BY NIDHA KHAN

The #MeToo movement created global shockwaves with individuals everywhere, from New Zealand to Iceland, standing together in solidarity and sharing their stories of sexual harassment and abuse. These stories, both collectively and individually, have the ability to move people – to stir feelings of anger, shock, hope, and compassion. They also make us feel less alone.

Sharing your personal story also requires a great deal of courage, especially in a society that isn’t always kind or even considerate to those affected. For some, the #MeToo movement may have even been the first time they’ve shared their experiences with sexual harassment and abuse. But listening to these stories alone isn’t enough, we must be willing to respond to it with change. We cannot continue with the current structures which feed the underbelly of sexual harassment and abuse in New Zealand.

Earlier this year, broadcaster and journalist, Alison Mau, alongside a team of talented journalists, launched a nationwide #MeToo investigation into workplaces. We were fortunate enough to have Alison answer some of our questions about the investigation.

What does carrying out this #MeToo investigation mean to you?

To me personally, this is about giving women a voice. Hundreds of women (and a few men) have contacted us and the first thing they say often, is “thank you for giving us the chance to speak out”. It’s almost as if we have all felt we needed permission. Certainly there was a feeling that before #MeToo internationally, society was not prepared to listen.

What are the challenges of carrying out an investigation like this? Is there anything that’s particularly surprised you or that you’ve learnt through your investigation?

It’s even more challenging to get each story over the line than I expected. Often the perpetrators are very powerful people who have a lot of others protecting them; they often have money and may sue for defamation whether there is anything actionable in the story or not. But the main challenge has been helping the survivors themselves through the process. When we launched, our critics suggested that there would be women who came forward to deliberately hurt men, in spite or for fame, or for money. This has turned out to be a ridiculous notion. Most survivors are terrified of being named for the impact they know that will have on them, their families and their jobs or careers. They mostly do not want their harassers named either. Their mental health has already been compromised by the original actions, and then by the lack of care they find during the complaints process.

What is the common thread amongst the stories that you’ve heard?

New Zealand’s organisations (corporate and public) have very poor sexual harassment practices. These “zero tolerance” policies they talk about are mostly just words and do not work to support survivors. Most end up more traumatised by the complaints process than the original behaviour.

Photo by Mihai Surdu on Unsplash.

Do the stories you’ve heard so far vary across different age, ethnicity, disability, sexuality, or occupational groups? If so, how? Why do you think they vary? If not, why do you think that is?

Everyone from people in their 70s, to teenagers, has a story of some type. We are really hoping to tell the stories of women who don’t work in professions like law – those that work in low-waged jobs should have a chance at justice, or at least for their voice to be heard, too.

You’ve mentioned that people in industries, such as the hospitality and fast food industry, are particularly prone to sexual harassment. To me, that’s concerning for a number of reasons, one being that young people are often in this industry. Are young people contacting you with their stories? Or not really?

Some are. Mostly they’re too afraid. The power imbalance is too steep and can be let go at any time. It would take a very, very brave person to put themselves in the spotlight.

How does it feel knowing that you may be the first person they’ve told their story to?

It’s a huge responsibility, and a huge honour at the same time. I do not take it lightly.

The government is now beginning to collect data specifically on sexual harassment in the workplace. What are your thoughts on this? Why do you think it’s taken so long to get to this stage? What else would you like to see happen?

Stats would be great, but what I’d really like to see is Kiwi workplaces overhauling their complaints and investigation processes so that they help protect the survivors, not just protect the company reputation. A Government body able to carry out meaningful audits or investigations of toxic company cultures would be marvellous too!

 

NIDHA KHAN is a public health graduate and policy student who spends her time writing about human rights, youth activism, and social issues. She’s also a lover of puns, a terrible cook, and is on a mission to hug every pug in sight. You can keep up with her antics on Instagram at @nidha01

 

Need someone to talk to?
If you or someone you know are in immediate danger, call the police on 111. You can call 111 from your cellphone even if you have no credit. If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, raped, or abused, there is help available. Find a sexual assault support centre near you.

Other organisations include:
Lifeline: 0800 543 354
Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email [email protected]
Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7)
What’s Up: online chat (7pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 children’s helpline (1pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-10pm weekends)
Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

 

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