• Abby Alexander

We can't let any woman be defined by a single experience

Last night, Catherine Marriott appeared on 7:30 with Leigh Sales, where she discussed the complaints of sexual harassment that she made against former deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce for the first time since her name was made public by the media.

It comes in the time of #metoo, which had spurred people around the world to start speaking out about sexual harassment in the workplace, and has policy makers, commentators, individuals and business leaders in all industries agitating for real change.

Now, as always, there needs to be a process in workplaces to properly report instances of sexual harassment, abuse and intimidation should they occur. It needs to be thorough, and there needs to be a certain amount of accountability. Despite the fact that the rate of false reporting sits between two to six per cent, in the workplace there is a need for due process and this cannot be ignored.

However, as Ms Marriott said on 7:30 last night of her name being leaked to the press; “The control that I had over my own identity was taken away, and that's something that I will live now with for the rest of my life, and I think was … you know, I think it was really unfair, and it was really horrific.”

Being sexually harassed is, at its very least, a demeaning and embarrassing experience. If we expect women to be okay with the details of their harassment being made known alongside their name, to friends, family and co-workers, then we need to seriously think about what we are doing to these women. We also need to consider how it is even getting to this point.

Amy Wells, Vice President of Melbourne based organisation Not In My Workplace, said of the issue; “It is incredibly important that the welfare of the person making the complaint is given serious consideration.

“At the moment and in the wake of the #metoo movement, we should be seeing a rise in formal complaints. If this isn’t happening, it could be because the system set up to deal with these complaints is too confronting for those who have experienced sexual harassment.” Ms Wells said.

“While it is promising to see that the Nationals have reviewed their policies and procedures following this incident, we need to look at how it even got to this point in the first place.”

The impact of recounting a traumatic event can be, for some women, incredibly re-traumatising, and can end up having an even bigger psychological impact. Losing control of a story like this, and being defined by it, is abusive within itself.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said in her 2009 TED Talk, ‘The danger of a single story’; “The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity.”

It is true that if you are named, then regardless of the findings of any investigation, your name will be forever synonymous with the single complaint. Whether it be in your workplace or industry, your personal life amongst friends and family, or in the media, if you or your alleged harassers are of public interest, it is nowhere near being fair. It doesn’t just go for tales of harassment either- Monica Lewinsky will always be the scandalous intern, and Schapelle Corby will always be the girl who took drugs to Bali in a body board bag. These stories have defined these women’s lives.

Data released by Shine Lawyers following a survey they conducted found that only one in five feel that they are able to make a complaint about the incident. Of those who do make a complaint, 18 per cent end up resigning. Many more are sacked or sidelined.

I cannot think of a single woman I know that doesn’t have a story. It’s often a story recounted with shame and humiliation, after a few wines and with the disclaimer that they don’t want anyone else to know.

And why would they?

These women have survived these instances of harassment and assault and moved on to bigger and better things. They do not deserve in any way, shape or form to be defined by the actions of their boss, their co-worker or a drunk idiot in a club. They should have the right to report the issue, have it addressed, and still be able to move about the world and the workplace without this single tale looming over them.

What do you think is the first thing that comes up when you google Catherine Marriott? It’s not an article about her being awarded West Australian Rural Woman of the Year.

No. The first page, and the second and third, are littered with Barnaby Joyce and tales of accusation.

So, while this is the status quo, we can’t expect women to feel comfortable or safe reporting instances of sexual harassment or assault. And given that we can’t fix a problem we can’t see, workplaces need to find multiple avenues of safe, secure redress. Because no one deserves to be defined by a single story.


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