The West Live: FIFO Lauren Sandon recounts alleged drink spiking incident at a remote mine site
Based on the horrifying allegations of sexual assault emerging from WA mine sites recently, it’s tempting to think environmental scientist Lauren Sandon is one of the lucky ones.
However, though she escaped an alleged drink spiking incident at a remote mine site in 2015 physically unscathed, the emotional trauma of contemplating what might have happened still haunts Ms Sandon years later.
The scientist told The West Live the incident happened at a mine site in the State’s North West, where men outnumbered women 30 or 40 to one.
“Usually there on our last night, we’ll go and have a drink at the bar or the wet mess with the guys, it was just a social thing you did,” Ms Sandon recalled.
“(We left our drinks) to get our food ... and my colleague, who was female as well, saw (a male co-worker) standing over our drinks.
“She was like, ‘Hey, what are you doing’, as a joke, and he startled and she noticed there was a white powdery substance on the top of her can.”
Ms Sandon confronted the man about the substance, only to have him assure her it was “totally OK” and she should “just drink it”.
Concerned for the safety, the two women left the wet mess area and reported the incident to the project manager, who encouraged them to sleep on it and make a formal complaint in the morning if they still felt like doing so.
That’s when Ms Sandon realised just how close the women came to a potentially dangerous situation.
“(When we returned to our accommodation) we realised that the main door ... didn’t lock, it was faulty,” she said.
“We didn’t have a great sleep that night, I think just with the shock of everything, and part of it would have been we knew he was drunk ... and what if he did come in?”
WA Police are currently investigating the attempted rape of a female contractor at a Pilbara FMG mine just weeks after a South West FIFO was accused of raping a woman at BHP’s Mulla Mulla Village in November.
The FMG incident is also alleged to have occurred after an end-of-shift drinking session.
Ms Sandon filed a police report but a subsequent investigation was unable to locate the cans that had been tampered with.
She said the experience made her “very angry” and irrevocably damaged her confidence in working on male-dominated remote mine sites.
It also opened her eyes to other forms of sexism and misogyny that FIFO women have had to cop on the chin as part and parcel of the industry.
“I guess this one incident was the catalyst in me realising and identifying that there was a broader issue,” she said.
“Someone commenting on the fact that I had my hair in a bun ... or ‘You always smell delicious, I could eat you’ ... and I would just laugh it off.
“But then I might have heard that 10 times from 10 different men in one day, which was usually the case.”
As a defence mechanism, Ms Sandon said she was forced to “get quite bogan” and “swear like a trooper”, which then made it hard for her to adapt to her non-FIFO friends and family when she returned from a swing.
The other option — confronting the perpetrators — was even less appealing.
“You’re not going to call out a group of 30 men, because where are you safe in that situation,” she explained.
“And it’s emotional safety, as well as personal safety, physical safety.”
BHP, Fortescue Metals Group, Rio Tinto, Woodside and Newmont Mining committed to support and fully co-operate with any public inquiry into the issue.
Listen to the full interview on The West Live link above.
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