Three women, who are sexual harassment survivors or survivor advocates, have been threatened with defamation by Tracey Spicer, including one woman who had a portion of her confidential email disclosure to Spicer included in the preview version of the controversial ABC documentary, Silent No More.
Lucy*, who works as a journalist, disclosed to Spicer about a “grub” who works in the media in November 2017. A portion of Lucy’s email appeared without Lucy’s knowledge or consent in an embargoed early edition of the documentary circulated to other media in October.
“I have no idea how many people are now aware of the existence of that email. I don’t understand why Tracey thought it was OK to invite a camera crew into her home, and open her computer in front of them, showing our emails,” Lucy said.
“Most journalists would go to jail to protect a source, especially a source as vulnerable as a sexual assault or harassment victim.
“I can’t understand how Spicer could share source information with a single person, let alone a person holding a camera.”
Lucy’s lawyers wrote to Spicer earlier this month after the privacy breach was revealed, seeking an undertaking that Spicer would destroy the original disclosure, and reveal any other unauthorised uses of it.
Lucy told news.com.au she “expected an apology”.
“Instead I got a defamation threat. I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “Tracey has spoken numerous times about how defamation laws in this country are used to silence women and victims from speaking out. Journalists should protect sources, not threaten them.”
In an email, seen by news.com.au, Spicer claimed her reputation was damaged by “scandalously defamatory and false statements” made by Lucy.
Lucy rejects the accusation entirely.
News.com.au can also reveal that Spicer has threatened to sue two other women for defamation after comments on social media about Silent No More. One of the women is a prominent feminist and the other is an anti-violence campaigner and journalist.
Spicer’s lawyers wrote to all three women claiming she had been defamed. In one email, her lawyers made demands that the woman “publish an apology to our client” and “agree to pay legal costs in the sum of $1500”.
‘I FELT HUMILIATED’
The embargoed preview of Spicer’s documentary, which was produced by Southern Pictures, didn’t just expose Lucy’s private information.
A news.com.au and BuzzFeed News investigation found that other women had their names, faces and disclosures included in the preview version without their knowledge or approval.
Southern Pictures made a series of last minute edits before last Monday’s first episode and Spicer apologised but levelled blame at the national broadcaster for failing to blur the names.
Lucy says that Southern Pictures and the ABC “should never have had access to those names and details in the first place”, and was still coming to grips with the privacy breach when she got the email from Spicer’s legal team.
“When I was informed that, having already violated my privacy to some degree, Ms Spicer was threatening to sue me for defamation, I was in a state of shock,” Lucy said.
“I feel humiliated, hurt, betrayed and angry.”
Another of the women who was threatened with legal action for criticism of the documentary said it was “very disappointing” Spicer had attempted to “utilise the very defamation frameworks she so vehemently says silences women and campaigns around to silence women simply for critiquing her”.
The third woman says it is “appalling”.
“I feel uncomfortable,” she said. “It feels like you can’t have an open conversation about the mistakes that have been made that affected people.”
Spicer, who was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize after co-founding NOW Australia to triage complaints of sexual assault and sexual harassment, has been a vocal critic of Australia’s defamation laws.
“We have some of the most restrictive defamation laws in the western world and we don’t have the proper free speech protections that they have in the United States,” she told a Q&A panel in 2018.
In a statement to news.com.au this week, Spicer said the legal notices issued on her behalf were seeking to correct the record and “to correct dangerous inaccuracies or misinformation placed in the public domain”.
“These private notices were sent in a genuine attempt to resolve the issue outside of the litigation process,” she said.
Michael Bradley is Managing Partner at Marque Lawyers in Sydney. He is representing the three women who have been on the receiving end of threats of legal action from Spicer’s lawyers.
He said the letters from her lawyers are “framed aggressively”.
“We have responded to them on our clients’ behalf. For the most part, they have elected unilaterally to take down their social media posts, because they have no interest in getting into a legal fight,” Mr Bradley told news.com.au.
“To that extent, I guess, the threats have achieved their goal. None of our clients agrees that what they had written was defamatory of Spicer, nor have they apologised.”
He said it is important the issues that have arisen from the documentary are “aired and that people feel able to share their concerns about what happened and its broader consequences for the MeToo movement, without feeling intimidated into silence”.
“Unfortunately, that’s not what’s happened,” Mr Bradley added.
‘SHE SHOULDN’T HAVE SHARED THAT’
Spicer first called for victims of sexual harassment or assault to contact her on Twitter on October 17, 2017.
“Currently I’m investigating two long term offenders in our media industry. Please, contact me privately to tell your stories,” she tweeted.
But she was soon overwhelmed with thousands of responses from victims. Despite positioning herself as the Australian face of the movement to rid the media landscape of predators, a number of the victims failed to get responses.
Tiffany*, a woman aged in her 50s, had her real name, face, and disclosure of domestic violence in her current relationship included without her permission in the preview documentary.
She said she was unsatisfied with Spicer’s apology.
“She should never have allowed a production company near her computer,” Tiffany said.
Tiffany, whose name has been withheld, previously told news.com.au she felt exposed and unsafe.
“Other people have seen it now. I don’t know who they are. It’s a breach of trust. It’s not professional, it’s unethical,” she commented at the time.
Spicer has since offered to apologise to Lucy in person but has yet to do so.
* Names have been changed
Episode 2 of Silent No More airs on the ABC on Monday night at 8.30pm