Legislative Council: Wednesday, October 19, 2022


Matters of Interest

Media Reporting

The Hon. J.E. HANSON (15:22): I want to speak about something that has bothered me, and I know it has bothered many South Australians, in recent days. What am I talking about? I am glad you asked, honourable leader. I mean the tone of some media coverage surrounding an ongoing high-profile Canberra rape trial. Purely on the basis of some media coverage, any reasonable person would draw the conclusion that it is the accuser who is on trial, rather than the accused.

There has been a media focus on a notion posited by the defence and that notion is that the alleged victim made up the story of the sexual assault in order to save her own job—a notion which was then not only not properly reported but instead shockingly promoted in editorials in some sections of the media.

Just when I thought I could not be shocked again, we get the headline from The Advertiser in our own town, here in Adelaide. The headline read 'The Rape Divide'—a pun with rape as its subject. Imagine being the sort of person who so fundamentally misunderstands the grave seriousness of rape that they are prepared to make a joke about it on the front page of a major newspaper. There is an actual human and, quite possibly, a few actual humans who looked at that headline and thought, 'Yeah, that'll do.'

This disgraceful attitude arises from deeply ingrained misogyny and from a very simple and very regrettable fact: we still do not believe victims. It is more comfortable, apparently, to believe that women are liars first than to confront the fact that our culture has a sexual violence problem. It should not matter to the public whether the alleged victim has given a truthful account of events or not; that is not ours to determine—we have courts for that—but this does not stop sections of our media from weighing in.

Imagine being the sort of person who believes that whether or not an alleged victim chose to wear underwear on the night of the incident is relevant to the question of whether or not their account of the incident is credible. That garment that no-one sees should go to credibility in the same way as place, time, witnesses or consent.

Some people wonder why many sexual assault victims do not speak up, why many do not go to the police. Well, if anyone needed another sad illustration of why, here it is. The way the alleged victim in this high-profile case is being treated by sections of the Australian media perfectly illustrates why many victims of sexual assault hesitate to come forward. It is outrageous that in 2022 we have not progressed beyond public victim blaming.

Let's be real: I am not even the first member in this place to raise this problem. It has come up before, some might even say recently. Let's be clear: there is no behaviour that invites sexual assault. That notion is a harmful, victim-blaming fiction that sits in the narrative of the same sort of people who think it is okay to joke about rape on the front page of the newspaper.

Why is it still like this? Is it that too many people are like our former Prime Minister, who seemingly needed to imagine sexual violence happening to their own daughters in order to be capable of empathising with alleged victims. From that position, how can anyone who has a daughter be comfortable raising her to grow up and get around as a young adult in this community when there is no guarantee of her safety, but not only that, no guarantee of her being treated with respect in the event that she one day, tragically, could become the victim of sexual assault.

More than that, how can anyone be okay with the possibility of their daughter or their daughter's rape being the subject of a joke in a major newspaper? I do not know which editor made the decision to run that Advertiser headline and I do not know how many people gave it their tacit or explicit endorsement. I do know that we need to stop tolerating headlines and media coverage like that. I will not tolerate it, and if you are listening right now you should not tolerate it either.

This is a timely moment for the Albanese Labor government in partnership with the states and the territories, all of them, to pledge to end violence against women and children within a generation. I commend my federal colleagues, particularly Minister Rishworth and the Prime Minister, for taking leadership in this matter. It is timely. Sadly, clearly it is still necessary. For The Advertiser, I look forward to the apology—and do better.