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Defamation claim against former Honi editor thrown out of court

Media outlets and sexual assault survivors still face many obstacles in reporting sexual assault allegations

Photography by Merryjack via Flickr

This article discusses sexual assault.

Patrick Massarani, a former member of the University of Sydney Senate, has had his defamation claim relating to sexual assault allegations in a 2015 Honi Soit article thrown out of court. 

The article, published in print on 30 July 2015 and the next day online, exposed the nefarious power dynamics embedded in relationships between female students and USyd staff and the failure of university bureaucracies to adequately deal with cases of sexual misconduct. It stated that an unnamed former member of the university’s governing board had sexually harassed six women. 

The day after the article’s publication, Massarani had requested that a vital identifying factor be removed. The Honi editing team immediately acquiesced and altered the text to make it harder to identify Massarani. It was only three and a half years later, after a third party inquired into whether Massarani was the aggressor, that Massarani launched legal action. 

The fact that this third party “had to check her suspicions with the first defendant suggests that identification of the plaintiff to other persons from the website alone would be a task of very great difficulty.”

Massarani faced serious difficulty proving the proliferation of the Honi article on Facebook and online as an archived article since “the purpose of archives is to store information, not to attract an audience of readers; they are designed to be searched by persons seeking specific information, generally as a result of information from another source.”

Massarani’s claims fell apart because the case was “an abuse of process”. The legal costs and court resources required to determine the claim was disproportionate to the interests at stake.