The Politics of Sexual Assault

The news these last few weeks has been dominated by various sexual indiscretions allegedly committed by politicians and those close to politics in Canberra.

There are many decent men and women in politics and being a politician is a demanding and testing career for both men and women. And it is easy, but wrong, to smear all of them with the brush of sexual misbehaviour or indeed with any widespread misbehaviour.

Yet many of those that populate these privileged inner circles of politics, from my experience, are not typical of broader society. They are in some ways a cloistered group driven by political ambition and often short of life experience except for their continual immersion in partisan politics with little appreciation of the mundane worlds of those who manage to get by with toil and live in the suburbs with what this elite would term unsophisticated ideas.

Political staffers can often be arrogant, assuming the authority of the ministers and members they serve. They come to believe that winning the day to day political jousts that will dominate the evening news is more important than advancing policy that might be beneficial to the populace at large. They are often called “political advisers” which term seems to confirm undeservedly that they have some particular wisdom.

Unfortunately the sexual indiscretions of a few politicians and these uncouth political hangers-on, instead of spurring us on to create safer workspaces in the parliament, have resulted in a rush to play partisan politics. It has supercharged the political blame game. There is no doubt in my mind that such indiscretions are not confined to one side of politics. Whilst the opposition has rushed to condemn the actions of the politicians and their staff of the government it is inevitable that as times go by there will be equally sordid revelations of the activities of the opposition and its entourage. Their focussing so strongly on these prurient concerns almost guarantees it.

I suppose the two triggering events were largely the ABC’s relentless pursuit of Attorney General, Christian Porter, over historical rape allegations and the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins in the office of a government minister. Since then, emboldened by the positive attention of the press and the mindless machinations of social media, others have flocked to add their sordid stories to the pile-on. Watching the footage of the recent march on Parliament House it became apparent that the welfare of women for many of the participants took second place to an opportunity to impugn the Morrison government. (I will have a little more to say about these specific cases later in the essay.)

Although the predominant issue here in the appalling treatment of women, is the crass attitudes of predatory males, it is not the only issue that should be addressed.

What I find most appalling is the suggestion that politicians (presumably only the males) should be given training about the need to avoid indulging in sexual harassment. Surely any suggestion that an aspiring politician had such tendencies should preclude preselection.

Even worse we have those now advocating that schools should be giving young people training on the necessity of obtaining consent before indulging in sexual intercourse. This is a blatant admission that there are irredeemable flaws in the moral fabric of our society. We learn best not from exhortation but from demonstration. Have the parents of Australia completely abrogated their responsibilities? I learnt respect for women in my family environment. That’s the way I was brought up and it was much more convincing to see that ethos demonstrated in the family home than it ever could have been from being taught in the classroom.

I was brought up in a much more naïve community than today’s promiscuous society. Of course in those times sex wasn’t discussed as openly as today and I think it has been a positive thing that today’s children are more aware of human biology and the nature of sexual relationships than those of my generation.

But what we seemed to lose in this transformation that led to today’s promiscuousness is respect for women. In my father’s eyes probably the worst sin I could have committed was to have been disrespectful to a girl or a woman. My father was not usually a violent man but as a young boy I remember him knocking down one of my uncles because that uncle had struck my aunt. Now I am not advocating that we should return to an era like this. On the other side of the ledger women were not allowed to drink in public bars, they were required to resign their jobs in the public service on getting married, and on getting married had to make a vow of obedience to her husband.

Most ordinary Australians are more interested in their economic well-being, the educational opportunities for their children, their health care and many other things than gender politics. But left-wing academics, the media and those besotted with identity politics keep assailing us with dogmatic diatribes on the subject. The obsession with gender politics has now resulted in bizarre outcomes. The parliament, instead of going about the business of governing is distracted by the machinations of sexual politics.

Genetics is really a lottery that nobody seems to win. Most people will complain about some of their genetic inheritance – they are not tall enough, they have protruding ears, they are balding, they wish their breasts were bigger, they would like to have blue eyes instead of brown, or whatever. And some people are uncomfortable with their biologically allotted gender. But because of identity politics some choose to use their gender as a weapon and we have seen ample evidence of this in the current controversy.

In bygone days sexual relations were seen as a private issue. Journalists who covered politics turned a blind eye to the sexual peccadilloes of the (mainly male) politicians. There is a long list of prominent politicians whose sexual exploits would have offended generally accepted public norms but who were spared the embarrassment of having their transgressions made public.

But our culture has changed. We live in a far more promiscuous and sexualised society than we did a generation ago. Modern contraception has substantially lifted the constraints on women and girls enjoying sexual relationships devoid of the fears of pregnancy. As our society grows more secular the restraints of religious mores have fallen away also.

As well marriage is now delayed. A generation ago many people married in their late teens of early twenties. This is no longer the case. Along with this young people are becoming sexually active at an earlier age. Consequently, if they so desire, young men and women can have multiple sexual partners before they choose to commit to a long-term stable partner, if indeed they do so. And it seems that on-line dating apps facilitate the connection of men and women purely for sexual gratification. And of course we mustn’t underestimate the widespread availability of pornography.

As a result of this the sex act instead of being held as something special has become commonplace imbued with ordinariness that barely warrants comment. I suspect that this is one of the reasons that rape goes unreported.

Yet at the same time the sexual activities of prominent celebrities, including politicians, have become fair game for journalists.. So we are faced with a strange dichotomy. While on the one hand liberal sexual practices are rampant, the media seems unduly fascinated by the salacious activities of those in public life. So although in general our attitudes to sex are far more liberal than they were a generation ago our public attitudes towards celebrities, including politicians, are more condemnatory than they were when social standards were more puritanical.

Radical feminism has gleefully seized upon this issue, not with any real effort to advance the cause of women but to embarrass a conservative government that they despise. As I said earlier the marches that were held supposedly to advance the cause of women were really a blatant attack on the Morrison government. Such people have selectively focussed their wrath to undermine the government rather than progress the cause of distressed women.

As Jacinta Price so eloquently points out, indigenous women are subject to horrendous abuse resulting in their hospitalisation 35 times more often than non-indigenous women but the radical feminists don’t marshal their resources in support of this worthy cause. There are no marches on parliament to protest these injustices. These are Australia’s most vulnerable women but the radical feminists choose to ignore them.

One can’t help but think that the protests of these feminists are more about political posturing than the welfare of oppressed women.

For some feminists as well there has been a rush to use the events in Canberra not so much to protect women and girls but to demonise men and boys. Last week, for example, we heard of a female principal of a regional High School who after having students watch a video about sexual consent insisted that all the boys in the school apologise to the girls to atone for the behaviour of males. Some of these boys were as young as 12 years old! Understandably many of the boys’ parents were incensed by this illogical and unjust demonisation of their sons.

Now let us return to the triggering events mentioned at the beginning of this essay.

The first of these was initiated by the ABC intimating on numerous occasions that a prominent government minister had been accused of rape when he was teenager.

Kate, the woman who alleged Christian Porter raped her 33 years ago when she was 16 and he was 17, took her own life in June 2020. A so-called “dossier” written by Kate was circulated to prominent politicians by Kate’s friends who were obviously intent on prosecuting Porter. Yet Kate’s parents were reluctant to pursue the issue because they believed her mental instability rendered her claims unreliable. There has also been a suggestion that part of her psychiatric treatment may have involved therapy that involved the discredited practice of attempting to access “repressed memories”. In such treatment women are encouraged to “remember” sexual indiscretions of males even when there is little physical evidence to support such “memories”.

Porter acted to identify himself as the accused rapist. He stood down as Attorney General and took medical leave to attempt to regain his equanimity in the face of the unproven accusations.

But many of those who came out in support of Kate’s allegations refused to acknowledge that there was any likelihood that his accuser might have been mistaken or deluded and demanded his resignation. In this regard they violated the most fundamental concept in law – that we should assume innocence until guilt is proven. In essence, because they wanted Porter to be guilty they acted as though he was, without significant evidence to support their assertion.

The Prime Minister has quite rightly stood by Porter in the absence of concrete proof that Porter has committed the alleged crime. The vociferous feminists maintain that in doing so Morrison is condoning rape even when that rape is unproven. They are implying that the unhinged allegations of an unfortunate woman with mental issues should preclude any protestations of innocence by Porter. Whilst I feel greatly for the sufferings that Kate might have endured because of her unhelpful view of the world, I am most reluctant to accept that her point of view should be given precedence over others. There is an inherent danger in the catchcry that women who insist that they have been violated should always be believed.

Now I don’t know whether Porter is guilty or not. But I fervently believe he is entitled to be considered innocent until proved otherwise. That popular media has already judged him guilty has no foundation that I am aware of and should not preclude him from availing himself of submitting himself to proper justice under the due processes of the law. And certainly he has been treated differently from Bill Shorten who had to contend with an historic rape allegation a few years ago.

The second triggering event was the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins in the office of the then Defence Industry Minister, Linda Reynolds. After a night of drinking, this young woman, accompanied a political staffer, went back to Parliament House where they were surprisingly granted entrance by security and then Higgins was purportedly raped by the staffer who left her naked in an inebriated state in the minister’s office.

There can be no denying that the male staffer took advantage of Higgins. If it was indeed a rape then he was definitely the perpetrator and she the victim. Moreover it was absolutely reprehensible that he left her naked and vulnerable in the minister’s office. His actions were unforgiveable.

But I will doubtlessly incur the wrath of the feminists by asserting that if Brittany Higgins was raped she certainly was guilty of contributory negligence. No, I am not blaming her, but I am just pointing out that her behaviour enabled an opportunity for a predatory male to take advantage of her.

This is not victim blaming, it is just a plea to women and girls to acknowledge that this is not an ideal world and there are men out there who will take advantage of them.

It is all very well to assert that women should not have to fear men. They should be able to walk the streets alone at night. They should be able to wear clothing that displays their most alluring feminine attributes. They should have no fear that someone they feel some attraction for after a casual meeting might seek to rush to a sexual relationship. And in an ideal world that would be the case. But we don’t live in an ideal world. Most caring parents would give their daughters prudent advice on how to minimise the likelihood of being taken advantage of by men. Brittany Higgins foolishly ignored such advice. This does not excuse the alleged rapist and I hope he is held to account for his heinous act, but it is hard not to argue that she could have been more judicious in her own behaviour.

But overall it seems apparent that politicians and their staff are demonstrating behaviour in their workplace that would not be tolerated in most other Australian workplaces and that must change. And while for brevity I will not elaborate, the rush by some to have the Liberal Party impose quotas on the number of female politicians it has is not the answer.

4 Replies to “The Politics of Sexual Assault”

  1. A very good essay, thank you Ted. At each of several famous court cases I either disagreed with the initial verdict or just merely hoped that the accused was getting a fair trial. The three cases were/are Lindy Chamberlain, where I never, ever believed her guilty beyond reasonable doubt, Cardinal Pell, where I had no idea of his guilt or innocence but just hoped he was getting a fair trial, and now Christian Porter, where I have same opinion as for Pell.

    What is driving the accusers? In the case of the cops, perhaps they have so many failed prosecutions (when they genuinely know or believe the accused is “no good” and only gets off with good lawyers) they lose track of reality. For the press is it simply about selling news at any cost?

    I wish Christian Porter well in his defamation case against the ABC if it helps stop this abhorrent misuse of public trust by Mainstream Media.

  2. Ted. I completely agree. I followed the Cardinal Pell case closely for one reason. If someone claimed I was inappropriate with a young boy while at my son’s footy carnival in (say) 2000, how could I defend myself? When we don’t uphold the rule of law, the mob rules. And history has proved that always turns our badly.
    Thank you for sharing.

  3. Hi Ted, Thanks for your article. I can only imagine the pile-on it would receive if it were published in the mainstream press (SMH e.g.) When I was a young woman – early 20’s – my parents (and Dad in particular) stressed the importance of sensible drinking, so that my self-respect could be maintained. Mum used to say about my dress on occasion, “that won’t pass the Dad-test!” I see such a lot of young girls today, drinking to excess, using foul language. When in that condition, how can they possibly demand respect, and how could they possibly give considered “consent?” So, I agree with you – and where are the parents in all this? Surely this must start at home – this upholding of respectful values.

    As far as Parliament House is concerned, why on earth, when two young “advisors” both excessively drunk, ask to be let into a Minster’s office (Defence, no less!) at 2a.m. in the morning, security let them? Something is terribly wrong with security policies there!

    Things are beginning to perturbate amongst those of us who are not of “Woke” tendency. We need to speak out, get a voice. A loud one! Not allow ourselves to be cancelled out and shouted down. As a woman I am angry at constantly being portrayed as a victim. I am not a victim, and learned long ago, that if I wanted to get anywhere in my life, then a bit of effort and persistence would be a useful way to approach things. And when it doesn’t turn out – pick yourself up, and have another go. I have been blessed to have had both male and female mentors along the way, and see my role these days as offering similar support to younger women.

    Thanks Ted.

  4. Agree with the thread of your essay, Ted, having seen my own family divided by malevolent, false accusations by a partner who married into the family. In hindsight, the partner came from a family that fostered division down generations.
    Like Porter, the man accused was stunned, as the accusation had no basis in fact, and came out of the blue. It is impossible to prove innocence in such cases. The evil done lives on in a family which was previously nurtured in love and inclusion. It is a tragic waste of life and joy.
    Context is important for any quality of understanding. For the like of me I can’t fathom why Brittany Higgins would not own responsibility for conduct unbecoming to make such a fuss years later.

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