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Are the Greens ignoring sexual assault for the ‘greater good’ of the party?

The mishandling of sexual violence complaints is pervasive and symptomatic of a broader political shift in the Greens.

Richard Di Natale Greens sexual assault

Recent revelations of sexual misconduct allegations against members and representatives of the Greens are regrettably and devastatingly unremarkable. Sexual violence happens inside the Greens, just as it likely happens inside most organisations. What is remarkable, however, is that the Greens so egregiously failed — and continue to fail — to properly respond to allegations of sexual violence, including my own, against members of the party.

The Greens’ institutional response to sexual violence is just one illustration of a dangerous political logic taking hold in the party, one that values electoral success and vote-winning above principle, including the principle of justice for survivors of sexual assault.

Those who report sexual assault in the party are cast as troublemakers who must be silenced, no matter the cost to their wellbeing, to justice or to the safety of others in the party.

At a Greens event in April 2017, a fellow Greens member had me backed up against a wall and was forcing his hand inside my pants despite me repeatedly and clearly saying “no” and “stop”. Upon reporting this indecent assault to the party, I was belittled, silenced and victim-blamed. Meanwhile, the perpetrator continued to spew vile sexism and rape apologetics in Greens spaces, and was elevated to several leadership positions within the party.

At the time of the assault I was co-convenor of both the NSW Young Greens and the Parliamentary Liaison Committee. I’d been an active Greens member for several years and was deeply embedded in the party. The assault — but more significantly, the party’s response to my reporting of the assault — led to my gradual withdrawal from Greens spaces and my eventual resignation in February 2018.

My experience was not an outlier; the mishandling of sexual violence complaints is pervasive and symptomatic of a broader political shift in the Greens.

The Greens began as a parliamentary arm of grassroots social movements, designed to use the institutions of elections and parliaments to platform and resource the on-the-ground campaigns that create genuine, lasting social change: the principal goal was never parliamentary power for its own sake.

In recent years, there has been a marked shift from the party leadership towards a one-dimensional political view that social change is imposed from the top down by parliaments, and brought about solely via electoral gain.

There has been a re-orientation towards “professionalism”, an attempt to chase an imagined electorally safe “sensible centre” of politics, and a perception that once enough capitulation has happened and enough seats have been won as a result, that the party can somehow then return to its principles and do good.

Under this logic, the poor institutional response to reporting of sexual violence makes sense: the Greens preserving its reputation and winning more seats is a “greater good” that must be prioritised. Tarnishing the Greens’ reputation by acknowledging the sexual violence problem within the party could drive voters away from the Greens and towards parties whose tangible impact on the world is far “worse” than a few instances of sexual assault.

When a small group of Greens members — myself included — made public a left-wing pushback against the right-ward shift of the party, party leader Richard Di Natale had no qualms in calling for our resignation via the media.

“If the authors of this ill-thought through manifesto are so unhappy with Greens policies, perhaps they should consider finding a new political home,” he said.

Just months later, my request that a perpetrator of sexual violence be removed from Greens spaces was laughed off as unreasonable by those in power. It is an abysmal reflection on the party’s new political outlook that those who suggest the party should orient towards anti-capitalist politics are deemed more unfit to be members of the party than a perpetrator of sexual violence.

The woman who mishandled my own sexual assault complaint seemed overworked and over-stressed, with little understanding of basic concepts around consent, sexual violence, and trauma.

Budgets are tight for the Greens; suggestions for reform that draw on party resources for non-electoral goals face, at best, apathy, if not significant pushback.

The choice to allocate adequate resources to things like training and staff hours specifically to deal with reports of sexual violence, counselling services for survivors, or facilitated discussions and workshops that explore consent and the structural underpinnings of sexual violence, would be a political one requiring a particular political orientation that does not prioritise electoral gain above all else.

Some of these things are now, begrudgingly and inadequately, being carried out, but it is deeply unfair and unsustainable that most of the work on this to date in the party has been done by survivors themselves and people in demographics most likely to experience sexual violence.

So, where to from here?

Significant responsibility for tackling sexual violence in the party falls upon those high up in the party bureaucracy, in paid staff roles, and in elected positions.

However, it’s up to all Greens members to initiate grassroots organising to dismantle the structural sexism that permits sexual violence to occur at the rates it does.

It’s up to all members to question the prevailing logic that compromising on principle in order to win seats in parliament is the way to bring about social change.

For as long as this logic stands, the party will become increasingly unsafe and unprincipled.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.

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