In 2009, Jonty Bush was one of the toasts of the country after her anti-violence advocacy earned her the Young Australian of the Year award.
But as she undertook the duties that came with the illustrious title, she endured a shocking experience at the hands of a prominent man.
Bush has given a detailed history of her multiple experiences of sexual harassment and assault, adding to a list of powerful Queensland women to do the same this week.
A state Labor MP, she has followed parliamentary colleagues Yvette D’Ath, Di Farmer, Leanne Linard, Amanda Camm and Meaghan Scanlon in sharing her stories.
Bush has echoed their comments in saying the “trauma” of such experiences has helped to create silence around the issue, which “protects” perpetrators and “imprisons” victims.
On Tuesday, Health Minister D’Ath tweeted details of two incidents involving older men harassing or trying to kiss her when she was a teenager.
“As a 13 or 14 yr old a male family friend (father of 2) asked me for a kiss goodbye. I gave him a peck on the cheek. He said no I want you to kiss me like you would kiss your boyfriend,” she tweeted.
“At 18 a male twice my age came into my workplace & while alone in the office in a back room tried to kiss me. I quickly left the room. I was shocked & shaking. He left without saying a word & so did I (for 32 years). This has to STOP.”
The “grubs” responsible for her two experiences probably didn’t give it a second thought but the details were still fresh in her mind, D’Ath told the Brisbane March4Justice rally the same day.
“After listening to so many women’s stories over the last few days and weeks, I realised we have to share our experiences,” she said.
“If we don’t share our lived experience, we’re not going to know how prevalent this is in our community.”
Linard, the Youth Justice Minister, said she was grabbed and pressed up against by a strange man in a shopping centre while she was about 14 years old.
Environment Minister Scanlon said a boy put a hand up her skirt while she was at schoolies, while Farmer told of being harassed as a young worker.
“I was a young woman in an organisation and there was a senior manager who was very handsy,” the Education Minister told 7NEWS.
“One day, he put his hand right around me and grabbed my breast.”
Bush was named Young Australian of the Year in 2009 for speaking out against violence after her sister was murdered before her father died after being punched in an unprovoked attack a few months later.
She has taken to Facebook on Thursday to speak about out her experiences with sexual harassment and assault.
These are her stories.
Words of Jonty Bush
The first time I ever drank alcohol was with a boy who was my friend. We drank stubbies of beer his step-father had given him, only a few, but enough that I felt sick and lay down on the front yard of a friend’s house. He lay down next to me, I thought to distract or comfort me, but instead, he tried to put his hand down my jeans. I lied and told him I was going to be sick, and he stopped. After this happened I’d sometimes skip school to avoid being around him.
At sixteen, a friend’s father invited me to a party. He gave me vodka and asked me questions about my life. I was living out of home at the time and was enjoying having an adult take such an interest in my life. I woke up with him on top of me in the early hours of the morning, I froze until he stopped. We lived in central Queensland and the party was three hours from my home, so I had to sit in the front seat and make small talk as he drove me home the next day. “We should do this again,” he said. I never found the words to tell my friend before she later suicided. I didn’t go to her funeral.
Sometime after he hired me, one of my first employers told me he gave me the job because he thought I was pretty. He would buy me gifts and tell me about the problems in his marriage. When I got a boyfriend he didn’t talk to me for a week despite working in a small office. I loved my job so I smiled and pushed through.
I was speaking as Young Australian of the Year at a conference in Canberra. The conference included an interesting international speaker who I spent some time at the conference swapping ideas with. I asked for his card as we left the conference, it’s just up in my room’ he said. But when we got there he closed and locked the door behind me, pinned me to the wall and attempted to kiss me. He was at least twice my age – by this time I’d known him for perhaps two hours. I immediately left the room, ‘wait’ he said as I walked out, ‘here’s my card’, and I reached out took it. I’ve been angry ever since.
A recognised professor I worked alongside. We spoke often of family – he would boast about his marriage, his wife, his adult children who were in fact my age. He was respected, warm, caring and intelligent. He became like a father to me, which was a nice comfort after losing my own father. One night while on the road together for work I went to his room to borrow some toothpaste. He invited me in, we sat on the couch and talked about the day. The moment was so inconspicuous, so when he turned to me and said “so, are we going to f*** or what?” I was caught completely off guard both with what he said and with the ease at which he said it. If I couldn’t believe it, how could I expect anyone else to. The only words I could find was to ask a colleague to never leave me alone with him again.
Festivals and concerts; hands touching you from behind, but when you turn around the group of men behind you smile and shrug – nothing to see here.
Ordering a meal at a hotel when I hear a phone camera click. I turn around to see a guy behind me holding a phone pointing at my legs and backside. ‘Did you just take a photo of me?’ No, nothing to see here.
Wolf whistles, gestures, suggestions…. which if you do find the power to confront result in the predictable ‘you’ve misunderstood’, ‘you’re over-reacting’, ‘you’re being too sensitive’. Nothing to see here.
My experiences are not unique – so many women have these stories. Which is why, when the Prime Minister of our country stands up and essentially says “nothing to see here” we survivors are so damn triggered. Because we’ve had a lifetime being told there’s nothing here to see. We need our leaders to confront this issue (as Annastacia Palaszczuk and many others have), rather than treating it like an annoying distraction. This is why so many women marched across the country this week.
It’s time the Prime Minister understood what so many people are living with. It’s time for us as a society to see as well.