We have long been aware of the dangers of home for women but to discover that the house of our nation, Parliament House is also a perilous place, is a different and distressing revelation. While hardly surprising, the rape allegation of staffer Brittany Higgins and those which have followed, has drawn attention to the risks for women at work. It also raises the very difficult question of what should be done to make both domains safe for women.
Philosopher Kate Manne, guest at Adelaide Writers Week 2021 and author of Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women is clear that only a small percentage of men assault women in the way Brittany Higgins was hurt, yet those who do often adopt this behaviour early, repeat assaults and respond poorly to treatment. To ask women to take responsibility to change their behaviour to stay safe speaks of victim blaming and locating the problem in the woman. Manne suggests that the most effective interventions lie with the bystander, both men and women, who need to make it clear that they are willing to intervene when they witness interactions that indicate a woman may not be safe. This could include supporting a woman who is clearly intoxicated and being persuaded to leave a venue in a way they do not wish or asking if she needs support when the interaction between her and another appears controlling or threatening. Your offer of help may not be welcome, you may be the recipient of an unpleasant exchange, but if you weigh this against rape averted, there is no contest.