By JAMILA RIZVI
Do you listen to the John Laws’ radio show? Yeah, neither do I.
And yesterday I was reminded why.
John Laws is the 77-year-old host of the morning program on 2SM radio in Sydney. For those of us who aren’t familiar with what Mr Laws is all about, the station’s website provides this helpful explanation:
John Laws is the undisputed ‘King’ of Talkback radio, afterall he’s been doing it for over 54 years. John cuts thru the political spin and asks the hard questions, often unsettling politicians. If it’s news, information, entertainment and talkback you’re after, there is only one choice, John Laws, weekdays from 9am.Advertisement
That’s right, this tough guy, this so-called ‘king’ of talkback and defender of the people, asks the really hard questions.
Like when a woman called into his radio program and spoke at length about the horrific abuse she had suffered as a child, at the hands of her male relatives, Laws asked: “Was it in any way your fault?”
But don’t worry everyone, the tough questions didn’t stop there. Laws was determined to cut through this sexual abuse survivor’s political spin. He’s a journalist who knows how to get to the real truth of a story [insert sarcasm font].
Laws went on to push the caller even further about the role she had played in the abuse, suggesting that she – a 6-year-old girl when the abuse began – was somehow responsible for what happened.
“You weren’t provocative?” Laws asked. And later “Are you unattractive?”
And then this churlish piece of commentary: “My god they were having a good time with you.”
How. Is. This. Man. Still. Allowed. On. The. Air.
You can listen to the audio of Laws’ talkback call here, (WARNING – this audio may be distressing to some listeners):
But let’s all take a very deep breath, cover our mouths to hold in the swear words and take a step back for a moment…
When something horrible happens – a murder, a rape, a sexual assault – it’s inevitable that as a community, we search for answers and for assurances that ‘this couldn’t happen to me or someone I love’. It’s how we make ourselves feel safe. It’s how we convince ourselves that we’re going to be okay.
And while we search for those assurances, we look for points of difference between us and the victim; we think “I’d never marry an abusive man,” or “I don’t catch trains, so would never be in that situation,” or “I live in a safe neighbourhood, I’ll be fine.”
And although that is a perfectly natural and very human reaction to tragedy, it can be all-to-easy when talking about issues like this, to unintentionally slip into language that places responsibility for what happened, onto the victim.
While not deliberately hurtful, these sorts of attitudes serve to further compound the suffering of victims and their families.
It happens most commonly in situations where women have been sexually assaulted or raped and entrenches a dangerous community view that somehow women should be able to ‘prevent’ the abuse they suffer from (by not going out at night, or wearing sensible shoes or some such).
A culture that unwittingly places the blame for a sexual assault or rape on the victim, is one that requires greater education. The solution to this sort of unintended victim blaming is to foster a better understanding about the consequences of that sort of language and to drill that message of ‘rapists are the only ones responsible for rape’ into the public consciousness as hard as we can.
But this occasion with John Laws is different.
Because this was a very deliberate series of questions that sought to hold a woman responsible for what happened to her when she was a CHILD. It takes the suggestion that she was to blame for what happened from the abhorrent to the downright stomach-turning.
This isn’t a situation where education is the answer. Because there is no common, prevailing community attitude that needs to be addressed here. The vast majority of the community would never dream to suggest, let alone straight out ask, whether a child was at fault for abuse that they suffered.
It was not her fault John Laws. They weren’t having ‘fun’ with her. She was not ‘provocative’.
She was six-years-old.
If you need help or just want to talk to someone, contact 1800 RESPECT here.