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The Cost of Telling a #MeToo Story in Australia

2 1193 6340
17.12.2018

Yael Stone is scared.

We are in New York City, at a ramen place near her apartment in Astoria, Queens, and Ms. Stone, who stars in “Orange Is the New Black,” has barely touched her soup. She tells me she hasn’t been sleeping for the better part of a year.

It’s not just her 6-month-old baby who’s keeping her up, but her decision to come forward for the first time and speak to me about her experiences with Geoffrey Rush, one of the most powerful actors in her native Australia.

Most women who go public with #MeToo stories are fearful for obvious reasons. There is the pain of reliving traumatic experiences. There is the rage of not being believed. And there is sometimes the discomfort of admitting, as Ms. Stone readily does, that she didn’t say “no” and at times even encouraged some of his behavior. She did so, she says, out of fear of offending a mentor and friend.

But Ms. Stone isn’t just afraid of the emotional consequences of talking about her allegations against Mr. Rush, her onetime hero, including that he danced naked in front of her in their dressing room, used a mirror to watch her while she showered and sent her occasionally erotic text messages while she was 25 years old and starring opposite Mr. Rush, then 59, on stage in “The Diary of a Madman” in 2010 and 2011.

She is worried that Australia’s defamation laws will drag her into a legal and financial quagmire.

In the United States, the legal burden is on the person who claims to have been defamed: He or she must prove that the allegations are false. In Australia, in the area of libel law, it’s the opposite. The burden is on the publisher to prove that the allegations against the plaintiff are true. In addition, public figures who sue for libel in the United States must prove that the publisher acted with reckless disregard of the truth, even if the statements prove false.

Mr. Rush said in a statement that Ms. Stone’s allegations “are incorrect and in some instances have been taken completely out of context.” But, he added, “clearly Yael has been upset on occasion by the spirited enthusiasm I generally bring to my work. I sincerely and deeply regret if I have caused her any distress. This, most certainly, has never been my intention.”

“I know I have truth on my side,” Ms. Stone told me during a phone call last week. And yet, “you can see in all of my communications with you that there’s an element of terror.”

The same power dynamics present in #MeToo stories, she said, “are reflected in a legal system that favors the person with a good deal more money and a good deal more influence and power.”

Australia’s defamation laws help explain why the #MeToo movement, while managing to take down some of the most powerful men in the entertainment and media industry in the United States, has not taken off there.

“Australia is the only Western democracy without an explicit constitutional protection for freedom of speech,” Matt Collins, a defamation lawyer and the president of the Victorian Bar, told me. “People say that Sydney is the libel capital of the world,” he added.

The upshot: Not only is it easier for a plaintiff to win a defamation suit in Australia, but people are far less likely to blow the whistle on misconduct, knowing what the legal (and therefore financial) consequences might be. Indeed, if a law firm had not volunteered to represent Ms. Stone pro bono, she said, there is no way she would have been able to come forward.

But that financial support goes only so far. Crucially, if the actress is sued and loses, she will be personally responsible for the damages. That Ms. Stone is willing to take such a risk indicates how strongly she feels about the matter.

“I think the fact that she’s speaking about this now is incredibly courageous,” said Brenna Hobson, who was the general manager of the company that produced “Diary of a Madman” and has known Mr. Rush for more than two decades.

“The use of defamation cases against women with sexual harassment complaints is having a huge........

© The New York Times