As the hyenas circle the latest #MeToo roadkill, it is telling how few are raising questions about the extraordinary sequence of events that led to Dyson Heydon’s very public humiliation.
Much is being made of the High Court’s “administrative inquiry” led by public servant Vivienne Thom. Yet, as Chris Merritt has pointed out this week in The Australian, this inquiry only heard from one side. The only input into Thom’s inquiry were the accusations from the six young women who claimed Heydon had harassed them when they worked as his associates. The inquiry didn’t hear from Heydon whom Merritt claims refused to participate because he was concerned “anything he said could be used against him in future proceedings.” The accusations from the women were not tested, nor subjected to any cross-examination.
All participants, including Heydon, apparently signed confidentiality agreements which didn’t deter Chief Justice Susan Kiefel from naming Heydon when she went public with the conclusions from the Thom investigation, issuing a public apology for the former High Court judge’s alleged behaviour. Not only was Heydon denied due process but he was presented as guilty before any opportunity for proper examination of the evidence – ensuring his personal and professional reputation would be destroyed.
Surely, we should all want men who commit harassment or assault to be appropriately penalized when they are proved guilty but NOT before. Chris Merritt quoted Terry O’Gorman, president of the Australian Council of Civil liberties, as expressing concern that “a major public figure could be ‘found guilty’ in the public arena via a process where he has not been accorded the usual procedural fairness requirements.”
James Allan, professor of law at the University of Queensland, also raised concerns that Chief Justice Susan Kiefel accepted the findings before the accusations could be tested in court. Given that legal proceedings have now been launched seeking compensation for three of the complainants, this matter could end up before the High Court, raising very sticky questions about perceived bias.
Not that any of this has any impact in the court of public opinion, particularly with so many female lawyers lining up to share experiences of further inappropriate behaviour by Heydon. With most of the high profile Australian #MeToo cases having fallen in a heap, feminists are beside themselves with glee over this very big scalp. And naturally, they are using this opportunity to argue for more female judges and senior lawyers – a proposal which, of course, further demonises all men as potential or even probable abusers and fails to address the real issues.
The fact that Heydon’s lynching stemmed from a kangaroo court run by our premier legal institution will go largely unnoticed. How ironic that the High Court itself has pronounced on the need for procedural fairness by administrative decision-makers.
Just one of many kangaroo courts
All this is happening while I am still up to my ears working to expose the most grievous example of unfair administrative decision-making in relation to sexual misconduct – through my ongoing investigation of our campus kangaroo courts.
Over the past few months my diligent volunteers have done a great job sending letters, firstly to Vice Chancellors and more recently to university boards, asking questions about how they are tackling the issue of investigating and adjudicating sexual assault on campus – particularly in the light of Dan Tehan’s instruction, via TEQSA, that universities should get out of this territory.
Many have passed on to me the glowing letters they have received in response, as the university administrators claim all is hunky dory, with accused young men being offered procedural fairness and having all their rights protected. That’s so much hogwash.
Over recent weeks I have talked to the parents of a final year student who had his degree withheld for over a year after a sexual assault allegation. Despite no proper investigation, his accuser’s degree was promptly awarded while his life was in limbo.
Another student was excluded from all university premises after being caught with a drunken girl who’d partially undressed him. Then there was the mother whose student son now faces criminal charges even though his accuser admits she thought she was having sex with another student. At a fourth university, a young man is being humiliated by accusations of sexual assault and harassment being circulated on social media by his ex-girlfriend. This is the same university which has suspended male students for singing bawdy songs at a college event.
Across the board our universities are selling out young men through administrative decision-making which denies them proper justice. With the lawyers and researchers helping with this project, I’m putting together documentation to show how few of our universities allow access to lawyers to protect the accused during the secretive investigations being conducted on our campuses. How very few allow proper examination of the evidence, let alone opportunity for cross-examination. Unlike our criminal courts, none of this administrative decision-making has proper oversight. The decisions to steal these young men’s degrees, derail their careers, shame and humiliate them are made by unnamed people, behind closed doors, with no public scrutiny.
American parents fighting back
One of the local mothers whose student son is going through this process has alerted me to a wonderful organization run by parents who are fighting for fair treatment for students facing sexual misconduct investigations on American campuses.
Families Advocating for Campus Equality (FACE) was started in 2013 by two mothers whose sons were involved in campus disciplinary processes following false allegations. Since then they have been contacted by over 2000 parents dealing with these unfair tribunals. FACE has become one of the main players working for change to the Title IX processes, lobbying legislators, meeting with education and justice bureaucrats and using the media to expose what’s going on.
Next Wednesday morning, July 1, I am having a live chat on thinkspot with lawyer Cynthia Garrett, co-president of FACE. This will happen at 11am AEST in Australia, which is 6pm on Tues, June 30 Pacific time. Here’s the link for you to listen live and you will be able to hear a recording on thinkspot and YouTube sometime later (details will be on my website.)
Take a look at the chilling advice on the FACE website from parents who have been through this ordeal with their sons (or rarely daughters). Here are some of the topic headings:
Expect that your student may be suspended or expelled.
Get an experienced lawyer – right away – if you can afford one.
Do not allow your student to speak to anyone on campus about the allegations unless accompanied by an advocate.
Have your student close all social media accounts.
Expect an adversarial and unsympathetic campus environment.
Expect that your student will be given few rights.
Expect your student to become depressed, despondent, and possibly suicidal.
FACE gives very detailed advice on all these issues, much of which applies also to students being investigated for sexual assault here. There’s also good advice from students which is well worth reading.
Mothers of Sons
A few weeks ago I told you about a similar advocacy group, Mothers of Sons, being established in Australia. This one is for mothers of sons who have received unfair treatment not just on university campuses but in the courts, facing struggles to see their children, parental alienation, unproven accusations in magistrates courts, or workplace discrimination.
The MOS group tells me they are working hard developing a website which not only shares their often horrific and heartbreaking stories but provides important and timely advice about how to survive all these ordeals. If you are a mother who would like to share your story and your advice through MOS please write to this address: [email protected]
They’ve asked me to put a call out because they urgently need experienced editors to assist with editing stories and writing copy for the website. If you can help with this, or contribute other skills, please contact MOS.
Until next time. Cheers, Tina
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