COMMENT:

"I refuse to be revictimised, and revictimised by you, Mr Craig."

Those were the words of Rachel MacGregor this week as she stood with her back to Colin Craig in the Auckland High Court. MacGregor, who filed a sexual harassment complaint against Craig in 2014, refused to look at her former employer, a wealthy man who opted not to hire lawyers to represent him - a decision that enabled him personally to cross-examine the woman he wrote excruciating poems and letters to and requested back rubs from.

With her back turned, MacGregor sent Craig a clear message that she was not going to play on his terms. The New Zealand justice system may have allowed him to compel a woman to speak to him against her will, but she would not cower before him. She may have lost her health, her job and her happiness over this case, but she hadn't lost her spirit or her dignity. Never has a turned back spoken more loudly.

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This is a case in which, irrespective of the eventual judgment, no one will win. Least of all justice. Justice, as this case has exemplified, comes at a high price; especially when one party has millions at their disposal, and the other has to crowdfund to cover their legal fees. It makes you wonder whether what is just is the same as what is fair.

The Craig vs MacGregor saga has horrified me from the outset. Like a bad manuscript for a political melodrama, it has lurched from one tawdry revelation to another. A train wreck in motion, it has been impossible to look away from.

The case is convoluted. There have been so many twists and turns in this story that it's easy to get lost in the various versions of events.

In a nutshell, MacGregor, then the press secretary for the Conservative Party, resigned from her job a few days before the 2014 election and filed a sexual harassment complaint against Craig with the Human Rights Commission. In 2015, the claim was settled at mediation, and both signed a confidentiality agreement.

Craig then went on to hold press conferences and media interviews in which he referenced MacGregor, after which MacGregor complained to the Human Rights Tribunal that he had broken the confidentiality agreement; an agreement she was still bound and gagged by. The tribunal found in her favour and ordered Craig to pay her $128,000.

In 2017, MacGregor discovered that Craig was suing her for defamation. MacGregor, who had been so affected by the trajectory and fallout of the sexual harassment case that she ended up on a sickness benefit unable to work, decided to countersue. And here we are.

People often wonder why victims don't come forward to report sexual harassment. The fallout from Rachel MacGregor's allegations is an instructive answer to that loaded question. The consequences of coming forward to make allegations about abusive behaviour can be so severe that many victims opt instead to remain silent.

It's a self-perpetuating cycle. The culture of silence enables abusers to get away with their crimes, while victims are variously blamed and disbelieved. Throw into the mix the power imbalances that often underpin relationships in which sexual harassment occurs, and you have the perfect storm. Victims are damned if they do, and damned if they don't.

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This is not the first time MacGregor has been forced into court by Craig. It may not be the last. Craig is currently embroiled in at least three legal cases in which MacGregor features, directly or indirectly. He has the resources to lodge appeal after appeal. His insistence on representing himself means he may well be able to force MacGregor to answer him from the dock again and again.

We all have an inalienable right to seek justice, but at what point does that right infringe upon the rights of others? At what point does the pursuit of justice veer off into the realm of harassment? The Craig vs MacGregor case has raised uncomfortable questions in my mind that I don't know the answer to.

As we await the verdict in a case that has gripped, repulsed and baffled the nation, we should remember the case law surrounding defamation. It can broadly be defined as a false statement to discredit someone, a statement that may lower someone in the estimation of right-thinking members of society, or a statement about someone that may make others shun and avoid them.

With that in mind, I can't help but think of Craig's poem Two of Me.

"There is only one of me it's true But I wish this were not the case Because I wish that I could have you If instead one man, I was two That would be one for all the others And one of me, for you".

I am only one right-thinking member of society, but I can't read Craig's ode without feeling queasy. Add to that another of his verses, and I'm reaching for a bucket:

"You are beautiful because you look unbelievably good in your dress. You are beautiful because you have the most perfect ... Lol."

In my humble, honestly held opinion, Craig's own words say far more about him than anything MacGregor could ever say.