When Adele Moleta first saw what Marijke Rancie had written about her on Facebook, she tried to laugh it off.
“I was like, ‘Oh, it’s the internet’,” she told BuzzFeed News. But then the post was shared. Again. And again. And again.
“Suddenly, it was snowballing,” Moleta said. “I was on my way to a photoshoot and between the two hours of that starting and finishing it had blown up.”
Her anxiety started to peak. Friends from Minus18, the LGBTI youth charity where Moleta worked as an event producer, came to meet her, saying “We need to have a plan, because this is bad”.
Rancie, a Melbourne woman, runs the “Political Posting Mumma” page, which currently has more than 19,000 followers.
A couple of years ago, she was thrust into the spotlight when a video she recorded railing against the Safe Schools LGBTI anti-bullying program went viral, gaining millions of views.
She went on to star in advertisements for the losing “No” campaign in Australia’s 2017 postal survey on same-sex marriage, and now regularly posts content arguing against same-sex marriage, transgender rights, and LGBTI education in schools.
On Dec. 13, 2017 the target of her ire was Moleta, a 32-year-old woman who runs the queer party organisation Unicorns, and has held various roles working with LGBTI youth.
Rancie posted pictures of Moleta with a long accompanying caption, part of which read: “I’ll just leave this here as a sneak peek for you all. Hold on to your hats this is the start of a rabbit hole that is pretty sick and twisted to your average Australian family.”
The post mentioned that Moleta worked at Minus18, which holds events and provides resources for LGBTI teenagers and youth. The charity has come under intense fire from conservative groups, politicians and media in recent years – particularly in 2016 – as part of a campaign against the Safe Schools program.
Rancie wrote in the post that the photos and information about Moleta were being posted for “transparency”.
“These are our kids,” she wrote. “I couldn’t care less what an individual chooses to do, but the moment they step into our kids world you can be damn sure we will be watching everything you do. If you don’t understand that you are not a parent, not a decent one anyway.”
She signed off with the hashtag “#handsoffourkidssexualactivists”.
The worst of the 200 comments directly suggested Moleta was grooming children.
Some cited Sodom and Gomorrah, others referenced Satan. Even the tamest ones were deeply unpleasant: “There should be a vomit button on Facebook.” “What an abomination.” “Scum.”
The post and comments, Moleta said, had a “devastating” effect on her.
Her anxiety was so bad that she had trouble sleeping. She quit all three of her jobs working with LGBTI youth – event producer at Minus18; volunteer coordinator at LGBTI crisis hotline Switchboard; and presenting a radio show for queer people aged 10-18 – because she was so worried about the organisations and the young people involved being targeted.
“People were already threatening to come to Minus18 on these posts when I was running an event, to protest or whatever. They were targeting the radio show,” she said.
“So I thought it was best that I step back to make sure everyone else is safe.”
She was also worried about what the post would mean for her future.
“After this started, the first thing people see when you Google my name was these horrible accusations. I wanted to ensure that in my future I could apply to adopt a kid, be a foster mum or work with young people and not have this fear that this moment in my life would stop me from doing that.”
But the anxiety was accompanied by a sense of injustice: surely something could be done.
“Everyone kept being like, ‘just put your head down, it’ll go away, these things pass’,” she said. “But I’m not the type of person who just lets things go if I don’t think they’re right.”
She found a lawyer, Christien Corns at K&L Gates, who acted for her on a no-win, no-fee basis.
She also secured two pro bono barristers: Matt Collins QC – who is the president of the Victorian Bar Association and acted for Pitch Perfect star Rebel Wilson in her defamation case – and Natalie Hickey.
Moleta filed a defamation lawsuit against Rancie in the Federal Court of Australia on Dec. 4, 2018.
She alleged that Rancie had defamed her by suggesting she “is a sick and twisted person who organises events for high school aged children at which she engages in and condones sexually suggestive conduct while nude or semi-nude”.
She also argued the comments suggested she is a paedophile; that she grooms high school-aged children; and that she is a shameful person who should not be allowed anywhere near children.
Rancie was represented by Western Australian firm Steenhof Brothers Barristers & Solicitors, which says on its website that it follows a Christian ethos.
“We believe the highest standard for our conduct is set out in the Bible,” the firm says on its website. “We aim to infuse our practice with Christian virtues.”
Rancie filed a defence. The case settled before going to trial in a mediation on June 3.
Moleta told BuzzFeed News Rancie has agreed to pay her $100,000 as part of the settlement, as well as an undertaking not to publish similar comments about her in the future.
Rancie has not responded to multiple requests for comment from BuzzFeed News on the lawsuit.
She issued a public apology to Moleta on the Political Posting Mumma page on June 4, writing that she had published a number of posts and comments – some written by her and others by third parties – that included “untrue and offensive material”.
“If my posts encouraged others to attack Ms Moleta, I regret this conduct and the damage caused,” she wrote.
“I sincerely and unreservedly apologise to Ms Moleta for any hurt, embarrassment or damage which the posts and comments have caused to her and to her personal and professional reputations.”
The post will stay pinned to the top of the Political Posting Mumma page for 60 days.
In a video posted on May 9, Rancie had declared she would not back down over the lawsuit and asked for support from her followers.
“These days, even calling it as you see it can land you in big trouble like landing in court,” she said. “Guys, I’m no stranger to criticism. I’m pretty tough. I’ll continue to stand up. But this legal challenge is certainly new for me.
“It’s not clear what the outcome will be, it’s actually a highly complex legal matter, but I’m not beaten. I’m not backing down. I won’t be bullied into silence, that’s exactly what the activists want.”
Moleta has just this week returned to working with young LGBTI people, for an organisation focused on training adults to effectively support youth.
She still sees a therapist weekly to talk about the effect Rancie’s post had on her mental health.
She was prepared to go to trial if that’s what it took to vindicate her reputation – but she is very relieved the case has settled.
“This has been one and a half years of my life and I am so ready to put it behind me,” she said.
She hopes her case will send a signal that people can be held accountable for their actions.
“I always felt I had a strong case and that by standing up for myself I was letting other queer people know they have the power to do the same,” she said.
“I also knew that if I achieved a successful outcome, many future people will have been saved from having to go through something similar. I kept telling myself that if I helped one future queer young person by going through this, it would all be worth it.”
Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.
Contact Lane Sainty at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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