Opinion: Big issue with Scott Morrison's response to rape claim

Penny Burfitt
·Lifestyle & Entertainment Producer
·5-min read

Opinion.

This morning Prime Minister Scott Morrison endeared himself to many Australians with a heartfelt speech supporting staffer Brittany Higgins who alleges she was raped inside Parliament House.

In his emotional response,the Prime Minister referred to his daughters as his insight into the devastating impacts of rape, saying it was after his wife Jenny invited him to consider the situation as if it befell one of his daughters that it touched home for him.

Scott Morrison Prime Minsiter responds to alleged rape of Brittany Higgins by liberal staffer
Scott Morrison said he looked at the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins as a 'father first', but should he?Photo: ABC

"[My wife] Jenny and I spoke last night and she said to me: 'You have to think about this as a father first. What would you want to happen if it were our girls?' Jenny has a way of clarifying things," he said.

"It shatters me that still, in this day and age, that a young woman can find herself in the vulnerable situation that she was in, not her doing.

"And we have to do more, whether it's in this workplace or any other workplace in the country, to ensure that people can work safely in their place, and be at their best and do what they went into that job to do."

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The response is a step in the right direction from the leader of the country and the liberal party for whom Brittany was working when the alleged rape took place, but it’s not good enough.

'Father first' is not good enough

The man who is supposed to be leading all Australians, representing all Australians, advocating for all Australians shouldn’t need a proxy to empathise with a rape victim.

Rape isn't distressing because it might happen to your daughter, it's distressing because it's an act of violation and a crime.

This matter was in fact put to the PM almost immediately after he made his statement by Channel 10 reporter Tegan George, who asked him whether, rather than respond through the lens of being a father, he should just respond ‘as a human being’.

Mr Morrison responded: “Being a husband and a father is central to me - [to] my human being. So I don't follow your question.”

You can actually understand why he is confused at the challenge – this is a really common way lots of people approach this issue, but the problem goes beyond semantics.

If I hear of a young man killed in a car crash, I have never once been told to ‘imagine it was your dad, your brother, your husband’. It's just a tragedy because the loss of young life is a tragedy. I don’t need a proxy to relate to it, and I’m not even an elected representative of those young men.

Rape should be seen the same way, particularly by the people we elect to represent us, to pass legislation on these matters, to hold criminals and culture to account.

Comparison is just a step away from the alleged victim

Brittany Higgins cries The Project liberal staffer rape claim
The leader of our country shouldn't have to view Brittany through the lense of his daughter's to empathise with her. Photo: Ten

When men, like Scott Morrison, only relate to victims of rape through their own daughters, they do so through a myriad of lenses and it actually draws them further from empathy because it invites unnecessary comparisons.

‘Imagine if it was your daughter’. But what if it was a woman of colour? Your daughters are white.

‘Imagine if it was your daughter.’ But would your daughter go out in that short skirt? No, she dresses modestly.

‘Imagine if it was your daughter.’ But would your daughter be drinking alone with a senior partner at her law firm? No, she doesn’t drink!

‘Imagine if it was your daughter.’ But my daughter is religious and she’s saving sex for marriage, so she couldn’t have been in that bed, with that man in the first place! There would be no consent to withdraw.

‘Imagine if it was your daughter.’

Or here’s an idea – why don’t we just imagine it happened, to the woman, or the man, or the person who says it happened to them? Let’s cut out the middle woman and go straight to the source.

You don’t need a translator to talk to women. I promise we can be very coherent.

The wrong track

Relating to rape through relatives is a refusal to look beyond your immediate circle, refusing to acknowledge women who don’t immediately relate and interact with you. It's actually acknowledging the fact we're all encouraged to see women as 'other', 'different', very much not the norm.

Because of this mindset, when victims come forward who don’t bear any resemblance to the women by our sides, or the women we are, it's harder to empathise with them.

No wonder women of colour, women from lower socio-economic backgrounds, transgender women and other minorities are also the groups who get the least justice when they are victims – they don’t look like most of our MPs, or most of the media's, nearest and dearest, do they?

Ironically enough as Scott Morrison tries to lean on the women in his life to relate to Brittany Higgins, he is in fact leaning further away from her experience.

He, like so many dads, is trying to set off down the right track, but he’s chosen the wrong route.

If the leader of our country can’t simply empathise with Brittany because she’s one of his constituents, a former staffer in his own party, a fellow citizen of Australia or just a human being, if he needs a proxy figure to simply relate to women, then who exactly is he qualified to represent?

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