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Reckoning with abuse in the Australian arts



'Nowhere is safe.' This is what I messaged some friends, along with the link to a news report about Paris Review editor Loris Stein resigning due to allegations of sexual misconduct. I sent it these friends because we had recently talked about an article called 'What do we do with the art of monstrous men?' about the conflict of consuming media from known sex offenders. The piece was published in the Paris Review.

Dressing roomIn the wake of recent events in Hollywood, the results of recent surveys concerning sexual assault and harassment in the Australian arts have been appalling. A Books+Publishing survey found that of the 214 respondents to the survey who worked in the publishing industry, roughly half reported harassment, and according to MEAA Actors Equity between one in seven people working in the theatre industry have been sexually assaulted. These levels of harassment also seem to be similarly prevalent in the Australian film, television and music industries.

This post-Weinstein domino effect feels like a reckoning of the creative industries, but in the increased wave of awareness, many are asking how we can possibly change the entrenched culture of harassment and discrimination.

We shouldn't forget that the creative industries are not the only ones that have recently faced scrutiny. In Australia, you don't have to look far into the past to see sexual harassment in the workplace is widespread. In the last few years there has been media focus on the Australian Defence Force, universities and the start-up tech industry — among others — and all have had recent complaints or investigations into incidents of rape and sexual harassment.

What can the Australian arts scene learn from their respective responses? After the ARHC Change the Course survey, Universities Australia put out a ten point action plan, which included training for staff and students and the development of a best practice guideline, 'On Safe Ground'. RMIT instituted a restorative justice program, while Monash University has created the Safer Community Unit and the Respect.Now.Always app, which directs students to support services.

The ADF's Defence Abuse Response Taskforce did address many cases and provide renumeration. But it also expired in 2016, leaving many victims who were late to report or unaware that it even existed unable to seek financial compensation that they needed. And despite statements from industry leaders, tech companies are still yet to take major steps in addressing reports on sexual misconduct.

Obviously, the needs for each industry will be different, but what seems unilaterally true is that continued pressure from the community keeps schools and workplaces accountable. It can be far too easy for companies and industries to write media releases, but enact no lasting change. Once the media-coverage heat is off, the hard work will need to begin: a combination of creating an industry standard with enforcing a localised zero-tolerance culture at each individual company.


"It will be easy to get desensitised and feel that this is too much to change. But that attitude is what helped these toxic cultures survive this long."


Transparency is also key when addressing victims' complaints and instituting change. It also means explicitly talking about what employee expectations are and training people to recognise the signs of harassment. This means giving honest and reflective data about the rate of sexual misconduct and informing people of how to report and what support there is in place. Simply, if people don't know what a company's stance and policies are, they are less likely to report.

The reality is that we are in the beginning stages of this reckoning across Australia and the world. These are just the first steps. Sexual harassment and violence are systemic problems and changing the culture of these industries will need long term investment. It will be easy to get desensitised and feel that this is too much to change.

But that attitude is what helped these toxic cultures survive this long. We need to make sure that with these new waves of people speaking out, we don't assume media exposure has been enough, and slide back into complacency.

Right now, nowhere feels safe. But then again, it hasn't been safe for a long time. There have been many articles wondering whether the #MeToo movement will stay alive. Perhaps the actual hashtag will fade, but its relevance won't.



Neve MahoneyNeve Mahoney is a student at RMIT university. She has also contributed to Australian Catholics and The Big Issue.

Topic tags: Neve Mahoney, sexual harassment, sexual abuse, Harvey Weinstein, arts industry



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Existing comments

Where to begin? Book of Genesis? The Hebrew intellectuals in an effort to explain the existence of pain, suffering and sin in their community resorted to and modified the myths and legends they had absorbed from Babylonia and Canaan and elsewhere. The respective roles of males and females among the fauna, men and women among the human species, were fundamental. Man exercises the roles of leader and provider (and blame shifter) and woman is follower and breeder (and bearer of the monthly curse). So the problem of men behaving badly has existed for millennia. Different learned people (mostly men) - religious leaders, philosophers, doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists, etc - have addressed the problem. I was very impressed by the work of Alfred Adler (1970 -1937) when I was studying Pedagogy in the 1950s. Unfortunately, in my opinion, Adler's fundamental notion of the absolute helplessness of the human infant, as distinct with the survival instincts of most non-rational fauna, led to feelings of inferiority to various degrees. Helping children to cope and react in an appropriate way as they aged was primarily a role for both parents and later educators. I can offer no solution for mature(?) men.

Uncle Pat | 14 December 2017  

When I hear the words "we can do whatever we like" I know it's time to walk away in order to survive. Unfortunately accountability is often seen from the victor's perspective ... in the meantime let's turn our gaze and raise our children to speak up and, as adults, let's be the rock underneath their often punished integrity.

Mary Tehan | 14 December 2017  

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