This is the final part of #MeTooWhere? Crikey’s examination of the past, present and future of the Me Too movement. Read the full series here.
A couple of weekends ago I went to a small house party. It was lovely — a massive cheeseboard, Jenga, wine, and a diverse group of interesting people to talk to. But among those people there were some unsavoury characters.
The party went late into the night and as the alcohol flowed, the behaviour of several of the men changed. They groped and grinded on women the second backs were turned. Most, including me, told them where to stick it (causing one to leave the party red faced). But others struggled to rebuff their advances, pushing them away only for the men to come back more leery than ever.
I took one man aside and told him several people had noticed he was groping women who were barely able to walk, let alone consent. I suggested he leave the women alone. He became defensive, aggressive, and told me to “mind my own business”. Several others, including my friends and the host, called out his behaviour. I left the party before him, and don’t know how the night ended.
I don’t know if what I did was right. I don’t know if I did enough. I don’t know if I stopped anything from happening and I don’t know if it was my job to. What I do know is that it was my business; it was everyone at that party’s business.
What continues to surprise me as more and more horrid allegations of sexual assault emerge is just how surprised some people react. In an interview with Nine’s Tracy Grimshaw last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Brittany Higgins’ allegations of rape at Parliament House had caused him and society to “deal with some real home truths”.
“This has taken me deeper into this issue than I have appreciated before,” he said, prompting Grimshaw to retort: “Where have you been?”
The security guard who saw Higgins so drunk she could barely put her shoes on, then found her naked and alone the next morning. Ministers cleaning couches and erasing evidence. Man after man shocked at how many stories are coming out.
It’s Morrison’s business. It’s the security guard’s business. While it must be up to the victim to decide how they proceed with a complaint, it’s up to everyone to make sure they are safe to do so.
When we focus on moving the Me Too movement forward, this is what we must focus on. Everyone’s safety and wellbeing is everyone’s business. How each and every one of us functions is everyone’s business.
Despite having been pretty cynical about the Me Too movement in this series, I don’t want to detract from what has been achieved since it began. Laws gagging sexual assault survivors have been changed. Sarah Hanson-Young won a defamation action against former senator David Leyonhjelm after he made sexist comments about her. Some schools and universities are introducing courses on consent. Female politicians across party lines are forming a group, Women for Election Australia, to push for a better parliamentary workplace. There’s a growing intolerance to those who perpetrate sexual violence.
But inequality is still rife in Australia. Women of colour are more likely to be victims of violence, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people face higher rates of poverty, incarceration and police brutality. Pay equity has gone backwards and women dominate casual and part-time roles, leaving them with less pay and less superannuation. Advancing the safety and equality of society must be on the forefront of everyone’s mind. By doing this, we can also address the culture of sexual violence.
Keep rallying. Keep fighting. Most importantly, stay informed.
Look at policies and laws which disproportionally affect one part of the population, like the minimum age of criminal responsibility in Australia, the lack of support for women on visas escaping domestic violence, and the lack of funding for key support services.
Write to your local MP and ask them what they plan to do about sexual violence. Support organisations that deal with these matters.
As the movement’s founder Tarana Burke has said, “Me Too is a movement, not a moment.”
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au.