Thoughts on Organisational Responses to Complaints of Sexual Abuse and Rape

There’s been a decent amount of media coverage about the fact that the NSW Greens did a way-less-than-ideal job of responding to concerns and complaints that a younger male member of the party had raped/sexually assaulted one or more women.

I must admit that my initial reaction was to think “oh that’s for the NSW Greens to worry about – I don’t need to get involved in that.” I naively assumed that the Greens would have robust and accessible processes for dealing with these sorts of complaints, and I probably should have asked more questions about this when it first surfaced. As a younger guy who now holds a modicum of power and influence within the Greens I'm learning that it’s quite important that I give voice to the fact that progressive movements are not immune to instances of gendered violence and sexual abuse, and it’s particularly important for men to use their privilege to call out this stuff even when it might be easier to let someone else worry about it.


Misogyny and problematic attitudes to sex are not the exclusive domain of the conservative side of politics. It is naïve and reckless for us to assume that we are somehow immune to this stuff.

In the past, I’ve found that the Queensland Greens have been pretty good at responding to concerns I’ve raised about a particular guy engaging in creepy behaviour towards women that bordered on harassment (he was promptly told to leave the party), but no organisation is going to be perfect, and we mustn’t get complacent.

It sounds like the Greens down in NSW are now taking that particular matter quite seriously and that people at the top of the party hierarchy are responding appropriately, but I do wonder why it’s taken so long.

Too often, women are discounted and disregarded when they disclose that they have experienced domestic violence/sexual abuse/harassment/rape. While it’s great that the Greens spend a lot of energy pushing for better legislation and resourcing to address gendered violence in broader society, our organisations also need to practice what we preach internally. This means that anyone who claims to have been raped/assaulted/harassed needs to be given the benefit of the doubt and taken seriously. It also means we can’t simply ‘leave it to the authorities.’

We know that institutions like the police have an extremely patchy record in responding to sexual abuse, domestic violence etc. So unfortunately it’s not good enough to simply tell a survivor that they need to report their attack to the police and trust that it will be handled appropriately. There’s ample evidence that law enforcement and judicial processes are ill-equipped to respond to complaints of rape, sexual abuse and harassment. Truly radical organisations should probably play it safe and proceed on the assumption that the police won’t necessarily do a good job of investigating complaints and taking action.

Many larger, bureaucratised organisations also fall in to the trap of feeling they need to wait until an ‘official’ complaint is made about a member before taking action. Whether it’s a political party or a big company or some kind of club or community organisation, we need to recognise that official complaints channels are often inaccessible and intimidating for vulnerable/marginalised members who’ve experienced sexual violence or harassment. Expecting people who’ve been raped or assaulted to put their complaints in writing and submit them via an email address or online form will mean that some survivors don’t bother, because they don’t want to relive their trauma by documenting in detail what happened. Every individual member of an organisation needs to be proactive in asking questions and supporting survivors when they do raise concerns informally. If you know an organisation won’t act unless it receives a formal written complaint, you need to take responsibility and get permission to put in writing the concerns that have been shared with you informally, even if all you do is relay verbatim what you’ve been told.

It’s not unusual for a survivor of rape/sexual assault to only partially disclose what has happened to them e.g. rather than straight-up saying “That person raped me” they might start with more innocuous comments like “I went home with so-and-so last weekend and things got really uncomfortable.” This can be a way of testing the waters to see how you’ll respond, where the survivor will only share more information if you show genuine concern and interest and take what they’re saying seriously.

Back in May, we ran a weeknight forum and a more intensive weekend workshop about responding to domestic violence. Both events were really positive and well-attended, and my office plans to organise a few more workshops on sexual and domestic violence towards the end of the year. But my one disappointment was that there were far fewer men than women at both the forum and the workshop, even though domestic violence affects all of us and is everyone’s responsibility. Hopefully more guys will come along to these events in future.

I know nowadays there’s a lot more discussion and awareness of these issues than there used to be, but particularly in progressive political organisations we need to make sure that we don’t fall into the trap of thinking that we already have it all worked out. Cos we don’t.