Senator Sarah Hanson-Young won her defamation case against former Senator David Leyonhjelm. Picture: Tracey Nearmy/Getty
Senator Sarah Hanson-Young won her defamation case against former Senator David Leyonhjelm. Picture: Tracey Nearmy/Getty

Hanson-Young’s victory is a win for women everywhere

Lest it be lost in all the political and legal brouhaha, Justice Richard White did not award Greens Senator Sarah-Hanson Young $120,000 in damages after winning her Federal Court defamation case against former Liberal Democrats Senator David Leyonhjelm because he called out "stop shagging men" to her from the sidelines during a senate debate.

He did call that out to her, by the way, during a June 2018 debate about weapons importation and violence against women in a comment that I think we can all agree was quite the leap for then-senator Leyonhjelm.

He made it because he was apparently of the view that senator Hanson-Young had sex with men … therefore, as far as I can connect the dots, she should not be allowed to have an opinion on violence against women or weapons importation. I can't quite put my finger on it, but I think it's like saying you can't be a vegetarian and own a pet.

Anyway, it was not the "stop shagging men" comment that spurred Hanson-Young on to become the first sitting Australian politician to file defamation proceedings against a fellow parliamentarian under our national defamation laws, not at all.

First of all, the "stop shagging men" comment was made in parliament, and therefore protected by parliamentary privilege, and secondly as Hanson-Young told the federal court she did not sue Leyonhjelm on this basis because "it is not defamatory to suggest that a woman has had sex with more than one man".

Senator Sarah Hanson-Young won her defamation case against former Senator David Leyonhjelm this week. Picture: Tracey Nearmy/Getty
Senator Sarah Hanson-Young won her defamation case against former Senator David Leyonhjelm this week. Picture: Tracey Nearmy/Getty

And in that one sentence, Hanson-Young won a different sort of victory outside of the court proceedings, a victory for any woman (or far less frequently but not entirely unheard of, man) who has ever been - in that delightfully charming phrase - "slut shamed".

Because make no mistake, that's what Leyonhjelm was attempting to do when he hissed those words across the parliamentary floor at Hanson-Young. He was attempting to publicly shame Senator Hanson for her sexual life - only Hanson-Young refused to bite. Refused to bow her head in shame. Refused to let the blood come to her cheeks. Refused to fold into herself.

Instead, she sued Leyonhjelm for defamation over a series of comments he made after his "stop shagging men" outburst in parliament.

Because after he made it, he doubled down in print, radio and television.

Specifically, she sued on the basis of three defamatory imputations, including that she was a "hypocrite" in that she claimed "all men are rapists", but nevertheless had sexual relations with them"; that she had made the claim "all men are rapists" during a parliamentary debate; and that she is a "misandrist", in that she claimed "all men are rapists".

David Leyonhjelm was sued for comments he made after he said “stop shagging men”. Picture: AAP Image/Joel Carrett
David Leyonhjelm was sued for comments he made after he said “stop shagging men”. Picture: AAP Image/Joel Carrett

Only she didn't. Hanson-Young never uttered the words "all men are rapists", nor does she believe that. I don't know anybody who believes that. It is, as Hanson-Young herself called it, "an absurd claim".

Nevertheless, it is one Leyonhjelm kept insisting she made in the aftermath of "Shagger-gate", although in court he watered down the claim by saying he could not recall the "precise wording" of Hanson-Young's interjection _ however he had "no doubt", that the meaning was "very clear".

Was it, David? Was it? Clearly it wasn't, at least not to you. Because what Hanson-Young did say that day in parliament, during the debate was that "women would not need protection" in the form of pepper spray, or mace, "if men stopped raping women."

"Men", not "all men". And as unpalatable as that statement may be - and as uncomfortable as some may find it, it is also true.

Undeniably, completely, and inarguably true. If it wasn't, women would stop looking over their shoulders as they walk down the street at night, and stop curling their fingers around their keys when they get into lifts just in case they have to use them.

The initial comments were made to Hanson-Young in the Senate. Picture: Tracey Nearmy/Getty
The initial comments were made to Hanson-Young in the Senate. Picture: Tracey Nearmy/Getty

Ask a women you know if she and her girlfriends have a system where they text each other to say they've arrived home safely. Ask your sister, your daughter, your wife, your girlfriend, or your mother if she's ever been in a situation where she has felt frightened to her bones at the sight of a man appearing suddenly out of the shadows, and you will see that the possibility of being attacked in some way feels very real to women. Not by all men. Not by a long shot. Not the overwhelming majority. But certainly by some of them.

That was the point Hanson-Young was trying to make that day when Leyonhjelm told her to "Stop shagging men" across the Senate floor, and that was point her defamation case was based around.

That she was defamed by being painted as "a hypocrite", and a "misandrist", and that damages should be awarded because Leyonhjelm continued to make claims he knew to be false.

Not that she was defamed by being painted as someone who has sex - because how very dare she?

I don't know anything about Hanson-Young's sex life, and nor do I want to. It is none of my business, nor yours, and it's certainly not David Leyonhjelm's.

That he attempted to use it as that hoary old weapon known as "slut shaming" is the real disgrace here.

That Hanson-Young refused to let him is the real victory.

Senator Hanson-Young will donate the $120,000 awarded to her, plus interest to two charities, Plan International, and the Working Womens Centre in South Australia.


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