Finding Strength, Together #WomensMarch4Justice
Women are coming together, as one voice and demanding change. Zara Handscomb reflects on recent events and talks to survivor Jacinta Mortell.
There is a conversation, not just within the confines of Australia, but echoing internationally regarding the passive management of sexual harassment and assault. On the 22nd of March, thousands gathered across the nation, attending the #WomensMarch4Justice.
Why? Because women are tired of being silent and silenced!
Theoretically, reporting offences should be of benefit to victims of crime. However, it appears assertive action to pursue legal justice often leaves the victim in a worsened psychological and emotional state of well-being.
Just under 30% of sexual assault and harassment reports ever reach arrest, summons, formal caution, or legal action. In the 10 years to 2017, police rejected nearly 12,000 reports on the basis they do not believe a sexual assault occurred. It stands to reason that victims who report sexual assault and harassment rarely come out better than their counterparts who do not file a report.
I walked alongside hundreds of other people in Civic Park at the March4Justice. Bold protest signs reading statements, ‘I believe her’ and ‘enough is enough’. The formal march ended with an open mic, allowing any attendee to share their personal story. One by one, survivors collectively spoke up and began telling their story.
People gathered on the lawn attentively listening for an hour and a half to brave survivors who shared their stories in recount, song and poem. As more and more survivors stepped up to share, the tone shifted from a cautionary telling tale to absolute outrage at the injustice so obviously experienced by multitudes of women regularly.
It was an overwhelming experience, I looked around to find I was not the only one trying to stifle my tears away. There was a powerful sense of unity as women comforted each other, listening to the horrifying accounts of sexual assault and harassment.
Among those survivors was 26-year-old UON student, Jacinta Mortell.
Jacinta’s experience of sexual assault has perpetuated her life for 10 years, since the age of 16.
In 2015 Jacinta reported a case to the police regarding a domestic violence incident. Even with evidence to support her claim, no conviction could be made. Throughout the process, Jacinta said she was never directed to any support services and eventually pulled out of pressing charges.
“Reporting and support services need to be widely available…trying to pursue justice was just as traumatic as the assault and victims need help from the start.”
How do we fill a gap in the legal system which asks victims to prove beyond reasonable doubt these events occurred? When reality is, these acts of violence and harassment often take place with no witness’ or evidence, and are carried out by people victims know. Jacinta says, there is “rarely going to be witnesses for domestic violence and behind the scenes,” and “even witnesses aren’t enough.”
Jacinta’s story reflects a clear injustice regarding the responsibility of convicting criminals being placed in the hands of the victims of sexual assault and harassment.
Years of forms, reporting, court hearings while having to take an objective view on an extremely psychologically and emotionally damaging event is a process which continually subjects the victim to re-living and prolonging their already traumatic experience. It is no wonder one in five sexual assault reports are withdrawn by the victim across Australia.
The #WomensMarch4Justice protests have made it clear, when a nation of outraged and fed-up women collectively combines their voices, demanding justice and change, it is noticed. NSW police have responded by launching Operation Vest. This has introduced a Sexual Assault Reporting Option (SARO), allowing victims to informally lodge a report of sexual harassment or assault if they do not wish to seek legal action. SARO reports can be made anonymously.
While the report cannot be used to launch a formal investigation, it is a less confrontational approach for victims to report incidences, and allows police to use these reports to gather information on sexual harassment offences.
The conversation is not over yet. Everyone must take a stand to continue the conversation, do not let this be one of those things that falls prey to our short attention span. I am so deeply proud of each person who has courageously stepped forward and shared their experience, whether it be on a national platform, within their community, or amongst a group of friends. Let us not stop now! We will continue to gather and unite for the greater good, we will continue marching for justice.
If this article has brought up any issues for you or you wish to seek assistance, here are some important links to available support services.
University of Newcastle – Campus Care
Phone: (02) 4921 8600 | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
SARO – Sexual Assault Reporting Option
New South Wales Services
- Rape Crisis Counselling Service
- Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia Ph: 1800 424 017
- Sexual Assault Counselling Australia Ph: 1800 211 028
- LGBTIQ+ Violence Service Ph: 1800 497 212
- VOCAL Victims of Crime Assistance League Ph: 02 4926 2711
- NSW Rape Crisis Centre Ph: 1800 424 017
- 1800 Respect Ph: 1800 737 732
- Victim Services Ph: 1800 633 063
- Aboriginal Contact Line: 1800 019 123
- Helping Victims of Sexual Assault
- Immigrant Women’s Speakout Ph: 9635 8022
- Criminal Justice Support Network Ph: 1300 665 908 (for people with an intellectual disability)
- Women’s Legal Services NSW Ph: 1800 801 501
Feature Image: Phoebe Metcalfe, Yak Media Staff Writer