It’s one of the biggest Australian stories for women in 2019. Oscar-winning actor Geoffrey Rush was awarded an eye-watering $850,000 for general and aggravated damages in his defamation case against tabloid newspaper The Daily Telegraph on Thursday, and may receive millions more due to lost earnings in special damages. The highly-publicised case was brought to court after the Telegraph published two articles (and a poster) in 2017 alleging Rush had been accused of behaving inappropriately towards his female co-star, Eryn-Jean Norvill, during a 2015-16 Sydney Theatre Company production of King Lear.
Although Norvill never intended to publicly come forward with her allegations, she was dragged into the media spotlight after an informal complaint she made to the Sydney Theatre Company was leaked to the newspaper. The allegations were given further fuel when Orange Is The New Black actor Yael Stone appeared on ABC’s 7.30 in 2018, where she alleged Rush had behaved inappropriately towards her during a 2010 production of Diary of A Madman. Rush denied Stone’s allegations, calling them “incorrect and in some instances… taken completely out of context”.
In court, Norvill gave evidence that Rush had “deliberately” sexually harassed her a number of times during the 2015-16 production of King Lear, including stroking her breast, rubbing her lower back under her shirt, simulating groping her breasts, and sending a text saying he was “thinking of her (as I do more than is socially appropriate)”. In his defence, Rush denied he had ever behaved inappropriately towards Norvill.
The court also heard Norvill made an informal complaint to Sydney Theatre Company manager Annelies Crowe in 2016. Crowe later shared these complaints in an email to colleagues, writing she had seen Norvill “very upset” after the closing night of King Lear and that “knowing Geoffrey’s reputation I’m afraid I’d assumed he may have been the cause.”
In his judgment, Justice Michael Wigney said Telegraph articles were “recklessly irresponsible pieces of sensationalist journalism of the very worst kind”, and that the Telegraph’s publisher Nationwide News and journalist Jonathan Moran failed to prove the published claims were true. Wigney stated the evidence given did not prove Rush’s behaviour was of “a lewd, sexual or sexist nature”, and was critical of Norvill’s evidence, stating that although she had been “dragged into the spotlight” by the Telegraph, she was an unreliable witness and “prone to embellishment or exaggeration”.
“There are no winners in this case,” Rush said to the media scrum after the judgment was handed down. In her statement, Norvill addressed the unwanted attention that had been forced on her, saying, “I told the truth. I know what happened – I was there… I would have been content to receive a simple apology and a promise to do better, without any of this.”
The case raises many questions not just about the nature of journalism and defamation laws in Australia, but also what this means for the #MeToo movement and victims of sexual assault. In the aftermath of the case, here are some of the responses from Australia’s better-known and lesser-known feminists:
Can we all please remember Norville never wanted her complaints to be made public. Her life & experiences have been taken out of her hands and used in ways she did not seek. And she has been blamed. This is all too familiar for women.
— Jane Caro (@JaneCaro) April 11, 2019
Just a reminder that the highest award of damages for a victim of sexual harassment including repeated physical conduct over 3 months in Australia was only $330,000 including economic loss with only $200,000 of that being for general damages and aggravated damages #GeoffreyRush
— Kamna मुद्दगौनी (@kamnamm) April 11, 2019
Some snippets from the Geoffrey Rush ruling that are worth dwelling on. They argue that people involved with the case praising, spending time with or otherwise endorsing Rush as an actor, friend or person make it more difficult to accept allegations of inappropriate behaviour. pic.twitter.com/rSHOVGkHCC
— Alex McKinnon (@mckinnon_a) April 11, 2019
Bravo to Erin Jean Norvill – on a dispiriting day for female honesty in the face of power. I hope her career soars to great new heights, and that people in the industry have the courage to applaud her for speaking out, albeit reluctantly, and changing the culture #IStandWithEJ
— Nikki Gemmell (@NikkiGemmell) April 11, 2019
When I was 21 I was sexually assaulted by a senior member of the Australian theatre industry. We had mutual friends. He told me he was going to support me in my career. He flirted. He ran his hand up my leg and whispered in my ear. He is older than my dad.
— Jane Howard (@noplain) April 11, 2019
Main Image Credit: Paul Braven/AAP
Best Of Future Women
Your inbox just got smarter
If you’re not a member, sign up to our newsletter to get the best of Future Women in your inbox.