TRACEY SPICER
TRACEY SPICER

What's next for Tracey Spicer?

When Tracey Spicer put out a call on Twitter in October 2017 for victims of sexual harassment to contact her, she never anticipated the reaction it would garner.

A huge global reckoning was galvanised by the #MeToo hashtag and she wanted to be sure Australian women could tell their stories.

"I expected about 12 to 14 responses, not thousands," she recalls. "I felt an enormous duty of care to those people not to leave them hanging, so sometimes I'd respond to up to 20 people a day, bearing witness to stories of rape, sexual harassment and indecent assault."

Spicer's work had a public impact, leading to media investigations into TV host Don Burke and actor Craig McLachlan, both of whom deny wrongdoing.

Spicer speaking at the Women’s March at Sydney’s Hyde Park in 2017. (Picture: Supplied)
Spicer speaking at the Women’s March at Sydney’s Hyde Park in 2017. (Picture: Supplied)

But behind the scenes she was spending thousands of unpaid hours connecting women with the media, legal help and counselling support.

So it's little surprise that eight months later, she had to seek help. "I hadn't seen a psychologist for 25 years and I told her I couldn't understand why I was feeling like this," Spicer tells Stellar.

"I'd always been a 'glass-half-full', cheerleader kinda girl. She said I'd developed vicarious trauma. Then she laughed and said if I hadn't developed vicarious trauma after listening to 2000 stories, I'd be a sociopath!"

Nearly 18 months on, Spicer, 52, has recovered and has a new project that will share the stories of survivors of sexual harassment but also explore solutions to the systemic issues.

Silent No More is a three-part documentary to screen on the ABC that introduces women from very different backgrounds.

“I expected about 12 to 14 responses, not thousands.” (Picture: Tāne Coffin for Stellar)
“I expected about 12 to 14 responses, not thousands.” (Picture: Tāne Coffin for Stellar)

For Spicer, it was an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the experiences of survivors who don't have a media profile.

"Women from marginalised communities in low-paying sectors face sexual harassment and indecent assault at exponentially higher rates, and I wanted to tell their stories," says Spicer, who is in awe of their courage in going public.

The documentary will feature Mariam*, who was sexually assaulted while working in a fruit-picking shed; Summer, a single mother who was repeatedly sexually harassed at a real estate office and Gretta, who was harassed and sexually assaulted while working as one of the few women in a mining company.

Nikki, a hospitality worker, will discuss the abuse she suffered in an industry rife with harassment issues and Mandy, who won a settlement of more than $330,000 after taking her manager to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, will also feature.

In hearing so many harrowing stories, Spicer has been to some dark places in her head, but she's also found the process uplifting.

"Tarana Burke, who started the MeToo movement 13 years ago, before the hashtag, says it's about joy and I agree with that, having seen the catharsis people experience when they speak out," she says.

"I want to support them through that process because the repercussions of women speaking out are incredibly profound."

Spicer in the upcoming Silent No More. (Picture: Supplied)
Spicer in the upcoming Silent No More. (Picture: Supplied)

Along with her subjects, Spicer, too, has been buffeted by emotion since becoming the national #MeToo poster girl. Recently a friend pointed out that once she lit a bushfire, so to speak, instead of running from it, Spicer ran straight into it. "I felt compelled to help as many women as I could," she says.

Having fought her own battles - including a high-profile legal stoush over workplace discrimination and struggles with infertility - the former TV host and mother of two teens' new path as a changemaker saw her appointed a Member of the Order of Australia last year.

And next month, Spicer, along with Burke, will be awarded the University of Sydney's peace prize.

But her profile has also made her a target for critics - such as in a recent online article questioning the merits of her role in founding NOW Australia, an organisation that launched with the aim of providing victims of sexual harassment or assault with legal and counselling support.

She has since stepped down from the position, and says she never intended the role to be ongoing.

With daughter Grace, son Taj and husband Jason. (Picture: Instagram/traceyspicer)
With daughter Grace, son Taj and husband Jason. (Picture: Instagram/traceyspicer)

"The #MeToo movement is not about me," Spicer tells Stellar. "My current focus is about making space for survivors' voices to be heard - and amplified. MeToo has been a driving force for change and NOW Australia is an important part of that. What's clear is this change requires consistency and collaboration."

So two years on from the early days of #MeToo, is she encouraged by change or dismayed by the lack of it? She sighs. "Power is shifting but, like any large social movement, you're only going to see the manifestations of change over the period of a generation."

 

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Tracey Spicer features in this Sunday’s Stellar.
Tracey Spicer features in this Sunday’s Stellar.

She says one of the most "hopeful" elements of Silent No More occurs during a conversation with a group of Year 9 boys about consent.

"I hope to bring #MeToo to #WeToo because the conversation has become dangerously polarised. I hope the documentary is watched by men and their sons because these beautiful, beautiful boys will become strong allies in the future. I really see a generational shift happening."

Describing herself as "semi-retired", Spicer now works only one day a week and is planning on planting a vegetable garden over the summer before writing another book next year.

After decades of buying into what she calls "superwoman syndrome", she's now far better at relaxing. "I used to be a workaholic," she says.

"Now I get to the end of the day and I sit with a glass of wine and think, 'I feel pretty good about today.'"

Silent No More premieres 8.30pm, Monday November 25, on the ABC.

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Listening to the stories of the abused women had a huge impact on Spicer. (Picture: Tāne Coffin for Stellar)
Listening to the stories of the abused women had a huge impact on Spicer. (Picture: Tāne Coffin for Stellar)

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