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Interview of Jennifer Robinson and Keina Yoshida by Freya Bennett

Hi Jennifer and Keina, thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, how are you?

We are great – and thrilled the book is out in the world.

What was the catalyst in writing How Many More Women?

We were instructed to intervene in a case before the UK Supreme Court called Stocker v Stocker. This was a case in which a woman reported an incident of domestic violence to the police, they recorded red marks around her throat and she later divorced her husband. She then wrote on a Facebook wall that ‘he had tried to strangle her’ and her ex-husband sued her in defamation. He won in the High Court because the judge found that his intention ‘had been to silence, not to kill’ and –  since she was alive  – then she couldn’t meet the technical legal and dictionary meaning of ‘strangulation’. Women’s rights groups were seriously concerned by this decision. Eventually she won in the Supreme Court, but only after a seven year legal battle.

We had tried to intervene in the case for British human rights organisation, Liberty, but the court declined to hear our arguments about how the decision impacts survivors or anyone who wants to talk about gender-based violence. So we decided to write a book setting out those arguments that we would have made back in 2018. We were also motivated by what we were both seeing in our legal practices: that many women, and their friends and family, are being sued – or threatened with legal action – for speaking about their experience of gender-based violence. Unfortunately since then, we have seen that the problem continues to grow – which is why we felt it was so important to write this.

As the Me Too movement continues and more women are speaking up, how is the law keeping up with this new empowerment?

MeToo has put a lot of focus on the failures of the criminal justice system, which is why women have turned to alternative sites and platforms to speak out about experiences of abuse, harassment or misconduct. What MeToo also uncovered was how media law and contract law, including non-disclosure agreements, are used to silence. The problem is that the law isn’t keeping up, its in fact complicit in trying to silence rather than to protect women from violence and to fulfill their human right to live a life free from violence.

What are some laws most people don’t know about speaking up against sexual violence?

What most people don’t know is that once they decide to talk about their rape or abuse, whether its to friends or to the police, a web of different laws and legal actions impact how, when, to whom and where you can talk about sexual violence. These laws include contract, defamation, privacy and contempt. We wrote this book because we have worked to help women tell  their stories and worked in house at newspapers assisting journalists to break their stories and have specialist media law knowledge, but we think and hope it will be helpful to every survivor, advocate or person who wants to discuss sexual violence or misconduct in the media, or on social media, or even between friends.

What change must we implement immediately and how will this happen?

We suggest a number of legal changes in the book. First, we need to ensure that the courts understand, protect and uphold women´s rights to free speech and this can be done through recognising speech on gender-based violence as public interest speech. We also need to ensure that women can afford to speak. Otherwise, women who are sued will continue to face bankruptcy – what is the value of free speech if you can’t afford to defend it? We also need to ensure that judges hearing media cases understand and have training on gender-based violence and the myths associated with sexual and gendered violence. We see those myths creeping into how media cases are argued when they are prohibited in the criminal justice system. There are many more changes you can read about in the book.

Being in this line of work, are you ever afraid for your safety?

Many of the women we interviewed for the book, including women lawyers, reported receiving heinous online abuse and even threats of physical violence, such as rape and murder, for speaking out about abuse or for working on cases involving gender-based violence. Jen has direct personal experience of this herself – but she is not alone. As we write in the book, Rebekah Giles, a high-profile media lawyer in Australia, has received all kinds of threats because of her work representing feminists, women making accusations of rape and men accused of rape. She says some days she worries for her safety. Online abuse is a form of violence against women and, as UNESCO reports, it often escalates to or incites physical attacks on women. Many women are scared to speak out or do this work because of these kinds of threats. This abuse and these threats are yet another tool to silence women by pressuring us of public spaces, which is why its so important policy-makers are looking at online abuse.

What can we at home do to help?

Support women’s domestic refuge shelters. They are chronically underfunded. And educate yourself and your friends and family about male centric myths about violence against women that pervade our justice system, as well as media coverage and public discussion, which deny women justice. Our book is a good place to start.

Freya Bennett

Freya Bennett is the Co-Founder and Director of Ramona Magazine. She is a writer and editor from Dja Dja Wurrung Country who loves grey days, libraries and dandelion tea. You can follow her on Instagram @freya___bennett

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