Voiceover - Welcome to this webinar on what constitutes wise-practice media reporting on sexual harassment, presented by Our Watch. We will begin the webinar shortly.
Nina Funnell - Okay, good afternoon, everybody. My name's Nina Funnell, I'm coming in from beautiful Darkinjung Country today and wherever you are, I'd like to acknowledge the Traditional Elders of the land and pay my respects to Elders, past and present. My pronouns are she/her and I'll be inviting panellists later on today to introduce themselves and to share their pronouns too. So, today we're going to be discussing the impacts of media reporting on sexual harassment and explore the complex decisions that journalists must make when crafting these stories and trying to balance up the needs of Newsroom and the needs of sources or survivors. In a moment, I'll be introducing Wurundjeri Elder Aunty Georgina Nicholson. Now, unfortunately she's ill today, but she has managed to do a pre-recorded Welcome to Country for us.
Georgina Nicholson - Thank you everyone. Hello everyone. My name is Georgina Nicholson and I am a proud Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung woman, Wurundjeri being part of the Kulin Nation. The Kulin Nation consists of five clans, I believe, and they are Wurundjeri, Wathaurung, Taungurung, Boonwurrung and Dja Dja Wurrung. Wurundjeri being all of Melbourne CBD and surrounding country, extending north to the Great Dividing Range, east to Mount Baw Baw, south to Mordialloc Creek and west to the mouth of Werribee River. So, I would like to acknowledge and pay my respect to our ancestors who walked and lived on this land as free spirits for over 60,000 years. I would also like to acknowledge our Elders, past, present, and our young ones that are emerging, which there is quite a few of them. I would also like to acknowledge all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people here with us today. And I pay my respects to you all and to your Elders. I am very pleased to be doing the Welcome for this event. Thank you very much for having this ancient custom and an important custom into your event today, a Welcome to Country, thank you very much for having me. I would like to say that I'm very pleased to be doing the Welcome for the launch of the tips for media to report on sexual harassment. Very important subject there. I would like to acknowledge everyone on this meeting today and I acknowledge Nina Funnell, journalists and media people online today. Wominjeka Wurundjeri Balluk yearmenn koondee bik, and I would just like to tell you what I've said in our Woi Wurrung language and that is "Welcome to the land of the Wurundjeri people.” For those of you tuning in from locations across Victoria, perhaps Australia, I would like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the lands on which you are listening from and I would like to pay my respect to you all and to your Elders. So, as we navigate our way through this COVID-19 pandemic, which is still very much around, I don't think it's going anywhere in a hurry, I reflect on the legacy of those who have come before me. And I reflect on the long unbroken, strong line of Aboriginal women I come from. I think about the challenges they would've faced and I do draw strength from them. So, one of those women being my mother, Martha Margaret Nicholson, nee Terrick. She was delivered by her grandmother, Granny Jemima, on Coranderrk Aboriginal Mission near the present-day town of Healesville. So, Granny Jemima was already teaching our mother the importance of family, culture and caring for one another in connection to land. Years later, our mother met a deadly Irish man called Patrick, and that was on a blind date in Melbourne in the early 1930s. In 1937, mommy and daddy were married in a registry office and they had 16 children, eight boys, eight girls, no twins, all single babies, so no cheating, LOL [person laughing]. I'm the youngest of the 16 and my sister Pat Ockwell is the eldest. My sister Pat is an amazing senior Elder who has made a lifelong commitment to her communities and her peoples. She's now in her mid-eighties and for an Aboriginal person to reach this age is a milestone. So, they say our life expectancy gap is about a 12-to-15-year gap. So that is a huge gap for our people and we do have a lot of sorry business in our Aboriginal families and communities. But we must carry on the culture for our people as our ancestors started it for us. And my mother and her mother and so on have kept it going for us. I stand here today because of my mother, Martha Nicholson. She was a strong cultural woman who instilled great values in me. William Barak and his younger sister Annie Barak that is my direct bloodline right there. So, one of our traditions, being our Woi Wurrung language, it's part of our rich deep heritage and I like to say our language has been sleeping, but we are waking it up. My niece, Mandy Nicholson, puts it that way and I think it's a nice way to put it. Some of the ways we keep it alive is through songs, stories and performances. So, the Coronavirus pandemic has changed the world in ways we would never have imagined, and the implications for our community have been profound for our health, our wellbeing and perhaps our jobs. But in many ways, this event online has brought into focus the importance of relationships with family and connection with one another as a community. So, I think as people, we do crave and need connection and I didn't realise honestly how important this was until it was taken from us. This was, it's been a very mentally challenging time, probably for a lot of people and quite an isolating lonely time 'cause I live alone. But look, Aboriginal culture is the oldest, longest continuing culture. It goes back to 60,000 years plus. So, we as Aboriginal people, we do know about resilience, solidarity and connection to land waters. There have been no treaties with us up to date and we have never ceded our sovereignty. So, our ancestors didn't gift the land, nor did they sell the land, it was stolen from us. Simply, that's what happened. So, Wurundjeri, we'd just like to ask everyone to please respect the land, the waters, the flora and fauna, and of course we respect each other. Thank you again for having me do the Welcome today. Sorry I can't be on the screen there today. Please take care and stay safe everyone, and have a great event today, thank you.
Nina Funnell - Thank you Auntie Georgina for that really personal message. And I think it is important that when we are talking about sexual harassment or any form of sexual violence, we remember the disproportionate impact on Aboriginal women as well as the role of colonisation that has played as a cause and a leading cause of sexual violence. I also want to just make a content note that we will be talking about sexual harassment today. If this does bring up an issue for anyone, please know that support is available. There's a hotline or a phone line on the screen right now, 1800-RESPECT, and at the end of today's session, we'll also be putting up some phone lines specifically for workplace sexual harassment. All right, I'm now going to move on to introduce the panellists and today I'm really thrilled to have so many of you in the audience, but I'm also thrilled to introduce some amazing panellists here to talk with us today about wise practise on media reporting. And today also marks the launch of the official "Our Watch, 12 Tips for Media Reporting on Sexual Harassment". And I know that a lot of experts and a lot of people have been involved in creating this resource. It's an amazing resource that Our Watch has put together. Sue, who is our digital moderator, will drop a link to that resource into the chat function now, and a note on the chat function, we will be using it today. So, if you'd like to put in any questions or comments, please feel free to. And Rebekah from Our Watch will be dropping in some questions to us as we go. So, I'm going to hand over firstly to, Prabha Nandagopal, then Nicole Lee and then Bianca Fileborn to introduce themselves to say a couple of lines and then we'll begin our formal discussion. So, Prabha, over to you.
Prabha Nandagopal - Great, thanks so much, Nina. I'm Prabha, my pronouns are she/her, and I'm so thrilled to be here with you today from beautiful Gadigal country. And I pay my deepest respects to their Elders, past, present, and acknowledge that sovereignty was never ceded. I'm a lawyer by trade. I spent 12 years at the Australian Human Rights Commission where I worked on various human rights investigations. Relevantly, I was a senior legal advisor on the Respect at Work, national Inquiry into sexual harassment. And I was a director on the recent review into sexual harassment, bullying, and discrimination in commonwealth parliamentary workplaces, sometimes known as the Jenkins Review. I'm now a private consultant and specialise in human rights and workplace culture.
Nina Funnell - Fantastic. Nicole, could I draw on you to introduce yourself please?
Nicole Lee - Hi, so yeah, my name's Nicole Lee. I'm a survivor activist of domestic and family violence as well as sexual violence. I guess what I bring to the conversation today is really more around interacting with media as a survivor. I'm here to really sort of represent that kind of survivor perspective in the conversation. Since telling my story as a survivor of violence, I've moved on to places like President of People with Disability Australia, which is a bit of a new hat that I'm wearing and into the more disability space and intersecting with that. So yeah, so as a woman with disability, I bring a few things to the table and kind of, a few different perspectives I guess that I hope you get a lot from what we have to share here today. So, I won't hold you too long and I'll move on to the next person, thank you.
Nina Funnell - Fantastic, and we're so happy to have you here Nicole and Prabha. Dr. Bianca Fileborn, would you like to just say a few words about what you are working on and your background?
Dr. Bianca Fileborn - Yeah, thanks Nina. And hi everyone. So yeah, Dr. Bianca Fileborn, I used she/they pronouns. And I am Zooming in today from unceded Wurundjeri land. So, I've been researching in the sexual violence space for I think just under 15 years now. So, I've done a whole range of different projects. Some of my recent work includes looking at victim-centred justice responses to street-based harassment, sexual violence, and LGBTQ+ communities and sexual violence in and around live music and licenced venue spaces. I have also been involved in a number of projects looking at media analysis and in my former role at the Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault, which was the predecessor to ANROWS, I was also involved in developing some media guidelines for reporting on sexual violence, which are no longer in use anymore.
Nina Funnell - And we might talk about that and how do we make sure that new guidelines do get adopted and what can we be doing to ensure that Our Watch's new resource does get picked up by journalists. Okay Prabha, I'd like to bring you in here. You've done some phenomenal work and recently you've been working on these reviews and there's been a really significant shift in the Australian landscape. Can I just get you to unpack for us a little bit of the overview of what's happening currently and what do journalists need to be aware of in terms of some recent changes in policy?
Prabha Nandagopal - Yeah, absolutely. Thanks Nina. So, in the last five years since the Me-Too Movement, we've really witnessed significant shifts in the community and corporate attitudes as well towards sexual harassment. These days, organisational cultures of cover up or silence are no longer really accepted practise. Despite these shifts however, sexual harassment continue to occur at unacceptable rates in Australian workplaces. And it's widespread, there's no industry or organisation that's immune. In terms of prevalence, every five years, the Australian Human Rights Commission conducts a national survey to investigate the prevalence, nature and reporting of sexual harassment, both in the community and in Australian workplaces. The 2022 national survey was launched in December last year and it found that sexual harassment continues to be pervasive in Australian workplaces, with one in three workers experiencing workplace sexual harassment in the last five years. Now, the majority of workplace sexual harassment is carried out by men. Half of these incidents are repeated and then half of those have been ongoing for more than one year. Now in terms of reporting, reporting rates remain really low, fewer than one in five people who experience workplace sexual harassment made a formal report or a complaint. So, in summary, sexual harassment is endemic in workplaces and people still aren't reporting it. I wanted to briefly talk about drivers as well, 'cause it's critical to understand that sexual harassment is a societal problem. The key drivers are gender inequality and power imbalances, including a lack of accountability. And I was thinking about my remarks today, and if there is one thing I'd love for you to take away from what I'm saying and that is to understand that people from diverse groups experience sexual harassment at much higher rates and this generally isn't reflected in media reporting.
Nina Funnell - Why is the prevalence disproportionately high and why is it not accurately reflected in media reporting?
Prabha Nandagopal - Well, I think the latter question needs to be asked for your journalist colleagues, answered by your journalist colleagues, but the disproportionately high rates, I'll just go through what they are. So, our 2022 national survey found that one in three people in Australian workplaces, mentioned that, but for LGBPIQA+ people, it's 46% experienced workplace sexual harassment, 56% of First Nations people and 48% of people with a disability. And I think this is a discussion around intersectionality and aside from gender, how those other intersecting identities compound to increase that experience. And I wanted to say something on a personal note as well. I want the audience to know that it does weigh heavily on me to know that if I experienced sexual assault in the workplace and I wanted to go public with it, I know that it's unlikely that my experience would receive the same coverage as a young white female colleague. Finally, I just wanted to touch on a key legal reform that really represents a tectonic shift in the prevention of workplace sexual harassment last year. The Sex Discrimination insert a positive duty on all employers to eliminate sexual harassment and sex discrimination. This important change requires employers to shift their focus to actively taking measures to preventing workplace sexual harassment and sex discrimination rather than only reporting after it occurs. Now previously, the legal and regulatory framework was a complaints-based model where victim survivors carried the burden of having to make a complaint for action to be taken. Now this new positive duty will shift that burden away from the victim survivor having to make a complaint, instead putting the onus on employers to prioritise early intervention and prevention. New regulatory powers have been conferred on the Australian Human Rights Commission who have the ability to investigate and enforce compliance with the positive duty. The positive duty was a key recommendation of the Respect@Work National Inquiry.
Nina Funnell - So that is groundbreaking, that's a huge reversal in terms of where the onus now is. What do journalists specifically need to know when reporting on sexual harassment in the workplace about that new duty?
Prabha Nandagopal - Well, the new duty applies to all employers. There are no exemptions, for example, for sole traders, small businesses. It's uniformly applied. And what would be great is to educate the community that this obligation is now there on employers. That public education piece is really critical.
Nina Funnell - Thank you. And Prabha, I also just want to really acknowledge and thank you for what you shared about your personal experience and views about what it would be like as a woman of colour were you to speak out publicly. And I know over the years as a journalist, I've done a lot of stories with a lot of different survivors and I completely agree with you that our media landscape does disproportionately give weight or time to those survivors who might conform to what, ,I guess might be thought of as the white woman “palatable” version of a victim who, and that's not just in terms of race, but also in terms of class, education, ability level, heterosexuality and so on. And I think that obviously that does cause certain blind spots as well as gaps in the types of stories that we hear. Dr. Bianca Fileborn, I might bring you in on this point because you've done a lot of research, research in this space specifically, and you've looked, and I know you say it's really important that we are attentive to the silences and we do look at the issue of inclusion and media portrayal and representation. What does the academic research say on this?
Dr. Bianca Fileborn - Yeah, it's a great question, Nina. So, I think the academic research is quite clear and there's being quite a consistent message in terms of how the media is reporting on and shaping the issue of gender-based violence broadly. So, I think firstly, a really important point to make is that the mainstream media is one of the key sources, to generalise that members of our community use for getting information on gender-based violence. So, media really have quite a pivotal and powerful role to play in shaping how the community understands this issue. Unfortunately, as we saw last week with the National Community Attitude Survey, we know that quite a significant proportion of the community hold inaccurate beliefs and understandings about gender-based violence. And we know that those attitudes have gone backwards since the last survey was done in, I think, 2017. So that's really concerning and I think it really highlights the importance of why we need to take media reporting seriously.
Nina Funnell - So just for anyone who's not familiar, can you just share with us what those results were of that survey?
Dr. Bianca Fileborn - Oh yes, off the top of my head, sorry, I didn't make notes on this, I think one of the really stark findings was that around 1/3 of respondents thought that women make up false claims of sexual violence to get back at men, for example. I think it was around 40%, sorry, I didn't write these stats down, think that men and women are equally affected by domestic and family violence, for example. So, beliefs that are really not supported by the research on sexual and gender-based violence. So, we know media have a really important role to play in either challenging or reinforcing some of these myths and misperceptions. Look, I think firstly it is fair to say that there have been some positive shifts in media representation, particularly over the last few years. But as I said, the research is still consistently showing that reporting is still perpetuating poor understandings or misunderstandings of gender-based violence and often in quite subtle ways. So, it's not always really egregious rape myths and misperceptions, for example, it might be through things like the use of passive voice or we see something just happened to the survivor rather than naming men's violence being enacted against women, and gender diverse people.
Nina Funnell - So for example it might be, a woman was raped rather than, said man raped a woman.
Dr. Bianca Fileborn - Exactly.
Nina Funnell - Yep.
Dr. Bianca Fileborn - I'm sure many of you follow Jane Gilmore on social media. She does a fantastic job of calling out some of these examples through her Fixed It series. So, there was actually an article that came out yesterday, which was very timely. So, this was led by Dr. Effie Karageorgos and colleagues. So, I wasn't part of this project, but I think it was a really timely piece. So, this actually looked at media reporting on domestic violence in Australia from 2000 to 2020. So, a really huge timeframe. And they found, like I said, yes, there was some kind of best practise in reporting, but that was in the minority of cases. And most consistently we were seeing reporting that was overemphasising more extreme forms of physical violence, really individualised framings of the problem. So, the idea that men are just monsters who lost control rather than situating this as a systemic issue. It was often a focus on victims other than the kind of primary survivor. So for example, the impacts on their children or pets would be overemphasised. Perpetrators are often spoken about as being good guys and upstanding members of our community and and so forth, and that really reiterates what we know from the research more broadly. Some of the research that I've been involved in with Sophie Hines looking at Me-Too reporting, found really analogous results. There was a small subset of reporting that was really good and really progressive and then I would say the majority that was really perpetuating myths around pursuing sex as just what real men do. And sexual violence is a man jumping out of the bushes, raping a woman in an alleyway rather than often occurring in the context of interpersonal relationships and without overt physical violence and so forth. So, collectively I think this reporting can really contribute towards a broader cultural backdrop that normalises and excuses sexual harassment and gender-based violence. So, really I think the key takeaway for me for any journalists who are Zooming in today is that what you're saying and how you're framing this issue really matters and it really has an impact. It also matters for survivors, and I know I've spoken a lot, so I'll just say this really quickly, but there was a really fantastic project done by Jenny Kitzinger in the UK in the eighties and nineties. And across this time we saw quite a rapid increase in discussions on child sexual abuse in the media. Across a number of projects that she did with survivors, she was actually able to show how this media reporting gave them a language to talk about their experiences. They were able to recognise and label what had happened. People spoke about being able to take a media article and show it to their mom and say, “this is what's happening to me”. So, what you're doing and reporting can be so powerful and has so many, kind of, ongoing ramifications.
Nina Funnell - Bianca, I think actually that's a fantastic point. I know that journalists can sometimes be guilty of forgetting that our readership or our audience includes not just “neutral” people who have no experience of sexual harassment, but also includes survivors, as well as offenders and perpetrators. And when we're speaking to any audience, we should assume that that audience will include both survivors and perpetrators and that our language and our framing can affect their experience and interpretation of what's going on as well. And on that note, Nicole Lee, I'd like to bring you in at this point. You are a survivor advocate as well as a disability advocate. And you've spoken out prolifically about your own experience of sexual and domestic violence. I know you've had both positive and challenging experiences with journalists and for journalists who are tuning in today, I think it would be really beneficial for them to hear from you about both what makes something a good interview or a good positive media experience, as well as something of what makes something a negative or challenging experience. What are some of your takeaways?
Nicole Lee - Well, I guess sort of, you experience good things and bad experiences. From the good experiences, is a journalist that takes their time, you don't feel rushed, they do rapport building whilst they're talking to you and conversing with you. A good experience involves respectful and empathetic engagement. And that can look like, you know, you've got to be prepared that you're going to be hearing some really confronting stuff. So as a journalist, you need to be ready to hear this stuff. You need to be supported to hear this stuff and to also have people behind you, kind of, that you can go to afterwards. So, you need to be supported as a journalist. Otherwise, if you are not supported as a journalist, those things tend to filter down to us. And we can sense that. So, a well-supported journalist that is, understands, the complexity and the quite traumatic nature and the confronting nature of what telling somebody's story might actually look like, results in a much better engagement for myself and for survivors. And that could be as little as things like you're going to hear confronting things. So, it's around validating what you're hearing and that's okay to validate what you're hearing. So, somebody's telling you their very confronting story of sexual assault and harassment and violence. It's okay to reflect like, “oh my god, I'm so sorry that happened”, or “Jesus, that's bad”. And and that's one of the things, especially working with Nina, I got that feedback loop. So, when you're telling your story and you're not getting that feedback loop, it's almost as if, “oh well it's not that bad”. We are very good at downplaying the severity of what we've been through. So those kind of external, sort of, emotional responses are okay and we actually do need them 'cause then it helps us to sit in that space. So, it's being able to sit in that space with someone and just empathetic concern with them because when that turns into distress, what I've found with people doing interviews, when it becomes, when they seriously in that empathy kind of distress sort of position, they start to look for ways to lift the mood. So, like, “tell me about your life now. Is it better? What are you doing now, what are the amazing things?” and that kind of invalidates and then we are shifting to, you're putting the onus back on the survivor to lift the mood and actually make you feel better. But you need to be ready to sit in that space. And if you're not, then just actually acknowledge, “I'm not ready to do this”. Some of the bad experiences have been where, and I felt really sorry for the journalist as well, is that this journalist was someone with a disability and was told to go and write my story, had never dealt with trauma, had never dealt with violence. And they just sent this person to tell my story based on the fact we both had a disability. Now this person was not supported, this person was actively having distress and in the end, they just went to other stories of my story and pieced something together. They didn't come back to me with a final draft. They didn't come back to me with what was going live. And they did things like naming my perpetrator, which I wouldn't have allowed. Yes, I've done that in the past, but I was ready for that. I was not ready for that, and so when they did that, my perpetrator then contacted my children and that was incredibly distressing. It was incredibly inappropriate. Plus, that journalist was not supported. So, whilst I was impacted, so was the journalist. And just because someone's got a disability or someone's got an angle of diversity doesn't mean their best placed to handle the confronting nature of violence and sexual violence. So, and being honest, if you are not prepared to or you're not supported to do this, then don't do it. Some of the other things that I've encountered that haven't been great is things like syndication rules, publications assuming that we just know these things, we're survivors, of course we don't know these things. I've never engaged with journalism before. So early on, seeing my story republished in another publication without even knowing that that was happening, I didn't know it was out there until someone made contact with me, it was really confronting. So, it's really, really simple to inform somebody or actually ask them, is it okay if we republish your story in this publication, and that publication, and we'll let if and when that happens so that the survivor knows when their story is going out there publicly, or otherwise giving them the opportunity to go, “no, actually no, no, no, I just want to bear and let me think about it”. So, making sure you're constantly working with the survivor so they understand what is happening, when it's happening. Some of the really good things is, really important, should be every best practise is making sure a survivor sees a draft, making sure the survivor knows when this is going to air. If you don't know, I get that things get pulled at the last second, but be ready to manage that, work with that person around feeling anxious because there is a lot of anxiety involved in telling your story. So, knowing the day that it's going to air, knowing what's going to air is very critical and being ready to sit with that survivor if all of a sudden the story gets pulled on that day and it's going to then air the next day. So, really managing those expectations of what is happening when, so that we can manage our emotions around that because it is very emotional and it's an emotional rollercoaster that we're on telling our story. So, the best and the most information and the most informed you can support somebody with all these bits and pieces, the better their experience is going to be engaging with journalists and the better positions they are to be ready for when that story goes live as well.
Nina Funnell - It's really interesting hearing you say this and what you said earlier on about the need to be empathetic in how we respond, and to be human, reminds me of a time earlier on in my career where I was actually disciplined because I was doing an interview with a survivor of workplace sexual harassment actually. And as she disclosed, I said, “I'm so sorry that that has happened to you”. And someone higher up said I was editorialising by saying that and that I wasn't maintaining my objectivity as a journalist because I was acknowledging and accepting their version uncritically. And I always remember thinking that had I sat there totally wooden, this person wouldn't have felt safe to keep going. And so, I was encouraging, so I mean it's interesting that sometimes what journalists are taught to do is not necessarily what survivors are needing or looking for in that moment. It sounds, as well, like in all of your tips, what you're really talking about is giving as much agency and control back to the survivor as possible so that they know what their story is going to include, when it's going to come out, that there aren't any surprises on the day. Can you talk to me, you mentioned the issue of syndication and for anyone who's unaware of what Nic might have been talking about, when her story was first published, she wasn't expecting it to then pop up on websites that were syndicated with the original website that had published her story. What was the impact for you of seeing it pop up in other places without you expecting that?
Nicole Lee - Well, the fact that a random stranger just contacted me on social media to say, “look, I saw your story on such and such publication”, and I'm like, “they didn't tell my story, maybe they got it wrong”. And then actually finding that I was really, really shocked that they could do that and not actually think to contact me. I felt hurt, I felt violated. It breached a lot of my trust, and then when I went to them, they're just like, “well, we've got syndication rights, so, it's not our fault that you didn't know that”. And then having to push to have a one-to-one meeting with them to actually understand the impact of what that involved and that you can't expect somebody who doesn't engage with journalism that's not a journalist, that's telling their story to actually know these things and sort of saying to them, “You need to do better, this really hurt, this has an impact and don't ever do this again to somebody else”. If they had have come to me and said that that's what they were going to do, I probably would've been fine with it and would've said, “Yeah, sure, just let me know when it's happening”. But they didn't. So, I wanted it down because I wasn't prepared for that. And the other thing is, one of the things I did do was I vetted the site where it was going to go to, who was the publication, what other things did they write about, did I feel comfortable with my story sitting under that? And I hadn't been given that opportunity to then go to that site and see what it was like, see whether I felt comfortable with my story being up there, depending on, what they, we all know That's Life and Take a Break. They're very good at contacting survivors quite regularly. That's a publication where I wouldn't feel comfortable because of those headlines which Jane Gilmore quite regularly calls out those inappropriate headlines and I wouldn't have wanted my story there. So, it's giving us that autonomy and choice around when and where and how our stories are told. That's really, really key and critical, and it's a really important thing and you feel very violated when that's taken away from you.
Nina Funnell - And I always say that the nature of the crime that we're talking about is that it takes power and control away from a person. So, in any process it follows, whether it's a policing process or a journalistic process or a legal process, the more you can restore control, agency...
Nicole Lee - And telling your story is part of restoring that control. And so, when that, sorry, I can't think of the word right now, but that sort of mode, that element that gives you back that control, that starts to restore all of those things, that telling your story publicly is part of your recovery. And when that is violated, that takes you back a step. So, this is a tool for us to regain autonomy and agency over our stories and our trauma. So, everything possible that you can do to protect that is a really key critical element of working with survivors and telling their experience.
Nina Funnell - So Prabha, I might bring you back in here at this point. I've noticed today that the conversation, as it often does, naturally slides into also talking about domestic violence and sexual violence generally. But we are also talking specifically today about workplace sexual harassment. And I'm interested in your view on how reporting on workplace sexual harassment might differ to other forms of reporting on gender-based violence. Are there different risks for survivors who are speaking out about workplace sexual harassment specifically? And if so, what are they and what do journalists really need to know about what it is that we're asking of survivors when we invite them to tell their stories of workplace sexual harassment?
Prabha Nandagopal - Yep, great question, Nina. I just wanted to make one comment. Listening to your example about neutrality and Nicole's experiences with trauma and dealing with journalists really illustrates how important it is for all journalists, if you are going to be reporting regularly on sexual violence, I just implore you to undertake training of trauma informed practises to ensure that the entire process from the interviewing, to the writing and then to the support is trauma informed and victim-centered to ensure as far as possible that the individual is not being re-traumatised. And your question about how it differs, look, I think one of the key differences is the heightened risk on the individual for negative repercussions, particularly in gaining work once their story is made public. Look, I wish it wasn't that way, but we know that these repercussions are real, they're live. And so, you just want to take the extra precaution to make sure that you have informed consent to talk about the individual's allegations, if you're going to name them, do whatever you can to ensure that individual gets legal advice. If they don't have the means to do it, I actually, this might be controversial, but I actually think the onus is on the journalist and news publication to pay for them to get independent legal advice.
Nina Funnell - Thank you, that's really interesting. I know it's controversial as well, the idea about whether or not journalists should even be using case studies. There are several experts who would argue against us using case studies because of the risks that we're foisting on survivors and the burden that they're expected to carry. But the flip side of that, I suppose, is that if we erase case studies, then are we denying survivors the opportunity to tell their story? And obviously there's got to be a balance somewhere in that. Dr. Bianca Fileborn, can I bring you in at this point? How do journalists get that balance right between ensuring that survivor voices are included in these discussions, but also not exposing them to risk that is far too high?
Dr. Bianca Fileborn - Yeah, absolutely. So, look, I don't think that there's a kind of one size fits all approach here and I think a lot of this really ties back into what you were saying before Nina about having control over how your story is told and how your voice is heard. So, my concern with just saying outright, “No, we're not going to use any case studies”, is that that's also denying survivors the opportunity to be identified and to talk about their stories. And for some people that might be really, really important to them. On the flip side, and as we've heard from Prabha, like there are potentially very serious and very real ramifications for survivors, one, who report sexual harassment in the first place, but two, who then go on to speak out about it publicly in the media. And we have to take those risks really seriously. So, I think a lot of it for me comes back to informed consent and informed choice. So, if you have a survivor who wants to speak out as a case study, that you need to make sure that you have informed them of what those risks actually are and to make sure that they're, making as well-informed a decision as possible to publicly disclose. You might be talking to them about their options to remain anonymous, to have key details redacted from their case study so they can still speak out, while minimising the potential for those negative ramifications. I think the other thing is it also comes back to contextualising it. So, talk about, what Prabha said, right? The fact that we know that people who speak out are so often punished or ostracised from their workplace. So, contextualise that in the reporting.
Nina Funnell - It's interesting as well because we don't always know what those risks are. We can guess, but I'm thinking back to one moment in my career where I was interviewing a young woman who was speaking out about sexual harassment in a particular residential college attached to a university. And during that she called me over, we were talking about it and we're just talking about what she was going to be doing next and the plan for the weekend and she said she had to cancel her 21st birthday, which was meant to be held on the weekend. And I asked her, “Why?” and she said, “Well, because everybody who I've invited goes to college and none of them are going to come, so I've just got to cancel my 21st". And I remember having this huge realisation moment of thinking, I knew it was going to be difficult for her socially after this, I had no idea, I didn't know it was her birthday. I didn't know it was her 21st. So, you start to go, wow, I haven't actually correctly understood what it is that I am asking of her and what it is that she's risking. So how can we be sure that we are informing people about the risks if we don't know their specific unique circumstances or if we are not from their community. If we're talking to a particular person, say a trans person from the trans community, we may not be aware of their particular profile or risk within their community, could you speak to that a bit? Cause we were talking about that example the other day.
Dr. Bianca Fileborn - Yeah, it is really challenging and you're right, there is no way that we can ever foresee every single risk that a survivor is going to face. And that might actually be part of the conversation that you have with them ahead of time as well. I think it also means that your responsibility to that survivor doesn't end when the article or the story's gone to air. You might need to actually check in and provide some ongoing support and assistance to them and have a responsibility to do so, I would argue, and I think there are some kind of specific concerns for particularly marginalised members of the community. Look, I think firstly, as Prabha mentioned earlier, often the experiences of these communities just aren't being told through the media anyway. And there are a number of reasons for that and I think part of it does relate back to the fact that white conventionally attractive young women tend to be positioned as real or ideal victims. Their stories might generate more media attention. But I think it's also important to recognise that people from marginalised communities are often much less likely and less able to report or to be in a position to publicly speak out about workplace harassment. So, if we use the example of trans and gender-diverse folk, for example, we know that people from these communities face huge rates of unemployment or underemployment because of discrimination and the marginalisation of those communities. So, if you are from a community where just having a job is extremely challenging, you're probably not going to want to publicly speak out or it's much more difficult for you to speak out and report harassment that's occurring. So, I think being attentive to those silences is really important. I think one way around it as well is to, rather than go to individual survivors, to actually speak to peak bodies. So going to somewhere like Transgender Victoria for example, where someone, can speak out more generally about the experiences of these communities without risking the livelihood of a particular individual. And I think that's the case across the board, right? So, I think talking to survivor advocates for example, or counsellor advocates can be really important. It takes some of the spotlight and the responsibility off individual survivors and it can also help in providing that broader contextual framing that I spoke about earlier that's so important. So, it can help reduce the likelihood that you are just framing this as a very individualised problem because people in those peak bodies can speak to it as a more systemic issue.
Nina Funnell - And I noticed that that is a tip that Our Watch often gives is that we go to experts as well as advocates peaks and that we use statistics rather than putting all of the onus on individual survivors to act as case study.
Dr. Bianca Fileborn - That's right, and I think look, case studies can be really important. Like I think having that, kind of, detailed lived experience can be an incredibly powerful device for conveying, I guess, the reality and the impacts of these experiences. So, I don't think it's about saying we can absolutely never use survivor case studies, but thinking very carefully about when, why you're using it, what are the risks and likely impacts for the survivor? Are there other things we can be doing to mitigate the impacts?
Nina Funnell - And I've learned over time that, well the two questions that I ask every survivor who's anticipating telling their story is, “what are their objectives and goals in speaking out”, so that I understand what's important to them about sharing their story and that that's reflected in the final piece. And the second thing that I'll always ask is “what are any concerns that they have?” And that often then elicits that conversation about risks that they might be aware of that I may not be aware of. And then we can talk through those risks and whether or not it is safe to proceed or what mechanisms we need to put in place to make it safer. Nicole, I might bring you back in at this point as well. You've talked a lot about the need for agency and control in sharing your story and the need for a journalist to stay in touch and so on. One thing that I thought I would mention is that last year, year before, when we were working on the Let Us Speak campaign, you actually advocated for law reform in Victoria so that sexual assault survivors can self-identify in the media and also, and journalists may not even be aware of this, that survivors can tailor their consent so that they can give consent to one journalist to name them and that consent is not transferable to other journalists. And likewise, I could name Nicole with her consent, if I want to continue to name her, I need to get fresh consent, ideally. Why do you think it's important that survivors are included in conversations about law reform and media ethics and how it is that journalists should be doing our job?
Nicole Lee - It's so we can help inform how these things, especially for legislation, like that informed consent is really fantastic. Getting a journalist to understand that that's actually a new law in Victoria is another thing. But it's really important to understand, what does respectful engagement look like? What does working with survivors and keeping survivors safe whilst telling their story entail and how do we do this? We can make assumptions on what might be great, but until you're actually talking to the person themselves and the things that have gone wrong and how things can go really well, is where you get to that point of being able to develop something with the survivor as part of the process so that it's led with, for and then produced in the best interest of that person involving the very people whose stories are being put out there, whose trauma is being put on the line for, I guess, essentially public consumption and hopefully for future reforms as well. But even, yeah, sorry, go for it.
Nina Funnell - I'm sorry, I was going to say, so you've mentioned before the idea that as a journalist, ideally, not only do we stay in touch with you, but we help prepare you for when a story is going to land. Obviously in terms of what's in the story and headlines and so on, images, et cetera. So that you can emotionally prepare yourself and maybe have, I often talk about having a plan for the day when the story comes out, where are you going to be, who are you going to be with, is there anything that you can do to mark the day nicely for yourself as a celebration? Could you go out for lunch with a friend, et cetera. So, we actually do that planning with the person. But I want to ask you from your experience, because journalists may not know this, what is the rollercoaster of emotions that come for a survivor when a story comes out?
Nicole Lee - So there's a lot of anxiety that you sit with, talking to the journalist to begin with, there's a lot of anxiety that builds and then waiting for that story to be written. You've seen the draft and then, once the day that it's going to go to air, it's going to go live, that anxiety just builds and builds and builds and it's kind of like a performance curve kind of thing. So, for the survivor, you don’t know what the response is going to be to that. So, you're sitting with that heightened level of anxiety and once the story drops that anxiety then also then tends to increase a bit as well. And you're going to you to feel sort of really anxious or you can feel quite elated if you get a really good response to your story and your story gets shared a lot and really positive comments. If there's negative comments, well then the anxiety's going to build. But either way, the emotional levels are going up. So, you're on this rollercoaster, your emotions are getting quite high. And then in the next few days following after that, and I've talked with other survivors around this, is that, you tend to start to then, once all the hype kind of dies down and all the resharing and commentary sort of peters off, is that you then, what goes up must come down. So those emotions go up, all that adrenaline is really high and then that adrenaline drops and you feel really flat, very suddenly, very flat, very emotional and it's completely and absolutely normal, there's nothing wrong with you as a survivor. Like, I only twigged on it because I've done sport and I have that emotional rollercoaster with sport. So, when it happened to me, when I told my story, I'm like, “Oh, I recognise this”, but this thing is, it's working out a strategy of how to ride out those days when things start to peter off, when all the emotions and the adrenaline drops and you're just like, you just feel, “Oh god”, and you feel sad and you feel flat. Making sure that you're doing self-care things, going out for dinner, maybe a movie, organising things just to keep yourself distracted, just to keep yourself around people and that that will get better, that that feeling will pass. That it's a very, it's just your adrenaline doing this and it's completely natural and normal. This is what happens to us. And that it will pass and you will start to feel like your normal self again, your mood will start to come back and that flat feeling will dissipate over time.
Nina Funnell - I know Nic from working with you over the years that one of the things that you taught me that I can do better is to always tell survivors what that curve is like. There is no one normal way to feel after a story comes out. Some people feel completely numb, some people feel completely high, any response is normal. But I have seen that exactly as you say, that curve a lot. So, part of it is checking in with that person during that curve, but part of it is also preparing them for that curve. So, if they do suddenly have these high, elated feelings or complete numbness, they go, “Oh, I was told about this, I'm not abnormal, this is part of the journey and I will be okay”. And I remember you teaching me that and thinking, yeah, that's so sensible that journalists can play a role in preparing people or our sources for what to expect once the story comes out, not just in terms of the contents, but in terms of the emotionality attached to it. Okay, I can't believe we've already running out of time. So before closing, what I would like to do is to invite everybody who's here today to participate in a voluntary feedback form for Our Watch. There's a couple of ways to do this. One way is to click on the link that Sue is about to drop into the chat. The other way is to take out your phones and scan the QR code that's currently available on the screen. It is completely voluntary, but your feedback does really, really assist Our Watch in terms of understanding the effectiveness of these sessions, as well as their ongoing evaluation. In addition to that, it's really useful for planning future events. So, if you can take a second, please fill that out. Sue will also be dropping in the data collection policy Our Watch has, just for anyone who has any questions or concerns about that. Just as you're doing that though, I'd like to wrap up today's session and say, firstly, thank you so much to our wonderful panellists for giving their time. We really appreciate your expertise and your insights today. It is a challenging area of how can journalists balance the competing demands of newsrooms. And often, when we are expected to file and we've got someone tapping a watch, we've got to file by 5:00 PM today, we're not necessarily always thinking through, how can I make this story as diverse or intersectional as possible, or what are the safety concerns and issues that I need to be mindful of as I'm working in this really, really sensitive space. I think the 12 Tips that Our Watch is publishing and officially launching today will really go a long way in assisting journalists to do our job more robustly and more ethically. And I really just, finally, I want to mention that if today does bring up anything for you, you can access support either through 1800-RESPECT or through the phone lines and information which is put up on the screen now. Again, I do want to acknowledge that we have talked about some very triggering and traumatising content today. So, if you are impacted, please do reach out, help is there. And again, as journalists, we sometimes forget that the help is there for us just as much as it is for the people who we might be interviewing. We are certainly not immune from these issues and from experiencing sexual harassment or sexual violence and domestic violence ourselves. So, it's really important that we always know our rights and know our options as well in terms of accessing that support. So once again, I want to thank everybody for participating today. Thank you for Our Watch for hosting and putting this on. Thank you to all our panellists. Thank you for the amazing Welcome to Country that we had from Aunty Nicholson and sorry, Aunty Georgina Nicholson. And lastly, again, thank you to all of our audience who have joined today, we really appreciate it.
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The impacts of media reporting on sexual harassment, particularly when workplaces are involved, can impact sources with lived experience for years to come.
This masterclass explores the complex decisions journalists must make when crafting a story on sexual harassment to balance the pressures of newsrooms and clickbait culture with safety of sources.
Walkley award winning journalist Nina Funnell and expert panellists Dr Bianca Fileborn, Prabha Nandagopal and Nicole Lee discuss what wise-practice media reporting on sexual harassment might look like, exploring the impacts of media reporting on survivors and their diverse experiences of sexual harassment, and what these findings mean in the context of gender equity, human rights and pathways to justice.
Responding to Respect@Work Recommendation 13 to improve media reporting on sexual harassment, this webinar functions as an official launch of Our Watch’s 12 tips for media reporting on sexual harassment.