Does Australia’s creative industry protect the predators?

This article is based on lived experience. It references emotional abuse, grooming, sexual assault and rape within the Australian creative industry. It refers to data from reputable sources that can be referenced throughout.

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Writer Ella Campbell discusses the challenges women must fight in the face of misogyny.

The Australian creative industry lets a significant number of serious sexual assault and harassment cases go by unpunished, with predators unscathed. There has never been a better time to look at this behaviour, endemic to our industry and others, than International Women’s Day. The icing on the cupcake is growing thin.

In 2018, the Human Rights Commission found that 80% of people working in or on the fringes of our industry have experienced sexual harassment. That is a significantly higher figure than the national average rate of 33%.

Three years later, following the height of the #MeToo movement, women’s rights organisation and publication, The Mavens, conducted a study. They found little had changed. Findings revealed that 45% of respondents had been bullied, 42% had been abused either physically or verbally, and 27% had been sexually assaulted throughout their career. Coupled with a research report released by shEqual, it’s clear that the significant majority of these discriminatory, abusive and violent acts are against women.

This behaviour is endemic to the Australian creative industry, and many others. Women continue to live in fear in workplaces that have the responsibility of protecting us. Why is it that in 2022 we are still seeing a disproportionate number of us harassed, assaulted and traumatised by men in our industry, with nowhere to turn?

While creative organisations promote a culture of diversity and equality, we are yet to see any genuine, widespread action that ensures equitable, safe working environments. Instead, there exists a strong bias against women, and a tendency to favour males in the workplace. Evidence shows that male predatory behaviour is often overlooked or ignored.

In fact, the only option for most women who have been harassed or assaulted in the workplace is to report internally. Based on lived and shared experience, those people and business divisions who could offer protection often side with the predator. Where does that leave us?

We are the ones who must report the crime. We are the ones who must relive the trauma. We must pay the legal fees. We must face the fear of not being believed, with the lingering possibility of our reputation being ruined in the process. Why is this the case? Why aren’t more people speaking up when witnessing misogynistic behaviour? Why aren’t there protections built into our employment contracts; a pledge of safety that if broken would provide greater power to those at risk.

The reality is that there are no regulations that require agencies to report or act on sexual harassment and assault claims. Therein lies the crux of this issue; no accountability. The onus remains firmly on the women to take action against the men that hurt them.

The brutality of the predators and their protectors, coupled with defamation laws that make it impossible for survivors to speak up, keep many of us angry, hurt and most importantly, quiet.

At least, until now.

Recovery from sexual trauma and harassment is a long, dark road. Just when you see the hint of sunlight over a crest on the horizon, you realise it’s a trick of the eyes. There’s still miles of darkness ahead of you.

For years, I have been walking that grey, lonely road of recovery. How I arrived there is a disappointingly common story that could have happened to any woman in my industry.

It goes like this.

Over a decade ago, a young girl secured a job working for a good, kind man. He gave her opportunities to grow, learn, and expand her curiosity. She was young and pretty, a target for predators. While she was safe and comfortable in the presence of her manager, she discovered misogyny isn’t necessarily about the individual; it’s about the culture.

This wide-eyed girl was exposed to insidious rhetoric and sexist behaviour while walking the halls of prestigious agencies. She was made to believe her only value was looks, that she was only interesting when she was drunk, and that she should always smile for the men.

Repeated exposure to this commentary and behaviour turns into major belief systems. These seeds took root deep in her psyche.

Her appearance became her identity. Unless drunk, fear of saying the wrong thing kept her quiet, and she was often asked why she didn’t have an opinion. When she felt threatened, she smiled, but her mouth would twitch. It still does to this day, a mark of trauma that the body holds close.

It is enlightening to look back and see the blatant, extreme sexism and abuse this girl was exposed to. To witness the changes that took place. To acknowledge the ever present danger hidden in the shadows, waiting for a moment of vulnerability.

Inevitably, that moment arrived. Over time she was emotionally abused and systematically groomed. Then, she was sexually assaulted and raped.

She is me. I am what remains. I am her scar tissue, her love, her rage, and her hope.

Today, my career is on pause and these men are still at large. The driving force that keeps me from collapsing under the crushing weight of trauma is the hope that my words may help other women. The ones I don’t know who are hurting. I hold deep love and admiration for them for surviving.

I’m here to make noise for myself and these women, until we have the protections we deserve. Until we don’t need to protect our daughters, because we have educated our sons. It’s time to use our anger and give it a voice.

For too long we’ve been kept silent and placed in vulnerable positions without protection. Many of us have been harmed as a result. A career isn’t worth a lifetime of pain. If our industry won’t willingly give us the safety and equality we deserve, then we must fight for it. For ourselves, and the next generation of talented, creative, powerful women.

Organisations out there are already fighting to support and champion women’s rights in the workplace. These include shEqual, F*ck the Cupcakes, The Aunties, The Mavens, and Never Not International Women’s Day. They are helping us speak our truth, standing beside us in solidarity.

Join those who are making noise. Champion those who cannot speak. Shout for our safety, as loud as you possibly can.

Together, our voices can’t be ignored.

Ella Campbell

Ella Campbell is a sexual assault survivor, writer, and marketing consultant of 12 years (on sabbatical). She is currently sharing her experience with the hope to give a voice to other women who have survived sexual assault, harassment or bullying in the workplace.


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