually wanted someone else who he thought was more attractive. It became a running joke that I’m not very good looking, but I’m very good at the job.” (Waterstreet told media in 2015 that he wasn’t interested in resumes from potential job candidates – they should just send photographs, comments he later described as clearly a joke).

And then there was the job insecurity. Wilks frequently went without wages for long periods because when money came into the business, Waterstreet instructed the financial controller to pay outstanding debts to sex workers first. And there were a lot of debts.

Genevieve Wilks, aged 26, who served as a paralegal for Charles Waterstreet for 10 months.

And then there’s Anita*, another young law student who applied for a job with Waterstreet. Alas, Anita didn’t get to see Waterstreet in ‘all his glory’ like Huang and Wilks did. Instead, he pulled out a dildo during the interview, because what self-respecting law office doesn’t have a “big, black two-pronged device” lying around for the entertainment of visitors.

Honestly, you can’t make this stuff up.

I knew from the outset when New Matilda commenced its investigation into Charles Waterstreet’s behavior towards women it was going to be part-journalism, part circus. That’s inevitable when writing about someone who has defined their public persona by sexualizing anything and everything with a pulse. But even I’ve been surprised at the level of theatre that has pervaded the Waterstreet scandal.

Late last month, the story rocketed back into the public consciousness after ABC’s Q&A program announced it would be airing a special #metoo episode. It’s on tonight, and Waterstreet is one of the featured guests.

Unsurprisingly, the reaction was outrage, not least of all because Nina Funnell –a sexual assault survivor and advocate and the award-winning journalist who is leading New Matilda’s investigation into Waterstreet – was approached by Q&A to take up a role in the audience, to ask a question.

Says Funnell: “Inviting CW on, while asking me to sit in the audience would be like inviting Tracey Spicer and Kate McClymont to sit in the audience, while reserving a spot on the panel for Don Burke. It’s pretty insulting.

“Worse, they do not have a single public survivor on the panel. In addition to being a public survivor, I’ve also been an advocate for survivors of rape for the last 10 years and am deeply connected with the survivor community.”

As you might imagine, the optics of Waterstreet as an ‘accused’ being given a national platform while an actual survivor of sexual assault has to sit and listen didn’t go over too well with the punters.

That’s due in no small part to Waterstreet’s strategy since this scandal broke late last year. It has to been to deny it all. Waterstreet has, if you believe his public statements, done precisely nothing wrong. He’s repeatedly accused New Matilda of false reporting, and threatened to sue us numerous times. No defamation concerns notice has ever arrived.

There’s a simple reason for that – truth is a complete defence to any defamation action. Waterstreet knows, and we have proved, that what we’ve published is true.

Waterstreet also knows that we haven’t finished publishing – our investigation into his conduct is ongoing. That perhaps explains Waterstreet’s Australia Day Facebook post. It was apparently intended as a tribute to his son – which is obviously an extraordinary way to honour your child – but there’s also some ‘inoculation’ in the post. Waterstreet appears to be creating some wiggle room to publicly back down from some of the explanations he’s provided for his conduct.

Here’s what he wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald last year, after it emerged that he had told Huang during her job interview that he liked women to snort cocaine off his body.

“The reference to women snorting cocaine off my body is a joke I fondly tell, since I have been sober for 21 years with respect to alcohol and illicit drugs.”

And here he is on Facebook last month: “Australia Day to me is the day after [my son’s]birthday, the day he was four I put him on a NYC bound plane from Mascot, had my last thee day self pitting bender, and gave up certain drugs and alcohol that drowned the pain but made me insane.”

I’m guessing that the departure from ‘illicit drugs’ to ‘certain drugs’ is because Waterstreet is concerned about what New Matilda’s ongoing investigation may have turned up.

What I’m not guessing – what we al know – is that Waterstreet’s appearance on Q&A is fraught with risk, both for Waterstreet and the ABC. The show is being pre-recorded for that very reason – given Waterstreet’s responses to allegations of his public behavior, it would be an exceptionally brave media outlet that let him on live.

Having already lied in the Sydney Morning Herald about his conduct, Waterstreet has also defamed the women who spoke against him, suggesting Huang was too sensitive for a career in law because the masturbation video he showed her was from a criminal case he was working on, and flatly denied the allegations raised by Wilks and Anita.

Obviously, someone is lying, and hopefully we’ll get to the truth later tonight.

The last word belongs to Funnell.

“Given all the allegations against CW I do not want him to get kicked off the panel. Rather, I want the opportunity to go on – as an equal – to challenge him directly.

“He’s repeatedly denied or downplayed the allegations against him. I think he is a very odd choice for a #MeToo panel, but now that both he and the ABC have committed, let me on. Make it a fair fight. Otherwise you are leaving Tina Huang out to dry.

Journalist Nina Funnell, who is leading the New Matilda investigation into Charles Waterstreet.

Of course, Waterstreet was not kicked off the panel, but nor was Funnell allowed on.

With that in mind, tonight is Waterstreet’s opportunity to come clean, to tell the truth about what has occurred, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Admittedly, we’re not off to a great start: Q&A’s bio of Waterstreet, which opens by describing him simply as “flamboyant barrister” and “Charles is one of Sydney’s most prominent and colourful barristers.” ‘Colourful’ apparently being code for serial sexual harasser.

In any event, a nation will be watching, but then so will we. And we’ll be live tweeting in response if Waterstreet departs from the truth, defames any of his victims… or suggests that the women he harassed still need forgiving.

New Matilda is a small, independent publication. Our investigation into Charles Waterstreet, and other men accused of sexual misconduct, is ongoing. You can contribute to our fundraising campaign here.

UPDATE: Shortly before publication of this piece, Charles Waterstreet announced he was pulling out of Q&A. Below is his tweet providing his stated reasoning.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the publisher and editor of New Matilda. He is the former founding managing editor of the National Indigenous Times and Tracker magazine. Chris has won a Walkley Award, a Walkley High Commendation and two Human Rights Awards for his reporting. He lives in Brisbane and splits his time between Stradbroke Island, where New Matilda is based, and the mainland.