After the Canberra Bubble Burst
The silence and cycle of fear is breaking. Hollie Hughes explores Canberra’s very own #MeToo movement and what it means for the rest of Australia.
Content Warning: This post deals with sexual violence and assault and might be triggering for some readers.
The nation’s capital is in the midst of a reckoning. If you’ve been paying any attention, you’d be aware that over the last few months the news cycle has been overwhelmed by reports of how women are systemically mistreated within the corridors of Australian power.
It’s been dubbed Australia’s own #MeToo movement; from Christian Porter’s categorical denial that he raped a girl when he was a teenager, to Grace Tame’s National Press Club speech on the power of survivors speaking up, stories of sexual assault are receiving unprecedented coverage in Australian media right now.
These scandals have seen two cabinet ministers become entangled in separate alleged rape scandals, calls for consent education and laws to be reformed and mounting pressure on the Government to do something about how reports of sexual violence and assault are handled in the nation.
These events have also resulted in a lot of trauma for a lot of survivors within all sections of our communities.
Research shows that almost two million Australian adults have experienced at least one sexual assault since the age of 15, and the vast majority of these survivors are women. Every day, 24 hours a day, the operators at 1800RESPECT speak to hundreds of traumatised survivors about their lived experiences, often including rape and abuse. As the last few weeks have unfolded, they’ve provided an empathetic ear to the trauma of Australians – many of whom have been triggered, others who have been inspired.
March 4 Justice
Only weeks ago, outside parliament and all over Australia, survivors of sexual violence and assault, alongside supporters and allies, came together to demand change as part of the March 4 Justice protests. One of the aims of the action was to demand action from our nations leaders and ask, ‘if men working in the highest form of Government in this country think they can get away with perpetrating abuse, what kind of example does that set for everyone else?’
From podiums around the country, calls for change and reform rippled through large crowds brandishing striking and colourful signs. As a cultural moment, the nation-wide March 4 Justice protests were undeniably huge. The sheer numbers, of (mostly) women, streaming through cities to state parliaments with a clear message “enough”, which is a symbol in itself… a reflection, maybe, of the pervasiveness of sexual violence.
What happens next?
Motivated by the public petition detailing thousands of stories of sexual violence and assault in Australia, the NSW Police Force has recently launched Operation Vest. This operation provides survivors with the opportunity to tell their stories and informally report instances of sexual violence and assault without instigating criminal charges against the offender, this is known as Sexual Assault Reporting Option (SARO).
A SARO is an online questionnaire that can be completed anonymously, it will not initiate a criminal investigation but by completing this questionnaire, the information gathered may be used to help police develop strategies which target offenders and reduce repeat offending.
It is evident that many Australian women are feeling distressed, defeated and overwhelmed with despair as they look at the horror unraveling in Canberra, thinking to themselves ‘how do we make sure this doesn’t keep happening?’ But, while the revelations and reactions can be disheartening, the women speaking their truth are deeply inspiring.
By refusing to stay silent, women like Brittany Higgins, Dhanya Mani and Chelsey Potter, all former Government staffers who have alleged varying degrees of sexual misconduct at the hands of male colleagues, have helped expose the toxic culture endured by women in the political sphere. We can only hope this action will have a domino effect on the remainder of Australian society and more women will feel supported enough to come forward to tell their own stories.
If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and can refer you to a service closer to home. This service is completely free.