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A Sydney woman is seeking $20,000 in compensation from Bondi Icebergs after she alleges she was repeatedly sexually harassed and “leered” at by “older, creepy men” in the club’s pool and sauna — only to be banned after complaining to management.

Camilla Theakstone, 28, alleges staff at the world-famous club did nothing to help her and did not take her claims seriously, even after she raised concerns with management in a July email outlining at least a dozen specific instances of inappropriate behaviour by other guests.

The former journalist has now filed a formal complaint against Bondi Icebergs with the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) alleging multiple breaches of the Sex Discrimination Act.

She is seeking $5000 in legal fees plus $15,000 in “damages for hurt and humiliation as well as reputational harm resulting from the Club’s unlawful treatment of me”.

“I don’t care about the money, I have my own,” Ms Theakstone told news.com.au. “I will give it all to my lawyer. It’s just about sending a strong message.”

She insists that all she wanted was for the club to erect a sign stating that “leering, harassment or disrespectful behaviour is not tolerated” and would result in an immediate ban — something she says management initially agreed to but never followed through.

“All I wanted was a sign,” she said.

In her lengthy 22-page complaint to the AHRC, which runs to more than 13,600 words, Ms Theakstone accused Bondi Icebergs of “wilful negligence to create a safe and lawful environment for women”.

“I have been a paid member of the Bondi Icebergs Club since February 2022 and visit the Club’s sauna and pool on an almost daily basis. Since becoming a member of the Club, I have made many friends with other members and attendees and often, I have positive experiences,” she wrote.

“However, over the past two years, a deeply embedded culture of misogyny and sexual entitlement towards women, particularly young women, within the sauna has emerged. I frequently either experience sexual harassment and abuse myself or witness it directed towards other women.”

Ms Theakstone said on most occasions she ignored behaviour from male guests that made her feel uncomfortable, but in some cases when the unwanted behaviour persisted she reported it to the venue.

But she claims it did not appear that staff were trained to deal with such incidents.

“It is a well-known fact around Bondi Beach that the Icebergs Club sauna is ‘very creepy’, and women often complain to me they stopped attending because of men’s behaviour,” she wrote.

“For example, one woman who also regularly attends the sauna one day said to me, ‘That place is so creepy — I feel so sorry for you, you have such a good body and whenever you enter the sauna, all the men stop talking and just stare at you. It must be horrible.’”

She alleges that on one occasion while she was in the sauna, a “much older man” she didn’t know said to her, “Everyone who is here is here because they want a body like yours,” while “pointing his hand up and down my body while leering at me”.

“It made me feel uncomfortable and objectified,” she wrote. “All the men in the sauna then started leering at my body following his comment.”

Ms Theakstone emailed Bondi Icebergs on July 16 outlining alleged incidents of sexual harassment, which she either witnessed or experienced in the sauna “almost every time I attend the Club”.

The alleged experiences include “men regularly forcing conversation on me while in the sauna despite my clear efforts to demonstrate I am not interested in talking to them”, “men trying to force me to give them my number, despite it being clear I am not interested”, and “men, particularly older men, leering at my body while inside the sauna despite me frowning at them to signal how unwanted and violating their behaviour made me feel”.

“This happens almost daily,” she wrote.

She described several instances of men intentionally sitting or standing too close to her, “opportunistically” staring at her breasts and backside, and “accidentally” rubbing their bodies against her.

“I’ve also had a man make an inappropriate comment about my body when I walked in front of him in a packed sauna, apologising for blocking his view,” she wrote. “He then said, ‘No not at all, the views only got better,’ and laughed with the man seated next to him. It made me feel uncomfortable.”

She alleged on one occasion a man in the sauna “leered at me while standing next to me while making loud, slow sucking noises with his mouth, which was disturbing to me”.

Another man “deliberately spread his legs exposing his crotch to me while wearing Speedos and asking me if I thought he was ‘man-spreading’”.

“It was clear he was being provocative because I did not want to talk to him,” she wrote.

On another occasion she allegedly witnessed a man leer at and attempt to “chat up” three teenage girls, causing them to be leave the sauna.

Ms Theakstone also alleged that a male Bondi Icebergs staff member perved on her while they were both surfing one day. “As I duck-dived a wave, the force of the water pushed my bikini bottoms down, exposing my backside,” she wrote.

“I quickly turned around to pull them up and noticed [the staff member] positioned to my side, slightly behind me. Instead of looking away and respecting the vulnerable position I was in, he stared at my exposed backside opportunistically and smirked to himself, with his eyes widened.”

After her initial email, Bondi Icebergs requested a meeting to “drill down on your allegations” but Ms Theakstone declined saying she would prefer written communication.

In her AHRC complaint, she said in the email requesting a meeting, she was told it was difficult to investigate her allegations without “hard facts” such as “times, names, dates, places, descriptions, conversations”.

“Given how chronic the sexual harassment was inside the Club’s sauna, and the nature of the offences and environment (i.e., it is a public club that is transient in nature — anyone can attend the sauna for a fee of $9 and I do not know the names of most the men who harass me as they are tourists), it was creating impossible standards for me to reach in order to validate my experiences or consider them true,” she wrote.

After a lengthy back-and-forth over the following weeks, to Ms Theakstone was on August 10 informed she was banned from the club.

“I have done some preliminary investigations today and discovered several alternate views to the ones you have expressed over a period of time,” the club said.

“There is no doubt that your allegations and the tone of your allegations have put an enormous degree of stress on all those concerned included [sic] staff but more importantly on yourself.”

The club said it was “deeply concerned … about its ability to provide the environment you wish for and the fact you continue to put yourself in this alleged environment that causes you so much grief, stress and frustration”.

The Club went on to say it had made the “only decision” it could make for Ms Theakstone’s health and safety was to “remove you from the toxic environment you allege it is”.

“We have temporarily suspended your entry to the pool / membership as at 6pm this evening. Once we find the people you allege have harassed you, they will also be temporarily suspended. We have not taken this decision lightly, but we are deeply concerned for your welfare and this decision keeps your [sic] free from alleged harassment in the short term.”

Ms Theakstone wrote, “I was shocked to receive that email — it directly punished me for raising a formal complaint by suspending my membership and banning me from returning.”

A spokesman for the club told news.com.au in an email on Wednesday he was unable to comment as the matter was before the AHRC.

In her complaint, Ms Theakstone identified several of the alleged perpetrators by name and said some of them had previously been “banned” by the club for inappropriate behaviour.

Asked whether any guests had been banned for inappropriate behaviour towards women, the spokesman said, “We get between 5000 to 7000 guests to the pool each week, weather permitting. This is the only complaint we have ever received along these lines.”

But Ms Theakstone told news.com.au that was not true.

A spokesman for the AHRC said, “The Commission cannot comment on any potential, pending or active complaints brought forward to it.”

The case is scheduled for mediation on November 14.

frank.chung@news.com.au

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