The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Archive for the ‘law’ Category

A precedent set in Queensland abortion law, what next?

Posted by caitlinate on October 14, 2010

As many of you will be aware, earlier today Tegan Simone Leach and Sergie Brennan – charged with “procuring an abortion and supplying drugs to procure an abortion” – were acquitted at trial.

This is a fantastic result and one I’m sure the Cairns couple (as they seem to be universally known) were and are very relieved to hear. It’s also being hailed by feminists as a victory for reasons relating to the draconian laws currently in place in Queensland. Under the 110 year old law of that sunny state, abortion is illegal except to protect the mother’s life or her physical or mental wellbeing.

Which leads me to wonder if this is a victory not just because the couple have been acquitted but because of the legal precedent it sets. Apparently there is some feeling amongst those who have worked in women’s health in Queensland that an open challenge to the abortion laws currently in place would be a very precarious undertaking. That not only would any move to progressively alter the laws fail but that it might result in even more restrictive ones being put in place instead. There has been a lot of criticism heaped upon the Queensland Premier Anna Bligh (a self proclaimed feminist) for her failure to express solidarity with the Cairns couple or to undertake any party lead reform (she even went so far as to put a dampener on a colleague’s attempt to legislatively push for reform). I’m not necessarily adverse to criticisms of Bligh and I certainly don’t have much faith in politicians to actually follow through on their professed ideologies (though conservative politicians are generally more reliable on this account). What I wonder is if having this case go to trial and result in an outcome that declares that women in Queensland can take control of their bodies and their fertility without successful state persecution is better politically than a) the case being dropped or b) unsuccessful or further damaging attempts to legislate (without precedent).

I’d even go so far as to posit that the public outrage, media attention and political involvement of organizations like GetUp only came about because the case actually went to trial and that if it hadn’t we’d be stuck – loud in our feminist corners but still invisible in the mainstream – hailing that, rather than today’s outcome, as the victory it might not have necessarily been.

Obviously none of this might matter to Brennan and Leach who have probably had an unimaginably horrible time dealing with the public attention cast on them. I’ve read reports that they received death threats – a despicable and terrifying thing for both of them to have had to experience. I can only imagine the strain this would have put on their lives and their relationship and there is no reasoning that excuses or makes acceptable what they’ve had to endure. While I can argue that the way things panned out – while risky and awful for those directly involved – was a more successful route to change for feminists and women in Queensland, it’s distressing that no matter what path we take it still has to involve pain and suffering for those doing something as simple as seeking an abortion.

This wouldn’t have had to be the way change came about if members of the Queensland parliament listened to the 90% of Australians who believe abortion should be legal and stood together to legislate accordingly. As it is, my totally-not-legally-trained self sees this as a potentially good precedent. That’s really not enough. Let’s see the laws change now, before any more women have to stand trial.


Posted in law, Politics, reproductive rights, Women's Health | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Twenty-Eighth Down Under Feminists Carnival

Posted by caitlinate on September 4, 2010

Oh my gawd, hi everyone. So this is the first time I’ve done a blog carnival and I put my hand up for it 6 months ago not realising that this was going to be like the busiest two or three weeks I would be having all year. So! There is no theme and things might be organised a little incoherently but I hope I’ve done a good job and you like…

WELCOME to the 28th Down Under Feminists Carnival!

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Announcements, Blog Watch, body image, domestic violence, Family, glbt, Interviews, law, Media Watch, music, Politics, porn, Relationships, reproductive rights, sex, Trans, violence against women, women we love, Women's Health | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments »

Lovett Rape Hearing: Once Again A Woman Is Asked What She Was Wearing

Posted by Clem Bastow on August 13, 2010

It’s a grim fact of life, it seems, that whenever a high-profile – or even one that doesn’t involve “celebrities” – rape hearing or trial is underway, details will emerge about the cross-examining of the alleged victim that are enough to lead you to think it’s not actually the 21st century, and instead 1950.

As the hearing regarding the alleged rape of the woman by sacked St Kilda Saints player Andrew Lovett continues, the media was today given access to the woman’s statement and a transcript of her cross examination – and what a surprise it was to read this detail:

Under cross-examination on Tuesday from Lovett’s defence counsel David Grace, QC, the woman agreed that on the night she met Lovett, she wanted to make herself look attractive and was interested in meeting men.

She agreed that she drank four vodka, lime and sodas and two shots at the Royal Saxon hotel that night but said she did not intend to get drunk.

Let me break this down very clearly to those who still, as it appears the defence counsel does, subscribe to archaic notions of what clothing or behaviour blurs the lines of what sexual behaviour is acceptable on the part of men:


Posted in law, Media Watch, Sex Crimes, sexual assault, Sport, violence against women | 7 Comments »

Lubna al-Hussein – Legend

Posted by Leah on April 9, 2010

I’ve been meaning to write about this woman for ages so, despite my timing being a wee bit on the lagging side, here goes!

Lubna al-Hussein, a Sudanese journalist, was arrested along with 12 other women in July 2009 for wearing ‘indecent clothing’ – read, trousers – in a Khartoum restaurant. This ‘crime’ can be punished by up to 40 lashes, and 10 of Lubna’s co-accused received 10 each.

Lubna was ordered to pay a fine – which she refused to pay on the grounds that doing so would legitimise the charge. Instead she was sentenced to jail for a month; however she was released after only one night when supporters paid the fine without her permission. Lubna wanted to make a clear point about this discriminatory, oppressive law, and resigned from her position with the UN because it would have granted her immunity to the charge.

Before the trial she even sent out invitations reading, ‘Sudanese journalist Lubna invites you again to her flogging tomorrow.’

What a legend.

On another note, a belated shout out to the group of 34 imams and scholars in Mauritania who in January this year declared a fatwa against female genital mutilation. I’m not usually a fan of fatwas, but this one seems ok!

And to finish, a nice quote from the suffragette Rebecca West all the back in 1913, ‘I myself have never been able to find out precisely what a feminist is, I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.’

Posted in Faith and Religion, law | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

Female Ejaculation Doesn’t Exist

Posted by caitlinate on January 26, 2010

This news popped up on my radar last week and boy, is it news to me. From now on films that feature female ejaculation will now be Refused Classification (RC) by the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC).

I did a little hunting around the OFLC website and found that films (or computer games) will be refused classification if they include or contain various ‘extreme’ forms of violence, sexual abuse and drug use as well as:


Depictions of practices such as bestiality.

Gratuitous, exploitative or offensive depictions of:

(i) activity accompanied by fetishes or practices which are offensive or abhorrent;
(ii) incest fantasies or other fantasies which are offensive or abhorrent.

Elsewhere in the code a fetish is defined as:

“An object, an action or a non-sexual part of the body which gives sexual gratification. “

How broad. Do they have a list somewhere of which parts of the body are sexual and which are non-sexual?

The next classification category down from RC is X18+ (only available in the NT and ACT but, as wikipedia helpfully informs me, “these films may be legally purchased from interstate via mail-order.”) and applies to films that contain ‘consensual sexually explicit activity’. The classification guidelines here state that:

“Fetishes such as body piercing, application of substances such as candle wax, ‘golden showers’, bondage, spanking or fisting are not permitted.”

What does this have to do with female ejaculation? Well, according to the OFLC, female ejaculation doesn’t exist and what is actually being expelled is urine or a ‘golden shower’. Great! Another aspect of female sexuality disappeared by a powerful statutory body! I’m so glad the former Chairman of the ABC can inform me as to what fluid is coming out of my urethra at any given moment.

It’s disturbing to me that the OFLC board have the power to determine which bodily functions are real and what they mean. You’d think that just telling us whether they were bad or not was enough. Now, they can just make them be something else entirely! If someone in a film having consensual sex has a vestigial tail will that film be RC too because of it’s representation of bestiality?

It’s not only that female ejaculation has been rendered non-existent by the OFLC that bothers me – it’s the way it becomes condemned by default. Male ejaculation = awesome, female ejaculation = freaky, non existent, fetish.

As Ms. Naughty says:

“One thing all the censors seem to agree on is that semen is an above-board bodily fluid. It can be ejaculated anywhere – internally, onto a woman’s body or face, across the Russian wallpaper – and it can even be mixed into milkshakes and drunk. If 20 guys all want to ejaculate their semen onto a woman lying on the floor waiting – or onto each other – that’s A-OK, thanks very much. Nothing kinky about that, it’s just normal sexual activity.

If a woman ejaculates onto a man’s face, however, that’s a fetish. That mean’s in Australia it’s offensive, obscene and Australians should not be allowed to see it lest it corrupt our immortal souls. Or something.”

For those interested here’s a New Scientist article from last year that talks more about female ejaculation and recognises the fact that, you know, it exists.

Related – Apparently, the OFLC have also been banning films that have small breasted women in them. In case anyone should get confused.

Posted in law, porn, sex | Tagged: , , , , | 12 Comments »

Montmorency Football Club & The Legal System

Posted by caitlinate on October 28, 2009

As I’m sure many of you have read, three junior members of the Montmerency Football Club – a suburban football club in Victoria – have been charged with the sexual assault of two young women. Thirteen other players were interviewed and the police say they expect to lay further charges. At the end of their playing season a group of young players had organised an unofficial weekend away to Phillip Island. **trigger warning** Whilst there they lured two women to the villa they had rented and held them prisoner whilst raping them. One woman was reportedly ‘sexually assaulted by as many as eight men’ and the other at least five different times. They finally escaped when a brawl broke out between the men and they could sneak away unnoticed.

I know that it is because it’s a high profile case (it appears sports teams raping women is in vogue for the media) but it is so exciting to see the police taking this crime seriously and the courts processing it quickly. Several women I know are still caught up in the legal system two years after their original assaults. One woman I know had to wait a year and a half before she even got a committal hearing. Rape and sexual assault cases frequently take years to be processed and, as I’m sure you can imagine or are aware, this is not an enjoyable process. It’s not as easy to move on and heal when you have a court date in two months… and then in five months… and then in a year… Apart from the waiting and the wondering there’s the potential – or at least fear – of having to see your abuser. A given part of the process is that you have to relive the experience of your assault over and over and over again – to the police, to the judge, to the lawyers, on paper, in person, via video link up. You have to be cruelly cross examined by the lawyer of the person who assaulted you (I state unequivocally, right now, that the majority of lawyers that represent rapists are fucking scumbags).

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Posted in law, Media Watch, Politics, sexual assault, violence against women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments »

Parent = Mother

Posted by Leah on October 3, 2009

For ages I’ve been meaning to write about the issue of sexism in regards to male and female parental responsibility (for the record, I’m only discussing heterosexual, dual parent households here), and was finally spurred into action by this report yesterday about parents whose extreme neglect killed their daughter – the mother has been given a life sentence for murder while the father has been sentenced to 12 years for manslaughter.

Admittedly there may be details about the case that explain why the father – who lived in the same house – has been given a much lighter sentence. However, these (as far as I can see) haven’t been explained in media coverage, which to me is indicative in itself of a wide spread presumption in our society that, for better or worse, mothers are more responsible for their children than fathers are.

I say ‘for better or worse’ because depending on circumstances, mothers can be heaped with praise or damned for their actions…either way, the father is often left out of the equation and receives neither praise for a healthy, happy child nor damnation for a neglected, unhappy child.

Obviously this division of responsibility between parents can actually reflect reality in families where the mother takes the primary caring role for children – and I’m not arguing that every family should split responsibility 50/50, I think that’s for each couple to work out themselves. What I’m focusing on here is the presumption so often reflected in the media, workplaces and the courts that women should be more responsible for their children than men are.

A few cases in point. I recently was on the staff team negotiating my workplace’s Enterprise Agreement. I argued (in vain) for greater equity between maternity and paternity leave. Women in my workplace currently get more than 6 times the length of leave than men when they have a baby. I understand the argument that women have usually been through the physical experience of pregnancy and labour and that deserves time off on top of baby-caring leave; however, in my workplace mothers who adopt also get the full female entitlement, thereby showing the presumption behind the  unequal leave is based on one’s sex, not on whether one has just gone through pregnancy and labour or not. Surely dads have a right to care for their babies just as much as mums – not to mention the benefit to the mother and baby of having more ‘hands on deck’.

Victorians may well remember the case of baby ‘Catherine‘ who was abandoned outside a hospital in Melbourne. The entire media coverage presupposed it was the mother, not the father, who had left the baby there, and vilified her for this, while the role of the father was almost entirely ignored – many of us will remember the infamous Herald Sun headline ‘How Could She’.

My partner alerted me to this story by the BBC about research showing ‘Children whose mothers work are less likely to lead healthy lives than those with “stay at home” mothers.’ Yes, it’s all about the mums. Never mind fathers’ responsibility for their children.

Professor Catherine Law, who led the study, said they had not looked at fathers in this study because fathers employment levels had not changed whereas the numbers of working mothers had increased dramatically.

So, if I follow the argument correctly, it goes something like: ‘because men have always been absent, they’re not responsible…mothers used to be present, so, damn it, they still should be!’? A comment on the story by Naomi of Sussex echoes my point:

I’m cross on so many levels, but mainly a personal one! I work, my husband doesn’t, he is our daughter’s main carer…Why do people insist on saying ‘mother’ when they often mean ‘parent’. It’s wrong on other levels too of course, but for me it’s the stupidity of assuming a mum should stay at home and a dad should work – are we still in the 50s?

My point is simple: however couples choose to take responsibility for their children is their business and, unless no responsibility is taken i.e. the child is neglected, others should reserve judgement. I think this can best be done by the media, courts, workplaces and other important institutions taking as neutral a stance as possible i.e. making no assumptions and when an assumption is unavoidable (e.g. when deciding on maternity and paternity leave provisions) assuming equal rights and responsibilities between women and men.

Posted in Family, law, Parenting & Family | 9 Comments »

Love & Marriage… Don’t Go Together Like A Horse & Carriage

Posted by caitlinate on September 16, 2009

So, I know it’s lazy to just post a link and say ‘go look here’ but I think this piece by Catherine Deveny in the Sydney Morning Herald today is a worthy excuse for such an indolent act. I also think it’s a good kick off for a fun TDC discussion about marriage and it’s place and purpose in our current day and age.

The article begins:

I AM against gay marriage. I’m against straight marriage. I’m against marriage full stop. Why are we hanging on to this relic of an anachronistic system (which still reeks of misogyny and bigotry), established so men could own women to ensure their estates and titles were passed on to their kids – sorry, their sons? Time to ditch it.

Go read!

Posted in Faith and Religion, Family, glbt, law, Media Watch, Parenting & Family, Relationships, Sex And Love | Tagged: , , , , , | 55 Comments »

Religion and the law

Posted by hannahcolman on September 14, 2009

I got along to a session at the Melbourne Writers Festival a couple of weeks ago called ‘Writer As Activist,’ which featured Zimbabwean writer Petina Gappah on the panel. Her debut collection of short stories, An Elegy for Easterly, is published by Faber. Gappah won Zimbabwe’s Mukuru Nyaya Award for comic writing, and was a runner-up in the SA/PEN HSBC short story competition judged by JM Coetzee. She has law degrees from Cambridge, Graz University and the University of Zimbabwe. She lives with her son Kush in Geneva, where she works as an international trade lawyer. She speaks English, German and French, as well as her native language, Shona.

I’m still trying to figure out when on earth she finds time to write fiction.

In the panel discussion, Gappah came across as an extremely intelligent, funny and sensitive woman. She did point out that she struggles with being referred to as “The voice of Zimbabwe” in the media. She also mentioned that she doesn’t necessarily consider herself an ‘activist’; rather, she identifies as a short story writer whose fictional characters inhabit contemporary Zimbabwe. She lamented that because of the nation’s current political situation and the overwhelming interest in Mugabe, she had never been asked, as a non-fiction writer, how she crafted her characters. (Later, during Q&A, a lovely man up the back did ask her this, which was met with appreciative laughter from both the audience and Gappah).

Anyway, I decided to have a look at her blog. She had posted about a story which appeared on the BBC news website regarding a new law in Mali which gives women equal rights in marriage. Here’s Gappah’s post in its entirety.

First they want an education, now this. This, right here, is exactly why women should remain poor and illiterate.

The irony of this story, pinched in its entirety from the BBC news website, is that the woman inveighing against “intellectuals” in this story will never appreciate the irony of that last sentence.


Tens of thousands of people in Mali’s capital, Bamako, have been protesting against a new law which gives women equal rights in marriage.

The law, passed earlier this month, also strengthens inheritance rights for women and children born out of wedlock.

The head of a Muslim women’s association says only a minority of Malian women – “the intellectuals” as she put it – supports the law.

Several other protests have taken place in other parts of the country.

The law was adopted by the Malian parliament at the beginning of August, and has yet to be signed into force by the president.

One of the most contentious issues in the new legislation is that women are no longer required to obey their husbands.

Hadja Sapiato Dembele of the National Union of Muslim Women’s Associations said the law goes against Islamic principles.

“We have to stick to the Koran,” Ms Dembele told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme. “A man must protect his wife, a wife must obey her husband.”

“It’s a tiny minority of women here that wants this new law – the intellectuals. The poor and illiterate women of this country – the real Muslims – are against it,” she added.
Gappah is right. Irony WIN. The reality is pretty frightening, though.

Posted in Blog Watch, Faith and Religion, law | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Forget The “Sex Predator”, How ‘Bout His Wife, Eh?

Posted by Clem Bastow on August 28, 2009

A brief MediaWatch-ish post for you this morning. I was reading “the papers” online and when I reached the bottom of the page, noticed Fairfax’s ‘Top Stories’ lists for their various interstate publications. This headline was holding the #1 spot in the “charts”:

Picture 1

Naturally, I clicked on the story, detailing the sentencing of Luke James Colless, who pleaded guilty to “five counts of rape, five counts of assault with intent to commit rape, six counts of sexual assault and two counts of assault occasioning bodily harm, over the attacks on 11 women”. Well, you might not assume as much given the story’s headline, but the “wife” in question rated a mention that lasted for less than a sentence; she wasn’t even noted by name. Here’s the full extent of the rapists’ wife’s appearance in the article:

Colless’ barrister Tony Kimmins said despite his offending, his client was supported by his wife and family.

And that’s it. In other words, out of the 556 words in the article, approximately 17 made any reference whatsoever to his wife.

What gives, Exactly which champion is coming up with your headlines? This may seem like subeditorial semantics, but there’s something particularly insidious about this headline that ignores the full horror of Luke James Colless’ crimes and, instead, makes some sort of Tammy Wynnette-esque comment on his wife standing by her man.

I hope I’m not the only one who thinks a simple “Sex predator faces life in jail” would have sufficed.

Posted in law, Media Watch, Sex Crimes, sexual assault, violence against women | Tagged: , , , , | 9 Comments »