One Australian lawmaker is taking her fight against misogyny to the next level. Senator Sarah Hanson-Young is suing over a sexist comment made by her colleague in a June debate about violence against women. Hanson-Young has filed for defamation and says she's doing it to change the culture within politics.
Hanson-Young's lawsuit claims that Senator David Leyonhjelm slandered her on the floor with a remark about her sex life. Leyonhjelm put out a statement on Wednesday saying that her suit is "without merit" and that "I will be defending these claims strenuously in the Federal Court and will be seeking costs accordingly." Hanson-Young says she's taking the action because otherwise sexism in the Parliament is "never going to stop."
In a statement sent to Bustle, Leyonhjelm said, "I confirm my lawyers received a statement of claim on August 1, sent on behalf of Senator Hanson-Young. I have received advice that her claims are without merit. I will be defending these claims strenuously in the Federal Court and will be seeking costs accordingly."
The incident occurred while the chamber was debating whether or not to loosen restrictions on importing pepper spray, tasers, and maces. Proponents of making the weapons easier to import say they're crucial tools for women to defend themselves against predators.
Leyonhjelm of the Liberal Democratic Party was one of only five senators who voted to relax restrictions, while Hanson-Young of the Green Party (both fringe groups in Australia's two-party system) was vehemently against them. Opponents of the measure argued that the effort to end violence against women should focus on preventing men from committing crimes instead of helping women better defend themselves.
"You'll have to stop shagging men now, Sarah," Leyonhjelm shouted at Hanson-Young across the chamber during the debate. She quickly reported his comments and also spoke out against them: She told ABC that he had been "slut-shaming" her. "David Leyonhjelm is suggesting — because he can't win an argument, he wants to bully — that I am sexually promiscuous," she said.
Leyonhjelm has defended his comment, saying that the fact that the senator "took offense from my comments is an issue for her, not me," though adding that "I am prepared to rephrase my comments." But Hanson-Young has refused to settle for that answer. Nope — she's suing.
The complaint, which Hanson-Young filed in a federal court in Sydney on Wednesday, claims that Leyonhjelm defamed her both by making the initial remark and defending it in subsequent interviews. The court documents allege that Leyonhjelm called her a "misandrist" in those interviews as well as a "hypocrite" because she criticized men but also slept with them.
"The defamatory statements Senator Leyonhjelm made and continues to make are an attack on my character, and have done considerable harm to me and my family," Hanson-Young said in a statement. "I'm calling this out because it is wrong. No woman, whether she be working behind a bar, in an office or in the Parliament, deserves to be treated this way, and it needs to stop."
The suit comes at a time when Australia is experiencing something of a #MeToo movement itself and fighting sexual harassment in the workplace. According to The New York Times, some aspects of harassment are worse in Australia than they are in the United States.
"Even some of the worst Hillary Clinton stuff I don't think has quite got the coarse nature of the discourse here about women," Australian law professor Susan Harris Rimmer told the Times. "It's really quite brutal. It feels like there are no boundaries anymore."
"Parliament House has a culture of dirty secrets," Hanson-Young said in an interview about her suit, according to the Times. "I thought if I ignore this, it's never going to stop."