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'Thank you, Yael Stone, for putting honest words around an experience so many women have had.'

Last night, the nation watched transfixed as Orange is the New Black actress Yael Stone described, in arguably the most eloquent and nuanced manner we’ve heard, the inner complexities of consent in the workplace.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is an issue which has been thrust into the limelight through the #MeToo movement, but one which many, including Yael in her formative years as she admits, still find difficult to navigate.

Her story, told on ABC’s 7.30 with Leigh Sales, follows a working relationship she had eight years ago with prolific actor Geoffrey Rush, whom she played opposite in an Australian theatre production of The Diary Of A Madman.

Throughout the interview, she alleged Geoffrey Rush exposed himself to her backstage, attempted to spy on her while she was showering and sent her inappropriate text messages.

Speaking to Leigh Sales on ABC’s 7.30, Stone explained how Rush allegedly entered the shared dressing room.

“I was sitting at the mirrors and he came in from the shower holding his towel and he was naked and he danced around in front of me with his penis out,” she said.

She also said he used a small mirror to spy on her in the shower.

But while the allegations were serious, and the internalised impacts of his actions have no doubt played on Yael’s mind for almost a decade, those watching at home were moved by how perfectly one woman could describe something many of us have experienced before.

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Her reflection on each uncomfortable instance was in many ways, fair to her alleged harasser.

She was poised, she was measured, and while she stressed the importance of speaking out against his actions, she seemed to consider his reputation, as well as his own interpretation of the relationship between them and why he felt it may have been construed as “harmless”.

It’s a situation many before her may have experienced; where a line is crossed, but putting into words exactly how feels difficult, too blurry, or perhaps shrouded in guilt for not putting your foot down harder at the time.

But the bottom line is, as Yael describes: the abuse of power is where the problem lies.

“I think that there is great complexities in these issues,” Yael explained.

“I can say that would have been very confusing for him. I would add that consent is very complicated. And almost impossible in a dynamic where the power is so drastically imbalanced.”

She went on: “I would say in any working environment, where there is that imbalance of power, the subordinate doesn’t have a great opportunity for expressing themselves freely. So the onus is on the more powerful person not to put the subordinate in that position. I totally understand it may have been confusing for Geoffrey. I think it’s a cultural issue.

Her reflection shifted to one specific to the entertainment industry, one which has seen countless allegations of sexual harassment in recent years, or in the highly publicised ongoing lawsuit against Harvey Weinstein, allegations of rape and sexual assault.

“I think our industry, like many other industries, has supported the more powerful person, certainly supports an ego and a level of success like that. To have everything that they want. So it’s a reasonable assumption for somebody like that in that position of power to assume that it’s a reciprocal relationship.”

And while she in no way blamed herself for Rush’s inappropriate behaviour, she added that in some ways she wished she’d handled it differently at the time.

“I can certainly own the fact that I communicated in ways that I certainly wouldn’t now. I was 25. He was 59. I would never text back in the way that I did then. I’m not proud of that at all.

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“But I do believe that we need to shift up the cultural assumption…that putting younger more vulnerable people who are trying to get ahead in a position that is very compromising and we need to shift that up… Maybe have some systematic changes to protect us from making those kinds of mistakes and wading into areas that leave people confused.”

When asked if she has any sympathy for Rush, who sued Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph for defamation over separate allegations it made about his behaviour towards a co-star in a different production, she said yes, before making one of her most powerful observations yet.

Rush was accused of inappropriate behaviour last year during a Sydney Theatre company production. Post continues below…

“I hope that you can see in the way that I’m talking that I think that the world that we come from, the culture that we come from shapes our behaviour.”

“So if you’re constantly being told certain behaviour is OK, and no-one ever stops it, there are no checks and balances on it, then it’s right to assume that you can continue with that behaviour. So I’ve great sympathy for the fact that certain behaviour has been allowed, if not encouraged, along the way.

“Suddenly a lot of people have stood up and said, “No.” Now I think that’s a really important step to stand up and say no. But I think we would do well to have sympathy for what that huge gear shift feels like on the other side. I would like to see a world where we can work together, to mend that huge rift. I think that we can work interpersonally and I think we can also work at a systematic level.”

But she says while she feels a sense of shame for not speaking up more forcefully at the time, she has sympathy for her younger self.

“I have sympathy for my younger self and understand that I was in a difficult and compromising position of wanting to get ahead in my career and manage an amazing impressive personality, personal dignity is still important.

“Being a court jester for somebody else is not necessary and it’s not appropriate.”

Rush, in a statement to the Times on Monday, said the allegations of inappropriate behaviour were “incorrect and in some instance have been taken completely out of context”.

“However, clearly Yael has been upset on occasion by the spirited enthusiasm I generally bring to my work.

“I sincerely and deeply regret if I have caused her any distress.

“This, most certainly, has never been my intention.”

Rush said he abhorred any behaviour that might be considered as harassment or intimidation.

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