WARNING: This article discusses and contains descriptions of rape.

Last night, Q&A presenter Tony Jones hosted an all-female panel for a special ‘All About Women‘ episode ahead of International Women’s Day – and yeah, there’s definitely something a bit off about that sentence.

In previous years, Q&A’s all women panel has been guest-hosted by Annabel Crabb and Virginia Trioli.

But this year, in a particularly contentious episode which included discussions of rape, Jones was where you can usually find him on a Monday night: in the hot seat, taking questions as a comment.

The panel included feminist writer Lindy West, journalist Mei Fond, TV host Faustina Agolley, Indigenous lawyer Josephone Cashman, and Icelandic journalist and activist Thordis Elva, who is currently touring Australia with the man who raped her 20 years ago, speaking about sexual violence and forgiveness. 

And here’s another criticism of Jones hosting this particular episode of Q&A: it seems unfathomable that a woman would ask a rape survivor, “How did you get raped?” But that’s what he did.
Elva had just finished answering a question about how a rape survivor can obtain forgiveness (or closure) if the perpetrator showed no remorse, when Jones asked her to elaborate on her experience.

“Perhaps for those in the audience who don’t know the story, could you just briefly spell out what happened?” he said. “How did you get raped?”

Yeesh. Elva appeared to be comfortable answering the question, and her story was a powerful moment on national television.

The next bit is a transcript of Elva’s story, so if you don’t want to read you can just skip down a bit.

“I was a 16-year-old girl in love for the first time, living in Iceland,” she explained. “And my first boyfriend was this handsome Australian exchange student that charmed me with his accent and his worldly ways.

“A month after we started dating, there was a Christmas dance at our school. And I was drunk on my new-found maturity and feeling that I was all grown up now that I had a boyfriend to take me to the dance, so I decided to take yet another stride into adulthood and try rum for the first time, and that was a very bad idea.

“I became very ill, and I spent that night drifting in and out of consciousness, in the bathrooms vomiting. And Tom, my boyfriend, rescued me from this situation – and I was completely incapacitated, I couldn’t move a limb or utter a word – and he took me home, and ignored the advice of some security guards who thought that I might perhaps need an ambulance, that’s how serious it seemed.

“But we got home and I remember the feelings of gratitude that I felt, and the frustration in not being able to utter a word of thanks, but that all turned into horror and betrayal when he undressed me and decided to have his way with me.

“The way I was positioned on my bed meant that my line of vision was my alarm clock, and in order to survive and just stay sane throughout the pain was to count seconds. So that’s what I did while this was happening. And I got up to 7200, so it was a long ordeal, and it left me very shattered.”

But then Jones put his foot in it again by interrupting her story to quite literally stutter, and then ask her how she could forgive her rapist. (Buddy, it’s the centre of her talk – I’m sure she was coming round to it.) 
It might be the Q&A host’s job to keep panelists on track, but in this case he’d asked a rape survivor to recount her trauma. Sit down and shut up.
In response to wide-spread criticism, a spokesperson for the ABC told PEDESTRIAN.TV that Jones hosted the panel because the conversation around IWD isn’t gender-exclusive.

“International Women’s Day activities are a pan-ABC initiative, involving all staff regardless of their gender,” she said. “The conversation is by no means limited to women and is an opportunity for everyone to contribute to the development of the debate.”

However, they declined to comment further on Jones’ handling of the panel last night.

Some learnings for next time: if you’re going to discuss something as sensitive as sexual assault and rape, make sure whoever’s hosting is fully prepared for what that entails.

Photo: Faustina Agolley / Twitter.

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, please call 1800 RESPECT on 1300 737 732 for 24/7 confidential counselling.