Interview of Tosca Looby by Ella Katz
Tosca Looby a creative director, writer and producer of factual programming and has made a cross section of Northern Pictures’ most celebrated and awarded output, including: Asking For It, Strong Female Lead, See What You Made Me Do and Magical Land of Oz.
Trained in journalism and programme making, Tosca uses deft storytelling to create compelling, challenging series and ‘one offs’, including thesis driven examinations of our most pressing social issues. She is also a seasoned producer of natural history and even side steps into arts programming for a little light relief!
This isn’t your first time working with Jess Hill. Is there anything that you both decided to do differently this time after your 2021 SBS documentary series See What You Made Me Do?
Circumstantially there was a lot that was different about production on Asking For It. See What You Made Me Do happened in the midst of the Covid pandemic and we were shut down like everyone else. Lots of the filming had to be done with remote crews which presented an entirely different set of challenges.
Also, Jess hadn’t written a book on the subject of consent as she had in the case of domestic abuse. We were starting from scratch. We had to work out the theory behind this series in a shorter period of time and that meant consulting very broadly through the community, reading broadly and ensuring we involved as many voices as possible in that early stage of nutting the whole thing out.
Many of us treat sex as a private matter. Why is it important for these issues to enter the public discourse?
Sex is a private matter and clear ideas around consent don’t threaten this. Conversations around consent allow us to discuss the nature of healthy, satisfying sex – for everyone involved. By being clear around consent we also make clear what isn’t healthy sex – coercive, violent, non-consensual behaviours. There is so much misinformation coming at us via social media, advertising and the historical mythologies we are taught around sex and shame. The series is working to support growing conversations around positive, clear sex and consent education.
Asking for It is clearly a necessary watch for many Australians – is there a specific target audience you had in mind?
The series is relevant to everyone who has had sex, might one day have sex or might one day have sex again!
Is there anything that you were surprised to learn about the topic of sexual assault/consent while you were making the documentary?
It was shocking to realise how much misinformation is out there: how many victims of sexual assault don’t realise they have been assaulted and/or blame themselves for getting into a situation that led to assault. There is such resistance to questioning the behaviour of someone who chooses to sexually assault another person.
I was also shocked at the inefficiencies and inhumanities in our legal system when it comes to sexual assault cases going through our courts.
Working with survivors of sexual abuse and their trauma would have been an incredibly sensitive and confronting process. How did you approach this?
We have a lot of systems in place to protect the survivors who work with us. We talk a lot in the beginning about what it means to take part in a series like this, how the story going to air might impact their lives and what they want to get out of the process. We also have a psychologist connected to the series who speaks to victim survivors and supports them through the process. We stay in close contact with contributors and keep them well informed about each step in the process.
The nation is well-versed in the stories of Brittany Higgins and Grace Tame. However, in the documentary, we learn about the stories of those often forgotten in the discourse – for example older women and those living in residential care. Why was this approach important?
It’s true that the voices of older Australians are often missing from this discussion and yet they fall victim (in shocking numbers) to sexual assault. We all need to be aware that consent isn’t just relevant to young people – it needs to be understood and respected through our lifetimes.
In episode 2, the documentary takes its viewers to South Africa, where we see their processes of victim care and guidance through the legal system. If you could change one thing about the current criminal justice experience for sexual abuse survivors – what would it be?
This is a great question! It’s also a hard question. There is so much I think needs changing about the legal system when It comes to sexual assault. But if I could only choose one thing I’d say we need to give victim survivors the opportunity to have more agency and support – from the moment they decide to report. As it stands victim survivors become witnesses in their own case from the moment police choose to prosecute and they’re then at the whim of the court as they face defence lawyers whose job it is to discredit them, and realise it is the accused who has the right to remain silent.
This system is based on the concept that ‘it is better to let ten guilty men go free than lock up one innocent man’ but I’m not sure this is working to create a just system. It puts all the onus on the victim and a way to give that victim more agency might be by removing the dictum that an accused can remain silent.
How do you see this documentary series contributing to the national discourse around consent?
We are joining a revolution that is already well underway when it comes to consent. I am hoping that in 12 months’ time we will look back at the work of this series and see evidence that it’s prompted conversations in homes and schools, among friends and families (and, obviously, prospective sexual partners). In doing so, I want it to give this conversation another push – more momentum – and take a bit of the load off the victim survivors and sector workers who have been letting us all know that change is vital if we are to see a drop in appalling statistics around sexual assault in Australia.
You can watch Asking For It here. SBS has released learning resources to accompany the series and support meaningful and insightful discussions and activities within the classroom. They can be found here.