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Open Honesty and Brutal Truths: an Interview with Marcelle Yacoub

Content warning: This article includes discussions of sexual harassment. If you find this disturbing or upsetting, please contact 1800RESPECT or Lifeline for support.

Today the ARS team sat down with Marcelle Yacoub, founder of Pieces of Marcelle, to get her perspective on university, the law, and her experience as a survivor of sexual assault. Take it away Marcelle.

Please tell our readers a bit about yourself and your experiences.

I never know how to answer questions like this. I was raised by a Lebanese migrant mother and a father with Lebanese parents. Most of my life has been spent being conflicted between two cultures, and trying to find authenticity within all the shit it came with.

I study Law and Arts at Monash Uni, and I am having a quarter life crisis at the moment. Funnily enough, I’ve worked out with my psych that a lot of that life crisis anxiety is stemming from the fact that I really dislike Law as a degree, and the Law in general.

So I’m currently sorting that out!

I started my lil homemade earring business, Pieces of Marcelle (POM), in November 2020. Deciding to do it was the most clarifying, directional moment (career wise) that I’ve ever experienced.

I don’t know exactly where I can see myself headed. Something I know for certain (as of very recently!) is that I cannot work within structures as they are. I cannot work within the law when so much of it I so morally and practically disagree with.

I don’t know if I see myself taking POM ‘further or bigger’. I honestly have no idea what I’m doing! But, for the first time ever, I am so okay with that. So I’m just riding out life at the moment!

What role do you think power balance plays in the difficulty of speaking up about sexual violence in the workplace?

Oh, there is such a power imbalance across all professions.

There are so many facets to it - societal, professional, your work colleagues, the person who violated you, your mental health, your physical health, your career progression. It’s so overwhelming.

Fundamentally, I think society is to blame. If victim-blaming wasn’t so embedded into our communities, it wouldn’t be such a difficult thing to speak up about.

With a non-workplace sexual violence violation, it can be extremely overwhelming and dehumanising to speak out. In a workplace environment, where a victim might be worried about their position in the workplace, how it’ll impact their ability to work, what the people they surround themselves with most will say or do - it is the same story, yet a different experience.

Unfortunately, society places all the pressure on the victim. When you feel like your livelihood, career or sense of normalcy is impacted, firstly by being assaulted, and then by figuring out what to do with that, it’s really anxiety inducing. That’s part of the power imbalance I think. Your normalcy can be fucked with, so what do you do? Pretend everything’s ok? But it’s not. It can feel life changing. This is so much pressure on a victim, and workplaces bank on the fact that it’s more arduous for a victim to come forward than it is for them not to.

Another part of the power imbalance speaks to policies within workplaces. These policies are to protect the company, and as a result, will nearly always throw the victim under the bus. Victims feel violated in a way that the abuser never will, but society wants to keep the status quo, companies want to keep the status quo.

This is incompatible with someone who’s been abused, who is not comfortable. When companies start putting out policies and practices that are genuinely made through the lens of a victim, and not to protect the abuser, then there will be less difficulty in speaking out about their experience. And even more importantly, if a workplace adopts these pro-victim policies, they’ll lessen the amount of abuse before it even happens. It’s a win win. Until workplaces inherently recognise this, there will always be difficulties in speaking about your experience as a victim.

Do you have any advice for law students regarding sexual assault/harrasment experiences?

Firstly, if you’re reading this and you have experienced sexual violence, I am so sorry. My first piece of advice would be to seek professional help, even if you don’t think you need it, for numerous reasons:

  1. It might be months before you get your first appointment with a psychologist. It’s better to get the ball rolling sooner rather than later.

  2. Even if you don’t feel like you need help in this moment, you might hit a point, and it might come out of nowhere - a trigger or a conversation or an experience that makes you realise you want to talk to a professional.

  3. If you have a counsellor whom you trust, you’ll be able to make connections and breakthroughs about your experience that you might not have even realised before then.

  4. You can work through what was done to you at your own pace, in a safe environment, with someone who can guide you through it.

I think another piece of advice is to make sure you’re safe. And when I say this, I mean mentally and emotionally. Who are you surrounding yourself with? Are they positively helping your healing? Is your workplace being helpful or detrimental? Do you need extra support? Do you need time off work? Time off university? Being a law student generally can be a lot of anxiety. Is your usual environment making anything feel worse, or better?

Do what you need to do to feel comfortable within yourself.

What factors contribute to a high number of sexual harassment cases in the legal profession goes unreported?

If you’ve studied criminal law, you’ll know the burden of proof is so fucking high for sexual violence cases. There’s a reason we don’t hear about all our assaulters being held accountable via the legal system.

We’ve also spoken about societal issues like victim blaming mentalities.

They both have flow on effects from top to bottom. When society is so anti-victim and so abuser protecting, and if policies and processes are difficult for victims to get justice, then why should victims bother seeking it to begin with?

Add onto that the male domination of the profession, the power imbalances and inequity that imposes. Law school and the law profession is a big fat sea of unreported cases. We wouldn’t even hear half of the cases. It’s so maddening.

A submission by the Women’s Law Association reads: ‘In an environment where junior roles are dominated by women and the most senior roles are dominated by men, there are unequal power relations between men and women,” supported by the statistic that women make up less than 25 per cent of law firm partners in Australia.” What are your opinions on this statement?

We all know the law profession is male dominated. Laws were made by men, for men. Therefore, there will (at least for the foreseeable future) be a flow on effect of inequity. It’s fantastic to see junior roles being dominated by women. But it also saddens me, because it doesn’t necessarily fill any gaps in the inequity. All of these women will face some sort if inequitable injustice in the profession (whether they realise, or not). I think if we can acknowledge this truth, then it’ll be that much easier to change!

Junior lawyers and law students may feel pressured not to speak about sexual harassment as they’re worried it will hinder their future prospects. What would you say to them?

If a place of employment is going to regard your disclosure as something ‘negative’ or something that ‘hinders you’ - is that somewhere you really want to work?

Has being a law student helped or hindered your experience with sexual violence?

I think if anything, it’s shown me that I definitely cannot work within the criminal justice system as it is right now.

I don’t think being a law student particularly, though, has impacted anything for me personally, to be honest. I suppressed most of my younger childhood assaults for a very long time. When we were literally learning in depth about what constitutes sexual assault and rape, I literally thought nothing of it. It didn’t resonate at all.

However, I do know others who have felt empowered being a law student, and how that’s helped them on their healing!

Edited by Jess Darmos

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