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‘I was relieved to discover that talking about it publicly hadn’t killed me’

Michael Visontay
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Published: 30 August 2022

Last updated: 5 March 2024

YAEL STONE on speaking out about sexual harassment, why social justice is ‘in the doing’ and the importance of accepting your own mistakes.

Australian actor Yael Stone has described her decision to speak out in the Geoffrey Rush sexual harassment case in 2018 as “a deeply uncomfortable decision”, she told the Social Justice summit in Sydney on Sunday.

“I spoke out against a very powerful former friend and colleague, corroborating the experiences of a much younger, much less powerful colleague,” said Stone, who trained as an actor in Sydney and rose to international prominence through her role in the long-running Netflix series Orange Is The New Black.

“All avenues for mediation had been shut down. The only options were silence or speak,” Stone said in her keynote address, titled In The Doing.

All avenues for mediation had been shut down. The only options were silence or speak.

“I spoke for two reasons. Number one, it was the truth. And number two, I suspected that power would protect power. And I'm sad to say that is exactly how it played out.

“After the dust had settled, I was relieved to discover that being forced to talk about these ideas publicly hadn't killed me. I had lost some things and there was a lot of discomfort but I was OK.”

But Stone, who has since left the US and returned to Australia where she has become a climate activist, said she is “not a believer in destroying people from mistakes.

“I do not believe people are one thing. But taking responsibility and owning behaviour has to be the start and then being allowed by society … to grow from that, and not to be frozen in stone, is the crucial next step.

The Jewish Independent

Stone told the summit she had taken her own next step, having enrolled to study environmental sustainability at Wollongong University and founded, with her partner, a low-carbon organisation in the Illawarra, south of Sydney, where she now lives.

“Hi Neighbour”, as it is called, has two focuses, she said: solar rooftops and school scholarships.

“Hi Neighbour uses funds from solar projects to power scholarships for local workers,” she explained. “To train in low carbon jobs with our solar rooftops, we make renewables accessible, and we lower CO2.

To me, climate change is as as much a social challenge as it is an environmental one.

“With our scholarships, we bring community together where there is fracture by remembering that the folks who work in fossil fuel energy industries are actually the champions of this change.

“To me, climate change is as much a social challenge as it is an environmental one.”

Stone described the journey to start Hi Neighbour as an “exciting intersectional learning” which has been “also deeply satisfying”.

The only thing harder than the doing is doing nothing at all.

“I know that there is so much more to come. There's so much more to learn. But what I know without doubt is that these movements of change need support, generosity in energy, enthusiasm, inspiration, money, time and... someone to push the barrow for a moment, or a season or a lifetime.”

In closing, Stone said she had described her own to help others realise what they can do, if they choose to. “Don't fool yourself into thinking that you have nothing to offer.

“The only thing harder than the doing is doing nothing at all.”

Photo: Yael Stone addresses the Social Justice Summit

All photos: Giselle Haber

About the author

Michael Visontay

Michael Visontay is the Commissioning Editor of TJI. He has worked as a journalist and editor for more than 30 years. Michael is the author of several books, including Who Gave You Permission?, co-authored with child sexual abuse advocate Manny Waks, and Welcome to Wanderland: Western Sydney Wanderers and the Pride of the West.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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