Please pray and hope you are never involved in a case of sexual assault or sexual harassment where there are more than the usual pressures. It is enough that you feel utterly undone but when political pressures are involved, the pain and humiliation are beyond what normal people can deal with.
As a terrible example of what can go badly wrong, there is no worse case in the history of Australian law than the aborted trial of Bruce Lehrmann for the alleged sexual assault of Brittany Higgins. And today the Sofronoff report tells us exactly what went badly wrong. So much. Too much.
ACT chief prosecutor Shane Drumgold called for an inquiry into political and police conduct in the case. He got his wish. The head of the inquiry Walter Sofronoff KC found every one of the allegations made by Drumgold were without foundation. Findings about Drumgold's conduct were scathing. There is no question that Drumgold's position is now untenable.
But let's talk about two others put under the spotlight and who have borne relentless criticism for months. First, the Victims of Crime Commissioner Heidi Yates. In all the time I have reported on sexual violence, I have never heard a word against Yates, not once. She is a person who has handled and wrangled so much clumsiness around the reporting of violence and crime but done it with grace and dignity. No matter the stupidity of the questions coming her way among all the many cases she has dealt with, not once grumpy or rude or dismissive.
Yet here she was, under the microscope, for standing alongside Brittany Higgins. It was seen by some utter dimwits to be taking sides.
"Her sole purpose at that time, consistently with her statutory duty as well as with human decency, was to ensure, so far as she could, the wellbeing of her client," found Sofranoff.
Yates's actual job, her statutory duty, is advocating for people such as Higgins. And before you tell me that Higgins is not a victim until a court finds her alleged perpetrator guilty, you try putting up with the poisonous garbage she's had to put up with during the course of this terrible business. I haven't always agreed with the path she's followed nor with the advice she's taken but it's her life and at 27, she is well entitled to make up her own mind. And having someone of Yates's calibre as an anchor? Swear to god, you'd think you'd won the lottery. She is an advocate and an educator and I hope to heaven she gets such a role higher up the food chain, say, federally.
And now let's focus on high-profile television journalist Lisa Wilkinson. Let me make clear, I know her socially but we are not friends in any real sense of the word. I wouldn't ring her up and complain about my nearest and dearest. But I would tell my nearest and dearest that Wilkinson has been treated abominably. Yes, her acceptance speech at the 2022 Logies caused a delay of the trial and the ACT Supreme Court Chief Justice Lucy McCallum said after the speech: "Regrettably and with gritted teeth, I have concluded that the trial date of 27 June, towards which the parties have been carefully steering, should be vacated." Now Sofronoff has corrected the record and laid the blame for the trial delay at the feet of Drumgold.
But there have been, by my count, about 600 articles attacking her, especially from our friends at the Daily Mail. Every fart of hers was detailed. Every rumpled tracksuit.
SOFRONOFF REPORT MUST-READS:
Wilkinson said she had cleared the speech with Drumgold and had run her speech past the lawyers at Channel 10. For some reason, unknown and ununderstood by me, not a soul believed her. Instead, the dogs barked and bared their teeth and dripped saliva all over her while she maintained a dignified silence.
I can promise you I would not have been so well-behaved. I would not have waited for the truth to come out which is that Wilkinson has decades of experience in reporting and why would she be an idiot? I would have gone completely nuts. Not her. And I cannot believe Channel Ten has thrown its one real celebrity journalist under the bus. Spineless, the whole operation. I'd boycott The Project if I hadn't already done that years ago for its pathetic reporting on family violence.
Sofronoff said he preferred the evidence of Wilkinson and prosecutor Skye Jerome over Drumgold: "I do not believe any part of Mr Drumgold's purported recollection unless it is consistent with the recollection of those witnesses."
At the heart of this horror show is a trial which will never play out. Lehrmann maintains his innocence. Higgins maintains he is not innocent. But because there will never be a trial, we will never come close to knowing what went on. One trial abandoned because of juror misconduct (and my goodness, I hope that person gets into trouble) and any chance of a second trial abandoned for fears for Higgins's mental health. This is a terrible case of she said, he said.
MORE SOFRONOFF REPORT NEWS:
What was most extraordinary about this case was its capacity to urge people to pick a side. The women of Australia picked that side. They picked the side which said, we stand with our mothers, sisters and daughters. They did not pick the side on which the then Coalition government - largely - stood.
This was not about the guilt or innocence of any of the parties. This was a response to an untold yearning by the women of Australia to be heard, to feel that its government was hearing their pleas for justice, and for safety. For 10 long years - and well before but not so well-articulated - there had been no justice, no safety and not one instance of feeling they had been listened to about anything.
In Australia, it is nearly impossible to bring rapists to justice (and know that Lehrmann maintains his innocence). Yet it is nearly impossible for any victim to get justice. And everyone involved in these cases loses heart and loses hope. The alleged perpetrator, the alleged victim and every person who becomes entangled.
In the case of Lehrmann and Higgins, the key players may struggle to ever do meaningful work again, untroubled by these past few years. You can put whatever spin you like on it, you can attribute ideas and motivations to individuals, but there's one thing you can't argue about. Every single person entangled has been terribly damaged. I don't know that they will recover.
University of South Australia law academic Ben Livings says the findings appear to be damning. The most serious accusation for Drumgold is that he misled the Supreme Court. And no wonder this blew up - a combination of alleged violent sexual crime, the media, politics, the workplace and the controversial way in which the first trial ended.
"It would be a shame if this caused additional hurdles in an area of the law which is notoriously hard to prosecute."
- Jenna Price is a regular columnist and a visiting fellow at the Australian National University.