‘Horrified’ female sex abuse survivors slam ABC doco
The fallout over the upcoming #MeToo documentary starring Tracey Spicer continues, as more women come forward to lash the journalist and the ABC over its mishandling of their sensitive sexual assault complaints.
On the condition of anonymity, a handful of women told news.com.au they were still waiting for assurances from the ABC, the production company behind the doco or Spicer herself that their sexual assault allegations and identities would remain confidential.
One woman, who wrote to the ABC's head of disputes and litigation a week ago asking for a guarantee that her identity and disclosure would not be in the film, hasn't received it.
A former journalist and editor with more than 20 years experience working in the media, the woman spoke with Spicer extensively about being sexually harassed by a "high-profile Australian".
"This whole episode has made me extremely anxious," the woman wrote to the ABC in an email, seen by news.com.au, on November 14.
"I am particularly concerned that anything about my story will signal to my attacker that I have spoken about it - we continue to cross paths professionally and this would have a significant impact on me both professionally and personally.
"I've never been so horrified about such a gross breach of ethics and privacy and I certainly didn't expect to be on the receiving end.
"I hope you can reassure me and the other women who trusted Tracey and your team with our stories so we can all rest easier again, at least about this particularly intrusion."
News.com.au understands the woman got a confirmation that her email was received by the ABC but is yet to be assured her identity will not be exposed in four days' time.
In a statement, the ABC said it and "producer Southern Pictures wish to reiterate that no names or details of anyone who has suffered sexual abuse or harassment will be broadcast in Silent No More without their explicit consent".
Other women - whose names and faces appeared in an embargoed preview sent to media last month - have already partially lost that confidentiality, after Spicer allowed a camera to shoot her scrolling through thousands of Facebook messages on her computer screen.
Spicer said she expected the production company to blur this.
One woman, whose disclosure about sexual harassment was also included in the preview, said despite her name or face not being shown, she was easy to identify in the footage due to specific details.
She told news.com.au she's experienced safety concerns since.
Spicer has since apologised for the massive privacy breach, levelling blame at the ABC in a National Press Club Address last week and apologising to those who trusted her.
That excuse didn't sit well with some of the women impacted.
"Irrespective of whether or not they did intend to blur my email, the fact of the matter is a privacy breach occurred the moment Spicer allowed a single other person to see that email," the woman told news.com.au.
"She was the one who invited a camera crew into her house, she was the one who opened her computer and she was the one who facilitated that breach of privacy.
"The fact that Southern Pictures (the production company) has signed confidentiality agreements is entirely unsatisfactory, they should never have any knowledge of my disclosure.
"It is an outrageous breach of privacy that Spicer allowed them that access."
Another woman, who made a complaint to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC), earlier this week, claimed the ABC "fobbed her off" when she asked for assurances.
She requested "urgent intervention" from the OAIC "due to the highly sensitive nature of the data".
"I assume I was not identified in the documentary. However, I have genuine concerns regarding the storage and use of my data by the parties during the documentary production process and at all other times. This has caused me genuine distress," she wrote in her November 19 complaint.
Immediately after hearing about the breach, the woman contacted the ABC.
"The documentary production staff refused to take my call and a bizarrely belligerent receptionist refused to take a message," she wrote.
"The receptionist said the ABC had received a substantial number of complaints and advised that I was required to write down my concerns and send them to the ABC's general editorial complaints email address.
"That, however, would have required me to identify myself as a victim of sexual assault via an insecure online method to an organisation that has breached the data privacy of sexual assault victims.
"I am disappointed that one week since the stories broke, the ABC has not enacted a process for contacting the women whose data has been breached.
"Nor has it instituted a process for appropriately handling contact from women who are concerned their data has been breached. Sensitively, transparently and securely dealing with all women affected should be of paramount importance to the ABC."
In response to those claims, a spokesperson for the ABC said anyone with concerns should contact "Entertainment & Specialist spokesperson Peter Munro, who will offer such personal reassurance or connect them with someone in the program's production team, if they prefer".
"His contact details are at the bottom of the statement on our Media Site. Alternatively, the ABC can also be contacted via abc.net.au/contact/contactabc.htm or our national switchboard on 139 994. Any such contacts will be treated with care and sensitivity.
"We have already given specific reassurances to several women who have contacted us directly and will continue to do so."
Silent No More is a three-part documentary about the #MeToo movement in Australia produced by Southern Pictures for the ABC.
It stars the former newsreader turned "accidental advocate" Spicer, who received more than 2000 disclosures of sexual violence and harassment, after publicly calling for women's stories in the wake of the #MeToo hashtag going viral in October 2017.
A preview version of the documentary was distributed by the ABC's marketing department to media outlets in early October, in anticipation of the November 25 televised launch.
"Due to human error, an early version of Silent No More was provided to a small number of accredited media under embargo," the ABC said in the wake of the revelation.
"This early version had not yet had names and details of three women blurred in shots of a computer screen. Significant steps were taken to de-identify names and details in the broadcast version and it has always been our intention that these names and details be blurred before broadcast.
"The ABC sincerely apologises for any harm or upset this has caused them or their families."
Despite the preview only being sent to a handful of journalists and media organisations, some of the complaints made to Spicer were from people in the media world.
Last week, a joint investigation conducted by news.com.au and BuzzFeed News found that the already circulating documentary included disclosures received by Spicer regarding rape, harassment and domestic violence, without the women's consent.
The victims - whose names and faces also appear - had no knowledge of the documentary's existence, or that Spicer had shared their confidential disclosures with a film crew, until contacted.
One of those women, who revealed to Spicer she was gang-raped as a teenager, had her full name and story included in the documentary without her knowledge or consent.
Spicer also read out parts of the woman's story, including naming the suburb, details of the gang rape and the name of the industry she worked in.
A further seven women have either had their disclosures published without their consent or expressed grave concerns over the documentary's impending release.
The second of the eight women, who spoke to Spicer about living with domestic violence, had her full name and picture shown on the documentary.
Fearing potential repercussions, the woman said the documentary "would not be safe" to air.
Dhanya Mani, who was allegedly sexually harassed and assaulted while working for the Liberal Party, has called for the documentary to be axed.
The 26-year-old claims Spicer shared messages the two had exchanged with Ms Mani's former boss.
"Why would anyone think that doing something like that is even remotely appropriate in any circumstance?"
Spicer denies sending screenshots of their conversation to Ms Mani's former boss.
The ABC earlier issued an apology "for any harm or upset" caused to the women or their families, adding that "it has always been our intention that these names and details be blurred before broadcast".
Despite the missteps, Spicer said the #MeToo movement in Australia needed to move forward.
In a statement, the ABC said it would go ahead with the documentary - ensuring anonymity for the women involved.
Due to human error, an early version of Silent No More was provided to a small number of accredited media under embargo.
This early version had not yet had names and details of three women blurred in shots of a computer screen.
Significant steps were taken to de-identify names and details in the broadcast version and it has always been our intention that these names and details be blurred before broadcast.
The ABC sincerely apologises for any harm or upset this has caused them or their families.
We removed the program from our media portal as soon as we became aware of the error. The welfare of those who have suffered sexual abuse or harassment is of utmost importance to the ABC and we wish to assure them that Silent No More will treat these issues with respect and care while shining a light on the need for positive change in this area.
SOUTHERN PICTURES STATEMENT
We are devastated by this error and apologise for any distress this has caused.
An interim version of the program provided to the ABC blurred most but not all the names and details of people who shared their stories with Tracey.
We wish to assure everyone that the final version of the program will not identify anyone without their explicit consent, which was always our intention.
Our first priority is our duty of care to those impacted by sexual harassment and #MeToo, along with supporting the work that is being done to address the issue of sexual harassment.
TRACEY SPICER STATEMENT
As a participant in this documentary, I was assured survivors' identities would be fully protected.
I am utterly gutted about what has occurred. I apologise deeply and unreservedly to those whose names were visible in that initial version of the program.
I'm relieved that the ABC has swiftly moved to take it down and that no one is identified in the broadcast version.
Correction: An earlier version of this article wrongly suggested that Ms Mani accused a former boss of sexual assault. This did not occur. We apologise unreservedly.