24 March 2021

Ms TRISH DOYLE (Blue Mountains) (17:22): As we all know, there is a long overdue public conversation underway about violence against women in public spaces and the abuse of power and the mistreatment of women in the workplace by men. Much of the public focus has been on Parliament House in Canberra, but we know that there are violent and coercive men in all workplaces and throughout our communities. The same is obviously true of this Parliament. As the shadow Minister for Women, I am regularly contacted by people who wish to share their stories with me. As much as possible, I listen, provide advice and encourage people to make formal reports to the police and engage with support services. Today I pay tribute to survivors like Brittany Higgins and Grace Tame, who have all put themselves forward at great risk and stood up against men who coerce, harass or assault women in the workplace, in the home or, indeed, in public spaces. They have put themselves at considerable risk in doing so and I commend them for their bravery. As a starting point, we must all believe those women and believe all women when they make those reports.

Another group of women who are exposed to violence, coercion and harassment regularly are sex workers. Sex work is real work and we must reduce the stigma around it. Sex workers are over‑represented amongst women who are assaulted, harassed, coerced, and indeed raped. They are also the least able to report these assaults, because they may not know the identity of the perpetrator and they often do not trust the police to handle their complaint. Obviously, there are many hundreds of years of history underpinning that apprehension.

Eighteen months ago I was contacted by a sex worker who had recently been assaulted in my electorate. She had agreed to meet a client who was travelling home from Sydney at a point along his journey north. She had been clear with her client from the outset about what she was willing to do with him and what she was unwilling to do. She had responded to the client via a website called Locanto. He had posted a wanted ad seeking a "BBBJ with CIM" and was offering $200. It was an arrangement for oral sex only. Like many sex workers there was an aspect of emotion to her work with this client. She had to message back and forth with him and hear about his important job and his significant workload. She also discussed with him aspects about her family life and a shared interest in local artworks at regional galleries. In the end, the location for their meeting changed and they met at a secluded lookout in Yellow Rock in the Blue Mountains.

She tells me that she made herself clear that she was not willing to have penetrative sex with him. However, towards the end the man moved around behind her and assaulted her in a way she had not consented to. In her emails to me she said that once the assault began she just wanted it to finish. But on that she is emphatic: It was an assault and it was against her explicit instructions. She did not consent. It was rape. This assault has had terrible consequences for the woman's mental health and wellbeing. When she first made this report to me she said she did not trust the processes available to her to make a formal report to police. However, in the time since and with the encouragement of the Sex Workers Outreach Project, I understand that she has made such a report and that inquiries are underway. She remains hurt and angry that this powerful man felt entitled to assault her. She remains fearful that this powerful man may seek reprisals against her for reporting this rape.

She is worried about the impact of a court case or investigation on her daughter. She is fearful, hurt and angry that this powerful man felt entitled to assault her and that he might get away with it because the justice system is so stacked against victims of assault and it is even more stacked against sex workers, who are in such vulnerable positions. This fear, hurt and anger is not something any woman should be made to feel, but it is all the worse that this man who raped her is a Government member of this Chamber. His power and his privileged position as a civic leader make that fear, anger and hurt all the worse. The abuse of power and privilege to harass, coerce and assault women in the home, the street and the workplace must stop. Perpetrators must be held accountable. I commend the motion to the House.