news

"What has happened to Nova Peris isn't a sex scandal - it's family violence."

By AMY STOCKWELL

This week, an Australian newspaper appears to have become an accomplice in a campaign of family violence against a Senator.

In publishing the most deeply personal elements of emails between Senator Nova Peris and Trinidadian athlete Ato Bolden, the NT News has compounded a violent act apparently designed to humiliate, coerce and manipulate the Senator in a dispute about child access and financial settlement.

The cover of the NT News

It was an act of violence designed, according to Senator Peris, to force her into doing something that wasn’t in her own interests or, in her view, in the interests of her children.

Yesterday in the Senate, Senator Peris disclosed that she was in a “long-running and difficult child access and financial estate dispute”.

Since the dispute began, the Senator says that she has been “subjected to many threats”. In 2012, the other party in the child access and settlement dispute had threatened to make public a “folder of emails” relating to Mr Bolden. In March 2014, several months after she was elected to the Senate, a representative of this party threatened to release the emails “unless his wishes were granted”. The representative said that the release of the emails “will only result in causing major trauma for everyone, especially the children and damage the reputation of some stakeholders”. Earlier this month, Senator Peris reported the issue to the AFP.

Presumably the other party to the dispute has made good on these threats and the emails have made their way to the NT News. The NT News admits to knowing about the child access and financial settlement dispute. They not only chose to publish a story about an alleged misuse of public funds (that had been widely disproven by the relevant agencies), but also to publish the intimate emails.

The emails in question were sent four years ago, between Peris and Bolden.

Peris with former PM Julia Gillard.

Peris had been authorised to contact Bolden and encourage him to come to Australia to be part of a campaign in the lead up to the London Olympics. In addition to the business that was transacted (which relevant agencies have agreed it was not a misuse of public funds), there was also some personal, private banter between the two. They covered intimate subject matter. They disclosed very personal thoughts and opinions, some of which were about their relationship, some were about other people, including Olympian Cathy Freeman.

It is very clear from the content and nature of these emails that if they were made public, they would lead to significant embarrassment.

The NT News knew this. More importantly, they knew that these emails were given to them by a third party precisely because they would embarrass, hurt and humiliate the Senator.

Peris and Boldon

They published them anyway. Making the newspaper an accomplice in a campaign of violence.

ADVERTISEMENT

Blackmail and threats of humiliation of the kind described by Senator Peris are not uncommon in relationship breakdown and dispute over settlements and child access.

When one party in a family dispute tells a woman “if you don’t do what I say, I will tell everyone [this shocking secret, this thing you said, this email you wrote, this private moment you had]”, that’s family violence. It is psychological violence designed to degrade, to humiliate and to coerce. It is an act of someone trying to wield power over another. It is violent and it is wrong.

Like physical violence, blackmail and other forms of psychological violence are often designed to keep women silent when they would otherwise speak. This behaviour tries to stop women from doing what would be in their best interests and the best interests of their children. It attempts to bend a woman’s will to that of her former partner or her former partner’s family. It makes women fearful of what might happen to them if they disagree.

Senator Peris felt she was being threatened. She says that an intermediary threatened to release the embarrassing emails “unless [another person’s] wishes were granted”. She believed she was being coerced in a matter that related to the well-being of her children. Her career, her family and her dignity appeared to be under threat.

And the events of this week tell us: she didn’t give in.

Senator Peris chose to run the risk of humiliation and take personal damage instead of capitulating to someone else’s wishes when it came to her children. She stood up in the most public place in the land and said: this is happening to me.

Senator Peris issuing her statement yesterday.

Not everyone who is the subject of family violence will be humiliated in a public forum like this. But they will quite possibly feel the same shame and fear.

Hopefully, they will see Senator Peris’ example and say: what is happening to me is wrong. It is violent. And I can and should get help.

Whether she knows it or not, Senator Peris is a role model. For women who have faced threats and coercion and stood against them.

How much responsibility the NT News should bear is unclear – but they still maintain that their story was in the public interest.  They say they were  “aware Ms Peris was involved in a family dispute, but …chose not to publish this fact because it did not believe it was in the public interest”.

The NT News was wrong on two counts. They were not only wrong to publish the emails, they were wrong to not make public the reason that the emails fell into their hands.

When a woman experiences violence, it is never in the public interest for us to stay silent or to turn away and say that violence is a private matter. Senator Peris deserves our respect and our support for speaking out about what happened. And today, we are proud to stand with her.

The National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line – 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for any Australian who has experienced, or is at risk of, family and domestic violence and/or sexual assault.
Men who are concerned about their behaviour can call the Men’s Referral Service: 1800 065 973
Children/ young people needing help can call Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800
In an emergency, always dial 000.

00:00 / ???