what Australia should learn from Harvey Weinstein

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Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, who faces many serious sexual harassment claims.

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Harvey Weinstein’s scalp is not enough.

The much-lauded American film producer is still rich. He’s still powerful. The women he hurt are none of those things. It’s unlikely they ever will be.


Weinstein threatens lawsuit after NYT story

Oscar-winning movie producer Harvey Weinstein threatened to sue the New York Times after it reported that he had been the target of sexual harassment complaints.

Sexual harassers still get away with sexual harassment, every day. Their victims are too frightened to complain and the structures that should support complainants are poorly conceived and the policies to protect poorly executed.

Whether it’s among film producers, surgeons, members of the armed forces, lawyers, labourers, teachers or retailers, sexual harassment is endemic to our culture. We live in the age of alt-misogyny, where hatred of women has hardened as women become less compliant. You only need to read the turgid rubbish disguised as commentary from failed insiders to recognise how ingrained this attitude is.

You can also tell from the initial response by the board of Weinstein’s company exactly how badly victims are treated. The board waited until commercial pressure was applied to sack him. Rupert Murdoch backed Roger Ailes for some time before the number of sexual-harassment allegations against him made Ailes’ conduct impossible to ignore – and then provided him a $40 million payout. Channel Seven finally made noises about improving its treatment of women only after damning audio of the way in which then cadet journalist Amy Taeuber was dismissed.

For decades, we’ve been told women should behave differently, that we shouldn’t ever be alone with these men, that, in some way, we were asking for it. That we cooperated.

As former sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick told the Women World Changers Conference in Melbourne on Monday: “Transformation does not happen by ‘fixing’ the women. It happens when we ‘fix’ the system.”

In the short term, we must fix the men the system produces. The time has come and men must account for their behaviour. Yet some are still reluctant, confirmed by news this week that the online bullying module mandated by the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons only has a 65 per cent compliance rate at this stage.

Just a reminder that the very existence of this module only came about because female surgeons were brave enough to complain about sexual harassment – exposed by surgeon Gabrielle McMullin in 2015 when she reluctantly advised female surgeons to accept sexual harassment if they wanted to keep their careers.

So what will the surgeons’ college do to punish those who don’t comply? Its vice-president, Cathy Ferguson, tells me there will be a tough response to those who don’t complete the module.

“If you are not compliant, you are not registerable,” Ferguson says. She also acknowledges there have been internal complaints that the module does not focus sufficiently on sexual harassment. She is horrified when I tell her that female surgeons are still being told to withhold complaints.

The college has received 126 reports so far this year and, of those, five are about sexual harassment; and Ferguson understands there are cases of which no one is ever notified. It’s worth noting the college finally instituted a proper complaints system so those that who did report would have a process.

Of course, we don’t need to rely on industry bodies or the compliant folk in human resources departments. The Australian Human Rights Commission oversees a robust system and it experienced a 13 per cent spike in both sexual harassment complaints and in complaints under the Sex Discrimination Act during the last annual reporting period.

How to progress? For surgeons, perhaps the threat of deregistration will be enough, although surely the fact that sexual harassment is illegal should already be a motivator. Apparently not. McMullin suggests a black box, much like those found in cockpits, in every operating theatre – to catch whatever happens in a public setting.

But Liz Molloy, a professor of work-based learning at the University of Melbourne, says education works to change the culture. She and her team in the medical school taught both the online module and the face-to-face workshops for the surgeons’ college, and says the response has been positive. She didn’t need to say that – the surgeons I spoke to on Monday were praised the sessions as practical, “not saccharine”, “not useless”. The roleplay workshops require participants to get “hot and itchy”, which forces them be engaged.

Yet Molloy is all too aware of the participants who come with both their minds closed and their arms crossed. “There’s always a rotten strawberry in the punnet,” she says – but her view is that they are isolated from the main culture, which is being forced to change through education.

And if education doesn’t get you, those who experience harassment and those who support them will. Sara Charlesworth of RMIT is one of Australia’s leading researchers into sexual harassment. I speak to her every time we have a case like this; we seem to talk a lot.

She says the good news about cases like Weinstein’s is that the complaints will eventually come out. “It speaks to some kind of hope that [those like Weinstein] will be held to account,” she says.

But organisations need to act before they are pushed into a corner, she says. “Take those individual complaints seriously.”

Jenna Price is an academic at the University of Technology Sydney and a Fairfax Media columnist.

Twitter: @JennaPrice

Facebook: JennaPriceJournalist

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