A policeman in WA was found not guilty of indecent assault last week when he nonconsensually pinched a woman’s backside during a team photo at a charity wheelchair basketball event. This decision is a backwards step from what has become globally recognised as inappropriate and unacceptable in the wake of #MeToo and frankly, we are outraged.
The reason, given by Magistrate Michelle Ridley in the Magistrate Court in April last year was “in an era of ‘twerking‘ and grinding, simulated sex and easy access to pornography, the thought of a pinch on the bottom is almost a reference to a more genteel time.”
When has sexual harassment ever reminded us of a more genteel time?!
The case was considered for appeal in the Supreme Court last month, which saw Justice Jennifer Smith summarise the previous decision, concluding that a woman’s bottom is not ‘inherently sexual’ and wavers in seriousness compared to the other parts of the body; “It is not an established principle that the grabbing of a person’s bottom is always indecent”.
Let’s get some things clear. The ‘era of twerking’ being referenced here is one that has enabled individuals to reclaim their bodies and their sexuality through movement. Just because someone is shaking their bum, it does not mean that principles of consent just evaporate. It has never been okay to touch any part of a woman without her consent, bum, breasts or anywhere else, and claiming that living in ‘an era of twerking’ somehow makes it okay now, is remarkably wrong.
Comparing the consensual touching, grinding or twerking that happens at dance parties, concerts or wherever a woman damn well pleases, with a nonconsensual grab that happened after a sports match blurs the lines between what is and isn’t sexual assault. Pretty simply, whether someone is trying to get some laughs (because deliberately making someone feel uncomfortable is hilarious) or whether it’s intentionally sexual or not, this conduct has and always will be unacceptable. It. Is. Sexual. Harassment.
The devastating outcome of this case is a step backwards from the achievements of #MeToo – the movement that created tidal waves around the world concerning sexual abuse and harassment. It’s hard to swallow a decision that sees grabbing a woman’s backside as being without any sexual connotation, considering the thousands of women who have come forward to stand up against such behaviour. The court claimed that in order for a pinch on the bum to be seen as ‘indecent’, the motivation and the context of the act need to be taken into account. This implies that sexual harassment can be okay sometimes, if it’s carried out in good humour or if it happens in a certain place or at a certain time. WTF! Taking ‘context’ into account favours the perpetrator and therefore takes power away from the victim, further de-legitimising their experience. This effectively shifts blame onto victims, claiming that because they are living in an overly sexualised society that they have in some way consented to sexual harassment. The prevalence of any type of dance move NEVER excuses harassment.
This conduct should not be ambiguous in a court of law. A court should not get to decide which parts of a woman’s body are inherently sexual and which are not, making decisions according to some kind of outdated and inherently patriarchal hierarchy. If non consensual touching of a woman’s breasts is considered sexual assault then touching her backside should be too.
Systemic, cultural changes won’t happen immediately, but don’t let this outcome let you feel like your voice or story doesn’t matter. Remember that your experiences are always valid. If someone’s conduct has made you feel uncomfortable, regardless of the motivation, it is indecent and should be treated accordingly. Listen to people who have had similar experiences and don’t tell them to ‘take a joke’ or ‘get over it’. Especially those survivors who are too often left out of mainstream media; members of the LGBTQI community, people with disabilities, women of colour and male-identifying survivors. Perpetrators need to be held accountable, and this will only happen when judges, and laws in general, catch up with the public perception of bodily autonomy and the concept of consent.
Alice is a volunteer at the Victorian Women’s Trust and studying media and communication. She is passionate about gender equality and believes it will not be achieved until the struggles of all kinds of women are heard. She is also passionate about pizza and her dog Scout.