... and ain't i a woman?: No matter who you are

November 2, 1994

No matter who you are

By Kath Gelber

Poor Terry! All he wants is for people to like him. He's one of those touchy-feely kind of blokes, you know the ones. He didn't mean any harm by it. He was just trying to make his staff feel at home, so to speak.

He's a naturally affectionate sort of guy. Nobody could possibly take objection to him looking up someone's skirt. And he does have that medical condition which means he can't help but adjust his groin. It must be extremely uncomfortable and embarrassing — fancy having to do that in front of people! Oh, and don't forget that other medical condition that means he couldn't possibly look down a woman's blouse — his neck just doesn't stretch that way.

And to top it all off, his lovely wife has been appearing in public with him saying what a nice man he is, and how he has never been a womaniser. How could you not believe a nice man like that?

Believe it or not, these are the defences Terry Griffiths, disgraced NSW ex-minister for police, is using in a current sexual harassment inquiry.

The precise allegations have come to light in a comprehensive report, presented to the NSW parliament last week. Griffiths launched a scathing attack on the report, its commissioner and the female ex-members of his staff who have lodged the complaints. Although nine of them have provided independent testimonies which corroborate a pattern of sexual harassment and discrimination, Griffiths is denying the claims.

Well, some of them anyway. He admits, for example, to advising a staff member to recruit only a male as a research officer in 1993 because a woman would not be able to stay overnight on country trips with him. He admits that he restricted and prevented female staff from travelling overnight with him on country visits.

He admits calling female staff "princess", "munchkin", "hon" and "gorgeous". He admits to hugging and kissing female staff, at times on the mouth. He admits it was his practice to lock his office door when alone with staff. He admits to adjusting his groin area in front of female staff, claiming a medical complaint as his grounds for doing so. He also admits to what he calls "passing compliments" to his staff, by asking them questions about their personal lives, such as whether they had a boyfriend or whether they had a date because they looked "gorgeous".

In spite of all this, Griffiths maintains he did not intend there to be any sexual connotation to his behaviour. Yet the sexual harassment policy guidelines of the NSW Police Service include in their definitions, "unwanted terms of endearment, inappropriate in the office context", "sexually suggestive gestures involving habitual touching in the groin area", "unwanted and frequent physical contact", "unwanted kissing" and other unwanted intimate touching.

NSW Premier John Fahey has called for Griffiths to be expelled from the Liberal Party. Unrepentant, Griffiths has said he will stand as an independent at the next state election if this occurs.

The case has highlighted the fact that no matter who you are, sexual harassment is unwelcome, inappropriate and intolerable.

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