Labor's newest parliamentarian has described being subjected to sexual harassment, stalking and bullying by a prominent New Zealand academic, in an emotional first speech to the ACT Legislative Assembly.
Dr Marisa Paterson spoke of how the process which followed her complaint "failed me and failed everybody", with action only taken against her perpetrator after her story was published in New Zealand media.
In a speech on Thursday morning, Dr Paterson said that just four days before nominating to contest the seat of Murrumbidgee at this year's ACT election, she lodged a formal complaint about the behaviour of a professor and pro vice-chancellor at one of New Zealand's leading universities.
She said the complaint, which was lodged in August 2019 through Australian National University, where Dr Paterson was working at the time as director of the Centre for Gambling Research, included evidence of two years of sexual harassment, stalking and bullying.
Dr Paterson, a 37-year-old mother of three, said her involvement with the professor started as a "mentor-type" relationship.
He was a "distinguished" academic nearing the end of his career, while she was just starting out in a field where "career progression was as dependent on the quality of your research, as it is on relationships within your own university and other national and international".
"My marriage had ended, and I was on my own with three very young children. I very acutely felt the pressure of my income, being the only income," she said.
"I felt that making a formal complaint directly jeopardised my job and my career prospects. I attempted to navigate the situation for over two years - I asked him so many times to stop, he did not. It was very distressing for me to take this complaint to my workplace."
Dr Paterson said despite the scale of evidence presented in her complaint, there was no investigation into the allegations.
"This man continued to hold a position of power over my career, and now that I had made the formal complaint - that felt even more threatening," she said.
"I had no protection and no justice."
Frustrated and angered by the NZ university's response, Dr Paterson contacted a journalist at NZ publication Stuff, who was dedicated to covering the #MeToo movement.
The reporting sparked a still-unfolding chain of events, which included the professor's resignation and a high-level review into sexual harassment at the university.
A coalition of hundreds of New Zealand academics are also now calling for an independent national body to address sexual harassment on campuses across New Zealand, Dr Paterson said.
Dr Paterson said that her experience was being played out in other workplaces - including federal parliament.
"Men, in powerful positions, will ultimately work to protect each other - regardless of the cost to other people, and ultimately, the enormous reputational cost to their institution or organisation," she said.
"Sexual harassment is an abuse of power, a corruption of power, and it is largely gender based."
Dr Paterson said she chose to speak publicly about her experience to demonstrate to her community the type of leader she would be in the ACT Legislative Assembly.
"It has taken me 37 years to learn to stand up for myself. I can do that now. Which means I can confidently say to the people of Murrumbidgee and Canberra, I can stand up for you. I can fight for you," she said.
"I will fight very publicly at times, and I will do the long hard yards, the hard conversations and the small steps that are needed at other times.
"From the street light that has stopped working, to the shopping centre upgrade, to systemic, structural, cultural change that is required in our society - I will walk with you every step of the way."
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