Amy Remeikis, political reporter for The Guardian, has written and extraordinary essay, titled On Reckoning. This work tells of the moment when the personal became very political and when rape became the national conversation. BroadAgenda’s editor, Ginger Gorman, asked Amy a few questions.
Amy, what prompted you to write this essay? What exactly are you reckoning with?
I wrote On Reckoning because I was watching Australia’s political leaders flailing around in an attempt to deal with the issue of sexual violence and failing so comprehensively, while at the same time, there was this incredible rage which seemed to be building among the public – particularly women. As a sexual assault survivor, I recognised that rage, and believed it deserved further examination.
You’ve written unflinchingly about your own sexual assault. How did that raw and traumatic experience you’ve had – and so many of us woman have had – clash with the complete inability of the Federal Government to deal with these issues?
I don’t think you can ever separate trauma from who you are and how you react. It becomes a part of you and while it may not colour your every action, it certainly tints it. I didn’t try to pretend to be an impartial observer in what was happening.
My experience and that of so many others was relevant – people needed to know that they weren’t alone, and many of us absolutely ‘got it’. My anger was obvious – but I tried to be as open as possible about why, while also explaining what impact those failures were having on people. Politics is never a game. It impacts how people live their lives. So watching some people trying to play political games just infuriated me. Which I think was obvious to anyone who saw my commentary.
How did you use your position as reporter inside the Press Gallery to try and grapple with this story – both personally and professionally?
I am very, very lucky to have a platform and I just try to use it for good. But also, to try and elevate other voices that we don’t hear from enough, while also, where I could, making space for those people who don’t have as many opportunities as I to speak, to step forward.
But it was a story where the personal merged with the professional – we saw that happening for so many people. It took a toll, at least on me – reliving trauma doesn’t come without a cost – but it was worth it to ensure the issue wasn’t pushed to the side.
There are so many people who are unable to speak about their own sexual violence experience – but that doesn’t mean we ignore them. Instead, we should try to ensure they know we see and hear them, and we believe them. I tried to spread that message as much as possible as well.
Throughout 2021, the anger both inside and outside the Gallery was indescribable. Every woman I know was talking about their own experiences of sexual assault and harassment. How did this influence your telling of this story (or reckoning with it)?
It is absolutely heartbreaking how many people carry this load. Every story I heard lodged itself within my heart. I still think about so many strangers at night – it keeps me up.
People were sharing things with me that they hadn’t told anyone – in some cases, for more than 50 years. It only made me more determined to ensure we kept talking about solutions and action. That we centred the right voices. That those with the power to make change understood why there was so much anger and despair. And that we keep shaking those systemic power structures so we get some much needed change.
With On Reckoning, why have you chosen to weave personal experiences together with data and research about systematic misogyny and abuse? What does that give us?
I think it gives us some idea of just how wide spread the issue is – and that it impacts more people than you might think. It also makes you wonder how we all know a survivor of sexual or gendered violence – but none of us seem to know a perpetrator. Statistically, that is impossible.
It’s easy to try and dehumanise this issue – put some distance in it – by just talking numbers, which is why I chose to include real experiences as well. It’s hard to ignore when you know who it’s happening to. But we also need to look at how we think and report and talk on this issue – women in particular have done so much. It’s time for the men to step up and address the major role they play in sexual violence. Why do we teach girls how to protect themselves, but we don’t teach boys how to avoid becoming the person their classmates are protecting themselves from?
There’s a point activist and advocate for survivors of sexual assault, Grace Tame, made about why survivors of trauma are required to partake in a kind of “trauma porn” – trotting out their stories over and over again in order to try and make change. How do you reflect on this?
It is almost like to get people to listen, you do have to perform your trauma publically so people can empathise – and then be motivated to act. In my case, it can be exhausting. It’s constantly there anyway, but having to put words to it frequently, to revisit those times, does take something from you. I just try to fall back on my responsibility to try and do as much good as I can with the platform I am so lucky to have. I can speak and so many others can’t. It seems a small price to pay, in that context.
I recently watched your remarkable takedown of Peter van Onselen on the Project in response to Grace Tame’s now-famous side eye, directed at the Prime Minister. What motivated you to speak out to a media colleague in this way?
Today, Grace Tame met with the Prime Minister at the Lodge, with now-viral photos appearing online. We discuss the day and the differing opinions with @AmyRemeikis. #TheProjectTV pic.twitter.com/9TsYJbFKfY
— The Project (@theprojecttv) January 25, 2022
It was not planned, and not something I found comfortable doing. But given everything I have been speaking about, I thought I would be the world’s biggest hypocrite if I didn’t say something. Our job is to hold people to account, but we probably fail more often than not to turn that lens on ourselves. The real hero was Carrie Bickmore, who questioned a colleague while sitting next to him – I was just a contributor, sitting in my lounge room. Carrie had more to lose than I, but didn’t hesitate to follow up in questioning his motives. At the end of the day, I was more worried I had embarrassed myself, or taken away attention from the actual issue – journalists should never become the story. But we should also do more to call each other out. We all have platforms – some bigger than others – but it is a responsibility and privilege which should be taken seriously.
Our words have impact. We should all remember that.
Please note: Feature image supplied.
Ginger Gorman is a fearless and multi award-winning social justice journalist and feminist. Ginger’s bestselling book, Troll Hunting, came out in 2019. Since then, she’s been in demand both nationally and globally as an expert on cyberhate and the real-life harm predator trolling can do. She's also the editor of BroadAgenda and gender editor at HerCanberra. Ginger hosts the popular "Seriously Social" podcast for the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia. Follow her on Twitter.