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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.

Peter Fray

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Ng GJB
Ng GJB
2 years ago

I thought the greens were actually started as a party to highlight environmental concerns. Reality is they are just another brand of power hungry manipulators, prepared to use and discard anybody in the pursuit of power and influence. Sorry you had to learn this in such a horrible manner Holly.

Howard
Howard
2 years ago

“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.” This pretty well sums up the dilemma for the Greens. A sort of chicken and the egg scenario. Don’t have the resources to devote to handling supporter grievances and can only gain those resources by winning seats. The moral of the story? People in politics with complaints (genuine or not), need to find other ways to resolve their grievances that isn’t to the detriment of the party whose policies they support. Otherwise they are just supporting the goals of their opponents. This is the harsh reality of politics.

D
D
2 years ago
Reply to  Howard

Harsh realities should *never* be an excuse for ignoring criminal behaviour. For shame!

Howard
Howard
2 years ago
Reply to  D

Not suggesting they be ignored. My advice is there are more appropriate ways for them to be handled. A police investigation is one, as already suggested, rather than as an unsuccessful internal party affair.

Tene
Tene
2 years ago
Reply to  Howard

No excuse! A political party can be compared to a Church, the welfare of the members should be top priority.
If churches had not tried to ‘protect’ their name, then thousands of children may not have been abused.

Josephus
Josephus
2 years ago
Reply to  Tene

The moral then, for the Churches and for parties, is to go to the police at once, then let the Courts sort it out. Yes there are miscarriages of justice and there is corruption since no system is perfect, but but at least the police will be disinterested, ie cannot benefit from either possible cover ups or from undeclared sectional motives on the part of interested parties.

Coralien
2 years ago
Reply to  Josephus

Yes. That is the moral of the story, thanks Josethus you’re spot on.

Let’s get back to some sanity.

His Holiness
His Holiness
2 years ago

All organisations must handle sexual misconduct and harassment matters responsibly and to ensure that powerful individuals who abuse their positions are held accountable. Sadly, there are very few organisations that do it well and the Greens are no exception here.

To link the handling of sexual misconduct issues in the party to the dispute between the old guard of the NSW Greens and the more pluralistic new generation with is a grubby exercise in smearing one’s political opponents.

BunyipBluegum
BunyipBluegum
2 years ago
Reply to  His Holiness

Yes I agree. I think there are two separate issues in play here. The issue of sexual assault is a serious one and has clearly been badly mishandled in several cases by the Greens, for which they must take responsibility and seek to change their procedures. At the same time, there is an attempt here to conflate tolerance of sexual violence with a particular political viewpoint within the party, a proposition which I find both mischievous and offensive.

Penny Wright
Penny Wright
2 years ago
Reply to  BunyipBluegum

I am also concerned that two separate issues are being raised and conflated here. My understanding is that, as this was a NSW incident, the complaint would have been made and dealt with (or not dealt with) by independent and internal NSW party processes. Sexual violence and abuse is reprehensible and should be dealt with expeditiously, fairly, respectfully and effectively. It sounds like this did not occur here and accountability issues should be addressed.

But if, as I would expect, neither the national management body of the Greens – nor the Federal Parliamentary wing, were involved, how is it relevant to raise issues about Richard di Natale’s leadership or seek to recruit other ideological differences in discussing a failure of a state party’s processes?

Howard
Howard
2 years ago
Reply to  Penny Wright

Well stated. Serious sexual misconduct issues should be dealt with appropriately by the relevant authorities and not exploited to denigrate non involved parties. If the individual complainant is not satisfied with an internal process they have the opportunity to take their complaint to an appropriate external authority, whether that be the police or an ombudsman. Trial by media is never helpful to anyone.

TheRabidHamster
TheRabidHamster
2 years ago

Surely sexual assault should be a Police matter…..so why wasn’t it?
The Catholic church has been rightly condemned for exactly the same behaviour.
It’s not too late….go to the Police yourself….Report the bastard now!

Peter Grant
Peter Grant
2 years ago

It is a shame that the Greens have lost a young and energetic member due to the lack of interest in handling the complaint. I do call you out on the Greens as a “social” movement…for many supporters it is the environmental policies not the social policies that they vote for, especially in regional areas. Capitalism is to blame for so much environmental destruction that there is a need for an anti-capitalist/progressive social movement in politics at the moment but not in the Greens…as you said they are about votes now.