What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 7 August 2023 – 13 August 2023

South Australian Barbershop Applies for Exemption from Equal Opportunity Act

A barbershop based in Adelaide has applied for an exemption under the Equal Opportunity Act to prevent women from entering the company’s premises. According to the article, the barbershop aims to provide clients with a “male sanctuary,” claiming that it is “Adelaide’s only male only barber shop.” A letter posted to the company’s Instagram account reads “a complaint has recently been made to Equal Opportunity SA about Robbie’s Chop Shop and its request that women observe our status as ‘the last male sanctuary’.” The statement continues to read “whilst we feel that this complaint is misconceived, we are doing our best to resolve the situation in a respectful and understanding manner to the satisfaction of all involved.” Former chair of the Civil Liberties Council Claire O’Connor stated that according to the Equal Opportunity Act, it is unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of sex for the provision of a service (such as a haircut). Ms O’Connor stated that “there can be good reasons why some women won’t exercise in a space, especially survivors of sexual assault or discrimination themselves [who] might not want to exercise in the type of clothing you wear in a space where men are in.” Ms O’Connor stated that “where businesses wish to discriminate against a group of people, they must apply for an exemption through the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.”

Ryan Zabaznow Sentenced to Five Years’ Imprisonment Over Sexual Assault at Mine site

Former Fly-In Fly-Out worker Ryan Zabaznow was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment this week after having being found guilty earlier this year of sexually assaulting a woman in her donga at BHP’s South Flank iron ore mine. Mr Zabaznow had been drinking alcohol with a woman and socialising with other colleagues during their transition from day to night shifts in November 2020. The woman had been placed in her bed, with one witness describing her as “comatose.” The court heard that Mr Zabaznow “was aware that the woman was affected by alcohol because he had seen her slumped over the toilet and her friend helping her to bed.” According to the article, Mr Zabaznow was viewed sexually assaulting the victim, where it was alerted to others. The woman stated that she had woken to Mr Zabaznow on top of her and described that it felt like she had a “cement slab” above her. The woman stated that “I remember a tear falling and then I thought, just don’t let him see you’re upset, so I just cried as quietly as I could.” BHP had dismissed Mr Zabaznow following an internal investigation into his conduct. Judge Petrusa stated that the crime had “a profound and pervasive impact” on the victim, who now suffers from “crippling anxiety and flashbacks.” Further, Judge Petrusa stated that “you had no reason to believe that she was consenting to sexual activity… she could not consent because she was asleep.” The woman had been “forced to give up the job she loved in the mining industry because she felt powerless.” Mr Zabaznow will serve three years’ imprisonment before he can be considered for release.

Sofronoff Report Released by ACT Government Following Leaks

This week, the ACT government released the Sofronoff report, which details the findings of the Board of Inquiry into the conduct of criminal justice agencies during Bruce Lehrmann’s prosecution. The report was originally to be released a month after it had been handed to the ACT government. However, this decision had been met with significant political and public pressure over the past week. ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr expressed his “extreme disappointment” in relation to the leaking of a report, stating that the author Walter Sofronoff had a “significant lapse of judgment.” Mr Barr stated that “as has been reported, the government was advised late last week that the board chair, Mr Sofronoff, chose to provide the report to two media organisations under embargo.” Further, he stated that “this was not authorised by me or anyone else in the ACT government” and that the leak “interfered with the due process that should have been afforded to impacted parties.” The Sofronoff report found that top prosecutor Shane Drumgold had generated “scandalous” and “wholly false” allegations. Mr Drumgold stated that “while I acknowledge I made mistakes, I strongly dispute that I engaged in deliberate or underhanded conduct in the trial or that I was dishonest.” According to the article, the government is seeking advice as to whether the leak “constituted a breach of the Inquiries Act 1991 and if any further action [was] required.” Mr Barr stated that “whether Mr Sofronoff was right to place his trust in those journalists or one particular journalist, [whether he] was right to assume that his confidences would be held, well it’s obviously proven not to be the case and the consequences of that are considerable.” Mr Barr stated that “there is a degree of objectivity that is required in assessing whether this constitutes a breach.”

Police Union Responds to Brittany Higgins Statement Following Sofronoff Report

The president of the Australian Federal Police Association has responded to Brittany Higgins’ statement earlier this week where she condemned the conduct of investigators involved in her rape allegation. Ms Higgins stated on Instagram this week that “these men were absolutely awful to me. They made me feel violated at every turn.” Further, Ms Higgins’ stated that “they cast judgments about the merits of my advocacy and regularly reiterated the reasons why they thought that I shouldn’t proceed with pressing charges.” She said in her post that “they made a fun folder full of unfounded claims in a liberal attempt to discredit me as a permissible rape victim to the office of the DPP.” Ms Higgins stated that “I will always remember how small I felt having five senior police officers I’ve never met in a room belittling me – after I had just spent hours giving evidence in a second EIC (evidence in chief) interview.” President of the Australian Federal Police Association (AFPA), Alex Caruana, stated that “mistakes can’t be unmade,” however he described that ACT Policing had “done the right thing and apologised to Ms Higgins.” Mr Caruana stated that “I know that ACT Policing is committed, as demonstrated by accepting the inquiry’s recommendations to ensure that mistakes like this don’t occur again.” Further, Mr Caruana said that “this investigation and subsequent inquiry have hurt and damaged many people” and that the AFPA stood by the detectives in the investigation. Mr Caruana stated that “police can’t control what a jury member does, nor can they control how a judicial process will conclude.”

Senator Linda Reynolds and Bruce Lehrmann Release Statements Following Sofronoff Report

Senator Linda Reynolds has stated that she was “devastated” in relation to the allegations that she had tried to cover up the alleged rape of Ms Higgins. Ms Reynolds said that “it’s time” she gives her side of the story. Ms Reynolds stated that “it more than hurt, it completely devastated me, the allegations that were aired about me, you cannot think of anything worse or a worse allegation of any woman that you covered up the rape of a young woman in your own office.” Ms Reynolds has stated that “for nearly two-and-a-half years, Brittany has had control of the narrative and it is designed to hurt.” Further, she said that she has become an unnecessary “villain” in relation to the allegations against Mr Lehrmann. According to the article, Mr Lehrmann stated this week that he is now considering legal action after the release of the Sofronoff report, saying that “it will have to be a multimillion-dollar claim because I have to consider I may never work again.” Mr Lehrmann stated that “I am innocent” and that “if we were able to have a fair trial and a trial at all, I’m entirely confident it would have… rendered a non-guilty verdict for me.” Mr Lehrmann’s barrister, Steven Whybrow, believes that “Bruce did not get a fair trial” and that “things happened, there was an almost, I don’t know how to explain it, but we were up against it from the start and this case… it was hard.”

On-Campus Safety and Sexual Assault Targeted in Review into Universities

Universities will now be the subject of a review which will examine on-campus safety and sexual assault. The review will be led by Our Watch chief executive Patty Kinnersly, which is due to commence next week. Our Watch is a leading national organisation in preventing violence against women and children. Education Minister Jason Clare stated that “safety on campus has been talked about for long enough, the statistics are shocking.” Mr Clare stated that “one in 20 students reported being sexually assaulted since starting university, according to the 2021 national student safety survey, and one in six reported being sexually harassed.” Further, he stated that “it needs the input and the action of federal, state and territory governments… universities need to be doing more here.” Mr Clare raised concerns about the lack of resources and inconsistent complaints processes in relation to sexual assault on campus. Deputy Opposite Leader Sussan Ley said that students have a right to safety while at university and stated that “we need to do better.” Independent Zoe Daniel stated that it has been “six years since the landmark Change the Course investigation found widespread sexual violence on campus and systematic failures to respond to the problem… Universities should be a place of joy, not fear.” Vice-chancellors of universities met on Wednesday this week and agreed that tailored programs should be run in 2024.