SYDNEY – An Australian senator, saying she wants to stop “sexist and reprehensible” behavior, is suing a fellow parliamentarian over comments sparked by a heated debate in the upper house in which he told her to “stop shagging men.”
Sen. David Leyonhjelm, a Liberal Democrat, made the remark about Greens Sen. Sarah Hanson-Young in June during a session on legalizing pepper spray to protect women.
Leyonhjelm made further comments about Hanson-Young’s life in media appearances, including on Sky News.
The defamation proceedings, filed in a federal court this week, are reportedly the first by a sitting Australian politician against another parliamentarian under national laws introduced in 2006.
Hanson-Young, who is divorced, said last month that Leyonhjelm’s comments suggested she is “sexually promiscuous,” adding that he was “slut-shaming” her.
The lawsuit involves what Leyonhjelm said in the media. His Senate comments are protected by parliamentary privilege.
Sky News has apologized for the comments broadcast on the network.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has called on Leyonhjelm to apologize, but the senator refused.
“The defamatory statements … are an attack on my character, and have done considerable harm to me and my family,” Hanson-Young said in a statement Thursday, adding that his behavior was “sexist and reprehensible.”
“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 Liberal Democrats said Thursday that the suit “has no merit.”
Hanson-Young has started a legal fund on the GoFundMe campaigning website to support her case, with more than 60,000 Australian dollars ($44,000) raised so far. She pledged to donate any damages she is awarded from the case to Plan International and the Working Women’s Centre SA.
This is not the first time the issue of sexism has been raised in Australia’s legislative chambers. Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard became a torchbearer for women around the world in 2012 with her fiery speech about misogyny in Parliament, where she accused then-opposition leader Tony Abbott of sexism.