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"I was groped and harrassed. I never said anything but my children will".

 

Trigger Warning: This post deals with themes of sexual harassment, and child sex abuse. It may be triggering for some readers.

Working in the entertainment industry was always going to be an eye-opener for me. I was prepared for that.

I was a naive, 20-year-old Italian girl who still lived at home. I didn’t swear and was easily embarrassed. But for some reason when I got in front of the mic, I was happy to have a chat and I was even a bit funny.

So, I scored a job in breakfast radio at a regional radio station. I stayed in radio for a decade, working at five different stations.

The Rolf Harris and Robert Hughes cases highlight how a culture of silence allowed these men to prey on young women.

During that time I was groped by celebrities, sexually harassed by a boss and forced to watch pornography in the announcers’ room.

I quickly learned how to swear and was introduced to my male colleagues’ ‘fuckability’ metre whereby any female who walked into our building was immediately graded as either ‘fuckable’ or ‘unfuckable’.

Two categories was all my dribbling colleagues could manage.

One boss thought it would be funny to mark down on a wall calendar each time his wife gave him a blowjob.

Some months were better than others. His tally was loudly discussed in the hallways.

At one station, the slimeball who was responsible for most of the groping incidents at our office – including one where I was accosted while trying to use the photocopier – was appointed the point-of-contact for all sexual harassment complaints. So we were meant to complain about him, to him.

During my 10 years in the industry, things got progressively better – or at least attempts were made to improve things.

After those first few horrible years, at one station we started getting called into meetings where we were told to report incidents of sexual harassment. But despite what they said in those meetings, they implicitly made it clear that reports of sexual harassment would not be welcomed.

So I didn’t say anything, and neither did my equally-harassed female colleagues.

And every time I failed to report an incident, I died a little.

I didn’t report when the soapstar fondled my hand when he was just meant to shake it. I didn’t report when the movie star put his hand on my butt while we took a photo for our website. I didn’t report when the singer asked me to meet him back at his hotel room. I didn’t complain when we were forced to view a celebrity porn video during an announcers’ meeting.

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I didn’t complain when my boss told me his monthly blowjob tally. I didn’t complain when my boss told me a very young girl who arrived to collect her prize had made it onto his ‘fuckbility’ metre. And I didn’t complain when another boss massaged my shoulders for an extended period of time.

My anger today is boiling over. At them, at myself.

Because people like Robert Hughes and Rolf Harris are permitted to prey on women and children due to collective silence.

And while of course it wasn’t my fault, I know I contributed to that silence.

Jo Abi

I know logically that if I had complained I would have just been fired and the sexual harassment would have continued in my absence – but at least I would have had my dignity.

Things are so different these days. And I’m relieved because I am raising children to complain LOUDLY whenever anyone touched them anywhere and in any way that makes them uncomfortable.

I have told my son that if anyone hurts him, harms him or threatens him, he is to cause a ruckus and if he gets in trouble I will support him 100%.

He remembered this a month ago when the student body listened to a presentation on sexual abuse.

“Mum, today we learned about sexual abuse,” he told me. “And if I ever tell you someone has touched me mum, you HAVE to believe me, because sometimes parents don’t believe their kids.”

“I would always believe you,” I told him. “And that includes if someone we love, who we know well, or even a priest touches you.”

“Like a priest,” he said in shock.

“Yes, darling.”

Then I sat him down and explained to him about the Catholic Church’s history with sexual abuse complaints. I also told him that he was most likely to be sexually abused by someone he knew and trusted. It was a difficult conversation, but it was necessary.

I forced myself to have that conversation because I want to do everything I can to stop my children ever be victims.

We can always do better. Don’t be afraid to sit your children down and explain to them what is right and wrong, where people can touch them and what to do if they ever feel uncomfortable. My children are 5, 6 and 10 and we have the conversation regularly.

They will complain loudly and proudly. And I will never be silent again.

If this post raises any issues for you around sexual abuse, please contact, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au.

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