After months of misery, Australian women had a little laugh at the law’s expense last week. Banking IT consultant Constantine Arvanitis is suing one of three former girlfriends, Selina Holder, for defamation. The three exes “allegedly banded together to send a letter to his [current] fiancee telling her to leave him”. The case will be heard in the Victorian County Court in May. The letter, which Holder denies sending, claims Arvanitis is dangerous, a cheater, spent $220,000 on cocaine, sold Viagra at his workplace and juggled relationships with multiple women while claiming to be monogamous.
I’m exhausted just reading the list.
It’s very unusual for a case like this to reach court, says solicitor Amy Carr O’Meara, who gets approaches from men to represent them in defamation cases such as this regularly. “It happens far more than you would expect but I don’t take them on.”
“Why would you sue?” she asks. Which is a strange response from a solicitor yet also an admirable one. “Those personal defamation cases are often associated with an ugly family law battle … you do more harm to your reputation than good.”
But the banding together of the exes to write a letter to the current girlfriend is a new one on me. I mean, who among us has not contacted our former partner’s current partner to spill the tea? But collaborating with other exes? That takes a particular kind of sisterhood, the expression the three women used to describe themselves.
They wrote: “We are the sisterhood. We have to expose him. He will take all your money. He has to be stopped. You must contact us so we can protect you from this evil person. We all want to help you. We are in Melbourne together so please meet with us.”
Turns out it’s quite the thing with the younger set. They use Facebook and Instagram and are adept at tracking down formers using Google images and other excellent detection work. And then they set about letting new partners know what experiences they had. Truly a public service.
Here are some fascinating examples. One young man told his “one and only” girlfriend he was going away on a golfing holiday with his mates. A day later, the girlfriend received a text message from an unknown number, a woman who was on the “golfing holiday”. The woman had a bad feeling about the bloke, went through his phone messages, discovered he had a girlfriend, felt she ought to let the girlfriend know and left the “golfing holiday” midway. (Oh man, phones, text messages, privacy, I have a million conflicting thoughts about this but really lying and cheating deserve exposure. Utilitarianism for the win.) This was the ultimate act of the Travelling Sisterhood of Unravelling Pants Men.
Another young woman was contacted by Facebook messenger with someone wanting information about her former boyfriend. “Well, I got an STI and he tried to strangle me but otherwise good,” she replied wryly. A message came back quickly: “Oh God, that’s it then.” Both women have survived and thrived. Kept in touch. Chat about their narrow escape and have promised each other to keep an eye out for other women who fall into this man’s grasp.
Another woman tells me she is cheering on the women in the sisterhood. “I’ve always thought some kind of register of men to be avoided would be very helpful.” Which is kind of what this is, albeit on Insta messages and on the engrossing Bad Dates of Melbourne.
Top-tier firm lawyer turned full-time comic, now at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Alice Fraser, says this kind of conversation among women has gone on forever.
“But now it is entering the legal realm and we know the law is not great for dealing with interpersonal shit. This is an area where it falls short, just doesn’t function. Women have done this since history began – they tell other women, this guy’s, ah, a bad egg.
“You can and should protect yourself and each other with the power you have,” she says.
And she too engages the sisterhood. “Comedy is full of whisper networks, and I’d never do an out of town gig without asking a colleague about the men involved.”
Anyhow, I totally – totally – accept Arvanitis’s claims all the allegations are false but in case he hasn’t met her, I want to introduce him to glorious chanteuse Barbara Streisand. She sued aerial photographer Kenneth Adelman for displaying a photograph of her home in Malibu, California, but lost the case and gave rise to the Streisand effect. As Mike Masnick, who coined the phrase, wrote back in 2005, “How long is it going to take before lawyers realise that the simple act of trying to repress something they don’t like online is likely to make it so that something that most people would never, ever see . . . is now seen by many more people?”
That’s just a useful note to those suing for defamation everywhere – maybe don’t sue if you don’t want the whole world to know all your exes want to hex you.
Jenna Price is a visiting fellow at the Australian National University and a regular columnist.