Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young gets messages about her vagina every day.
Here’s what prompted the latest one.
It was late Sunday. Federal MP George Christensen, who holds the far North Queensland seat of Dawson, had posted a photo on Facebook of himself pointing a gun, sweating hard. The caption read: “You gotta ask yourself, do you feel lucky, greenie punks?”
It was the same week a gunman in Florida murdered 17 children. But then Christensen is the guy who spent an hour happily chatting to white nationalists for a podcast without a second thought. Or even a first one.
And who could forget the brutal murder of state environment officer Glen Turner? Evidently Christensen, who thought his post inciting hatred of greenies was a joke. A day later, he was still without remorse.
Hanson-Young reposted the gun image on Twitter with just one word: “Idiot.” She followed with a meaningful excoriation of Christensen’s post. “A member of Parliament inciting violence against a group of voters should be a sackable offence. If the leader of the Nationals had any class, he’d sack him.”
— Sarah Hanson-Young (@sarahinthesen8)
February 18, 2018
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Hanson-Young already knows Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce would never do anything so bold – at least on purpose. And she knows the kind of response her posts will get, because she gets them every day.
Nationals MP George Christensen.
And so, on Sunday night, she receivedan email from “firstname.lastname@example.org”. The subject line read: “Bullets.” And the message: “Hopefully George has one left in the chamber to fire directly into your vagina you hysterical fucking c—.”
It’s not the worst email she’s received. That would be the one that threatened her 11-year-old daughter (this is a speciality of trolls: threatening the children of those they seek to abuse). As Hanson-Young says, her vagina and her bodily safety are subject to threats every day.
Which is why I’d hoped she would be on the Senate committee inquiring into, and then reporting on, the adequacy of cyberbullying offences in the federal Criminal Code and in state and territory laws.
If she had been there, I would have felt much less anxious about speaking to the committee a couple of weeks back. I was there to speak about Women in Media’s submission on cyberbullying, with colleagues L. J. Loch and Ginger Gorman, and I had things I desperately wanted to say. But of the five senators, I could only really imagine empathy from two of them, calm and kind chairwoman Louise Pratt and new Greens senator Jordan Steele-John, both of whom came up to us after the submission. (I was wrong about this. At least one other senator said he would be horrified if his daughters were abused in this way.)
Look, I’m not a nervous or timid person, but I felt as though speaking to these people might make a change; persuade them that what we do is not enough. So it felt urgent.
But what I found instead was independent senator Derryn Hinch. He had places to get to at 12.30pm, which gave us about 15 minutes to say what needed to be said.
I respect that a senator’s life is busy, but we are his business. Perhaps Hinch didn’t understand that those of us who spoke to the committee had sacrificed time and energy, and travelled hundreds of kilometres to get in front of people who could save lives. We know crossbenchers are hectic and important – and there’s only one Derryn Hinch – but senators are on committees to receive submissions and make positive changes.
Before he left, Hinch wanted to remind us he’d already thought deeply about the issues of offence and insult. He said: “I’m sure you are aware that, during our marathon Senate debate on [section] 18C, we couldn’t agree on what was insulting or offensive, and I wonder what sorts of ideas you have to make it clearer and cleaner.”
My example of waking each morning and being called a slut or a whore seemed completely untroubling to him. To me, it seemed as if he was looking for answers where the responsibility would be with anyone but government; that is, getting industry to move more quickly in shutting down offensive material. Anyhow, off he went to his next meeting. I truly don’t understand how he can make fully informed decisions about these issues without staying to hear submissions. If he won’t listen, who will?
Afterwards I complained to Pratt, who is the queen of diplomacy: “The evidence reminded me of the appalling impact on people’s lives that cyberbullying has had and indeed that we are not yet doing enough to respond to it.”
Which, as it turns out, was proven true again on Monday. The Queensland Police issued a tweet about the photo of Christensen with his gun and his threat. “Preliminary inquiries would indicate that no offence has been committed.”
A statement from the Queensland Police Service regarding a photograph depicting a firearm that has been circulating on social media today. pic.twitter.com/ALrMpkPyIg
— Queensland Police (@QldPolice)
February 18, 2018
Hanson-Young has asked the Australian Federal Police to investigate the email she received. I asked her if she reports abuse to the AFP regularly.
“Sometimes they note it and sometimes they don’t. They try to find out who it is and put them on a list in case it gets worse [!]. It’s always horrifying at the time.” She says police detained the person who made threats against her daughter.
She told me not to despair about Hinch’s response and says a Senate committee works to get into the consciousness of parliamentarians. “But there has to be a buy-in process. A Senate inquiry won’t be the solution.”
And because we have politicians like Christensen, we accept that jokes about violence are OK. Christensen’s post on Facebook gives abusers licence to abuse. Or worse.
Jenna Price is a Fairfax columnist and an academic at the University of Technology Sydney.