Ashleigh Raper deserves solidarity and respect

ABC journalist Ashleigh Raper.

Former NSW Labor leader Luke Foley was forced to resign on November 7 after ABC journalist Ashleigh Raper alleged he put his hand inside her dress and into her underpants without her consent at a 2016 Christmas party.

Foley now denies the accusations but Raper says Foley rang her twice on November 4 to apologise after Liberal MLC David Elliot raised the matter in NSW parliament. In the first call, Foley said he knew he had offended her but could not remember exactly what had happened.

Foley is now acting as though he is the one who was wronged — and he is not alone in this.

The Australian’s front page headline the next day, “Sex scandal — ABC female journalist triggers ALP crisis”, lay the blame on Raper for the situation.

The level of sexism in this society is such that Raper (like so many others) had decided not to make a formal complaint at the time of the incident. Instead, Raper asked ABC management to reassign her from her workplace at NSW parliament so she could avoid crossing paths with Foley.

But despite her precautionary approach, Raper’s life has been turned into a nightmare. She had decided not to go public, but Elliot and federal Liberal Senator Eric Abetz forced her hand.

Now, Foley is threatening to take her to court.

The public outrage over Raper’s allegation forced Foley to resign from the leadership and later declare he would not contest his seat in next year's March state election.

Labor is now running for cover. It has called on the NSW Coalition to sack Elliot and new Labor leader Michael Daley has announced his party will concentrate on policy, not “mudslinging”.

Foley had previously threatened to name possible sexual assaulters on the government bench.

But this is no strategy for countering sexism and misogyny. If Labor is serious about the need for culture change, it should put its own house in order, take the allegations seriously and treat the complainant with respect.

Women have a right to feel safe, wherever they are. The laws dealing with sexual assault, workplace harassment and bullying must be applied.

Institutional sexism, by definition, must be tackled at every level, starting with Labor adopting a policy on reproductive rights — whether and when to have a child is one of the most important life choices a woman should have the right to make.

NSW Labor should be pushing for positive discrimination policies aimed at changing the material conditions for women at home and at work, thereby allowing them greater life choices and opportunities to ease the double burden.

It should also move to reinstitute funding for women’s refuges, childcare centres and other essential services.

In other words, if Labor is serious about wanting a cultural shift it has to do a lot more than call for Elliot’s sacking and hope that a change of leadership will settle the public outrage over Raper’s allegation.

Meanwhile, the NSW Law Reform Commission is yet to report on its investigation into the legal definition of consent (it started investigating in May). Bringing the law into line with many other states where consent is active, positive and voluntary would also help combat the excuses that feed rape culture. Making it clear that a lack of protest or resistance does not equal consent is important.

Learning respect starts early and the state has a critical role to play.