Jan 12, 2018

Inside Tracey Spicer’s operation to expose the sexual harassment scourge

Tracey Spicer isn't just the face of the investigation into sexual misconduct: her process is methodical, supportive, and comprehensive.

Bhakthi Puvanenthiran — Associate editor

Bhakthi Puvanenthiran

Associate editor

As allegations of sexual misconduct continue to dominate headlines, one Australian journalist is most closely associated with the unstoppable deluge.

You may know that Tracey Spicer has endured death threats after becoming a constant public face for the investigation, but Spicer has also personally and single handedly combed through each query from alleged victims. They now number over 1000 and range from bullying to harassment and abuse.

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29 thoughts on “Inside Tracey Spicer’s operation to expose the sexual harassment scourge

  1. Richard Shortt

    I sense the scene is being set for the next Royal Commission.

  2. AR

    As bad as the situation is, are we not at risk of focusing on the results and consequences rather than the root cause?
    It was interesting how often copies of the Female Eunuch in wymin’s groups had the final chapter torn out – the bit about liberation being necessary for men as well.

  3. klewso

    Trial by media is a process fraught with booby traps and pitfalls.
    Where innocence is all too often simply “collateral damage”.

    1. AR

      The various mea culpas so far, mostly soz/notsozM/B>, make the Moscow show trials and Red Guard self criticism seem like sound jurisprudence.
      Auto-de-fe has something for everyone.

  4. Jack Robertson

    Spicer may not be to everyone’s taste but the process she is stewarding is becoming a society-shifting one. I’m sick of it; sick of men who can’t or won’t control their adolescent urges.

    And I’m wondering if the time has now come to seriously address changing the institutional bedrock of how we deal with allegations of sexual crimes. And especially all the ‘trickle down’ implications for we men’s sexual behaviour – I include some of my own less admirable moments past, albeit merely boorish and base rather than criminal, btw (I hope, at least) – that might arise as a result?

    Does anyone know of any serious legal examination of reversing the onus of proof/presumption of innocence in our judicial system when it comes to one-on-one sexual crime accusations? Or even establishing an entirely seperate Court, with separate witness and evidentiary protocols, allowable histories, etc to hear such cases?

    As things stand we start our examination of alleged sexual crimes from the assumption that the accused is innocent of it…which unavoidably demands that we start from the point of assuming that the alleged victim is, at best, mistaken in their accusation, or at worst, outright lying. When so often an outcome turns upon a ‘he said/he said’ character assessment by a judge/jury, with no other ungainsayable avenue ‘into’ an unwitnessed event (sexual crime so often involving intimacy/privacy); and when the ‘reasonable doubt’ factor so overwhelmingly defaults uncertain jurists towards not convicting an accused (even if they broadly believe the accuser)…then…why would it be so much more ruinously ‘unjust’ in overall outcome terms to reverse the presumptive start-point?

    I would argue that in the (vanishingly rare) truly vexatious accusations that would actually get all the way to court, proving one’s innocence ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ – especially if evidentiary protocols allowed a far wider array of circumstantial/behavioural histories (of both accused and accuser) to be presented – would be far easier for an unjustly accused than would the current abysmally net-unjust reverse (clearly so, given the many women who don’t even report sexual crimes to police, let alone go through to whole Court ordeal).

    To me the trickle-down effect upon the sexual behaviour of all us men generally but especially grubs like (by his own written admission) a Craig McLachlan (see the Molly Meldrum boasts, in his own odious telling of stilettos up the bum, and unwanted dick-waving) would be truly paradigm-shifting, in just the way women like Spicer/#MeToo et al are increasingly demanding would be immense; if, I mean, they knew they might end up in court having to actively ‘disprove’ their accused’s accusation, rather than simply relying on the loaded ‘default’ of their presumed innocence. If that weight of looming institutional bias made us men err on the side of sexual prudence, continence and highly-attuned empathy for the other more generally, rather than alleged victims having to swim against it (to add gross procedural and civic insult to criminal outrage)…why would this be so bad? Why would that scare us (mostly) men, so much?

    I’d be really keen to read a piece by someone like a Michael Bradley on this, Crikey, and to hear other Crikey commentators’ views, especially blokes. We make the assumption that the presumption of innocence is the ‘least worst’ start point to net justice being done. But…is it, in sexual crimes? Is it, really? I just cannot believe, from the accumulating daily tsunami of evidence – even fifty years on from second wave feminism – that it is. Is it really what the vast majority of men want, too? Does it really reflect our relationship with the women in our daily lives? Not a chance. If my niece, my mum, my sister…comes to me and says: that guy did ‘this’ to me…my start point is…to believe them. Not to presume they’ve got it wrong, or that they’re lying. It’s to…believe them. Why do our Court’s not do the same? The ordeal women have to get through just to get a damned charge laid is emotionally gruelling enough anyway; no-one does it lightly. Be stupidly? Maybe, but the effort required to get the Crown on board in a truly vexatious case must surely be Herculean – more so, I would reckon, if that reversal of presumption awaited prosecutors.

    It’s a valid query, legal experts, at least. Why can’t our Courts, too, start from where we each of us do, in our relationships with the women we know (or for that matter, any men who seek legal recourse for sexual assaults, abuses): believe them, as a matter of start-point presumption? Take at face value their ‘he said/she said’ telling of events, and work through exactly the same process we do now – just backwards? By going to the supposed perpetrator (any accused bully, really), and saying: if this isn’t true – and we’re satisfied there’s a Court-worthy case here – then it’s now up to you to show the Court ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that it isn’t, not your alleging victim, to show that it is.

    Why does that scare us (men espesh) so much? Why is it so wrong, any more potentially ‘unjust’, than our treatment of alleged sexual crimes now?

    1. Jack Robertson

      ‘Be stupidly’ is supposed to be ‘But ’recklessly, angrily, vindictively’? Spellcheck…go figure.

      1. Karen Hutchinson

        I think your suggestion is so simple in its common sense articulation to be ingenious and innovative beyond all practical application (and will).
        Someone else thought the reverse onus of proof was a good idea when they were legislating the Fair Work Act 2007……problem was they found other ways to shut me down before we ever got to the reverse onus bit (I think being a woman of no means was the trick utilised in this case).

    2. AR

      A model could be the Code Napolean accusatorial system, with an examining magistrate whose job is ascertain the truth of the matter, not between the histrionics of showboating barristers.
      Evan Whitton wrote enthusiastically, if unconvincingly for this little wood duck, about such a need for years.

      1. AR

        …duhhh, muscle memory, I meant “inquisitorial“, not accusatorial which is the current system of the Anglophone world.

    3. JQ

      Jesus, Jack, you’re seriously arguing that the jurisprudential standard be reversed to provide the presumption of guilt? Shall we simply dispense with the last thousand years of English Common Law?

      The divinity of the individual is the fundamental building block upon which Western Civilization was founded. Never mind! We can dispense with that now because a small proportion of men are sexual predators.

      You’d best get writing to the UN to have the Universal Declaration of Human Rights amended.


      1. Jack Robertson

        Don’t be hysterical, JQ. The hallowed ‘English Common Law’ changes all the time. Not so long ago it reckoned rape in marriage didn’t even exist, and wouldn’t allow women to even serve on juries. Much less as officials. Not much ‘dismal’ as juvenile mate.

        All I am proposing is a reversal of the start-point in sexual criminal cases. If you’re not guilty you have every opportunity to prove it thus, as you do now. What you won’t have is the default escape clause of it being enough for your counsel to fling sufficient spurious dust in a jury/judge’s eyes to cast ‘reasonable doubt’.
        Which is what alleged victims have to contend with on a core-definitive operational basis.

        What’s so scary about putting the ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ onus on the accused camp rather the accuser camp, JQ, when the he/she said thing might be all a case turns upon upon?

        Talk me through it, mate. Pace out the relative net injustice calculus. Propose alternatives.

        Because clearly, the status quo is. Just. Not. Acceptable. Chrs.

        1. Marilyn J Shepherd

          No, no and no. Trouble is if you go down this road for simple groping in he said, she said situations and automatically assume guilt you are asking for it to be done in other cases and that is 100% bullshit 100% of the time.

          Every person is innocent unless proved guilty is the only standard to stand by.

          1. mary wood

            With respect Marilyn I think a better standard would be “is it the truth” rather than “is the case proven” in all cases that reach court. This would mean that past behaviour would be available to the judge and jury, rather than the past behaviour of the person accusing another. Past behaviour is usually a good way to predict future behaviour, whether it be sexual harassment/assault or motor theft or any other crime.

          2. John Homan

            Peter Kennedy, Vice-President Royal College of Psychiatrists, commenting on the Kerr Haslam Inquiry into sexual abuse, said the report recognises that rumour and gossip can be grossly misleading (perhaps 2% are false). However, when rumour, gossip and withdrawn or unsubstantiated allegations refer to the same person repeatedly, the balance of probability grows that patients are being harmed.
            Although the standard of proof in these cases may be low, the trends become very clear, with consequently fewer flawed outcomes.

        2. JQ

          All you’re proposing is a fundamental reversal of the key tenet of individual human rights, that the individual has the right to the presumption of innocence.
          It’s clear that you’ve thought about the issue deeply, however don’t be so certain that changing something as complex and deeply rooted as the presumption of innocence would have nothing but benign results. It’s my understanding as a student of history that it’s much easier to make things worse than it is to make things better.
          I’m not proposing alternatives because it is you who has declared the status quo unacceptable. If an accusation has been made, with the potential consequences of that accusation being the loss of liberty of the accused, then the burden of proof must fall on the accuser, as it does now.
          I do not believe that our society is rife with sexual assault, and I also believe that the current definition of sexual harassment is unclearly defined. The recent high-profile cases are ugly reading, and it seems likely the accusers will be rightly vindicated, however a radical change to the structure of our laws is not the appropriate response.

          1. Jack Robertson

            It’s not the accuser upon whom the ‘burden of proof’ lies in a criminal case, JQ – it’s the Crown, and the Crown is governed by a set of Court rules and protocols that are historically dynamic, it’s own responsibility to observe, and neither does not nor need to pivot at all on any one or other of what you call a ‘universal’ bedrock principal, like ‘the presumption of innocence’.

            The way a Court functions is determined by itself. In a civil court there is no ‘accused’ nor any ‘presumption of innocence’. In the Family Court no-one is ‘on trial’. Children’s ‘Courts’ aren’t even courts at all anymore.

            I am suggesting that the interests of net greater justice in sexual crimes cases would be better served by a separate Court, with likewise its own tailored protocols, procedures, and, I see no reason why not, a reversal of the general presumption of doubt. This need have zero impact on anything other than the capacity of that court to extend greater net justice to sexual criminal cases, where so often the guys of the matter comes down to he said/she said…and thus, necessarily defaults with grotesque disproportion to benefit-of-doubt to the accused.

            And no matter we pretend otherwise: that amounts to institutional presumption AGAINST the alleged, and all too often highly likely in truth, victim.

            We have to do better. Perhaps AR’s frog model might work. Maybe the Danish one wot dunfervAssange…I don’t know. Would love to hear expert options. Yours too.

            Chrs man.

            that the accused’s Defence is simply not. The Crown cannot seek to discredit a defendant’s testimony by the introduction of information

    4. John Homan

      I wrote a paper on the ‘Misuse of power’ some time ago, which you may find interesting. The first version was as a submission to the Senate inquiry into ‘Violence, abuse and neglect of people with a disability’, in 2015. Web address below.

  5. Aitkin Jan

    The SMH printed this letter I wrote. I would love someone better at media than I am to take the idea further.
    Dear Editor

    Tracey Spicer has done a brilliant job lifting the rocks in Don Burke’s garden and will move on to other pests. But any female over the age of twelve will tell you that unwanted sexual attention is very hard to avoid. And from my long observation some women are better equipped and better placed to deal with it than others are.
    So, Tracey, we now need another campaign, perhaps #malepestcontrol, so that women can share their experiences and survival mechanisms and ways in which they turned the tables.
    We need a response to all this horror which is positive and useful even though it is too late to use weedkiller on Don Burke.

    Jan Aitkin

    1. Marilyn J Shepherd

      Sorry, horror? Horror is women and kids being traded to rot on Nauru, men being murdered on Manus, babies being jailed in Australia, aboriginal people being more likely to die in prison than get old, the stolen generations still suffering. A couple of pathetic gropers is not horror, it’s just a couple of pathetic old gropers.

      All of this country tonight and every night women will be bashed, abused, tortured, tormented, attacked and even killed in their own homes, children will be raped by family members with no recourse to justice at all.

      Bette Davis had the answer to lechery over 60 years ago, she would haul herself to her whole 5’2″ and tell the arseholes to go and fuck themselves.

      Let’s not over egg the pudding here, no charges have been laid against anyone, there have been no trials and there has been so suggestion of actual crimes.

  6. John Homan

    ‘Misuse of power’ has been of interest to me for many years, at an operationall as well a strategic level. The TED talk below has real potential I believe, as it maintains privacy, but automatically matches incidences with the same person, then enabling collaborative action being taken.
    John Homan

  7. Marilyn J Shepherd

    There is no deluge of anything, there are no actual crimes suggested by anyone, just dirty talk a bit of adult men groping adult women. A couple of sleaze bags does not a deluge make.

  8. dennis

    This is one of the most wonderful things that can happen in Australia

    1. Misty Donnelly

      Really? Even better than housing the homeless?

  9. John Richardson

    As I have said previously, I have no problem with abusers of any sort being publicly pilloried in our society – be they men or women – subject to their being afforded the presumption of innocence while the due processes of the law are undertaken by those appointed to attend to such matters.
    Having said that, I believe that the activities of some of the “me too” brigade pose a real threat to all our rights by bestowing the privilege to play judge & jury on the media & its self-appointed protagonists.
    Unproven & unsubstantiated allegations are not proof of guilt, other than in a society that has no respect for the rule of law or the rights of others, including the right to the presumption of innocence, until a legally constituted court of law might find otherwise.
    I find it informative that when publicly expressing the above views during this past week, I have, at times, encountered a stubborn, almost mindless spitefulness on the part of some people (men & women) who appear ready to trample the rights of anyone who might dare to speak-out against such ignorant & arrogant behaviour.
    At the same time, I’m happy to say that others (again both men & women) share my concern & do not display an attitude that automatically assumes guilt on the part of a man, just because he is a man & an allegation has been made.
    I also believe that if society permits this abuse of due process to continue, it will ultimately serve to damage the efforts of women to achieve the real equality that we should all be entitled to.

  10. J Shep

    While I also believe that it is vital we don’t fall down the rabbit hole of trial by media, I do believe that it is about time dark deeds are exposed to the light. I also have concerns about our society losing tolerance and a sense of humour and play (with respect of course) however, having suffered at the hands of bullies and sexist behaviour, I am thankful for the work Ms. Spicer is doing and it will be interesting to see this extended to other industries.
    Back in the eighties I worked as a nurse providing first aid on a building site. The interior of the lunch shed (which was also my lunch shed) was covered in the most graphic pornographic images of women and when I complained about this to the men and then management, I received a visit to the first aid shed one day. It was in the form a group of male construction crew who said to me “We’re not taking our posters down and if you complain to the union they’ll slap a fine on us, but you’ll have an accident because the crane loads right over the top of your shed”. I was young and naive and frightened so I didn’t say another word and left the job not long after that. Many years later after emerging bruised and fragile from an abusive relationship with two children to look after on my own, I went into business for myself in a small community. I was an object of abuse and bullying from the get go which only escalated after I suffered a personal tragedy. It was when I was at my lowest point that they really sunk in the boot and I do not believe much of it would ever have happened had I been a man in business. It ended with me leaving that community following the vicious and very public hate campaign that was waged against me. Although they did all they could to destroy me, I still run the business from afar and am now not afraid to stand up to anyone. I’ve toughened up over the years but kept my sense of humour well intact. In fact, I now see myself as Batfink – my wings being a shield of steel! So yeah, maybe it’s time the pendulum swung a little in our favour. And to Ms. Spicer I say, ‘You go, girl!’

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