Tens of thousands of people took to the streets for #March4Justice rallies in cities and towns across Australia today, angered and distraught about continued failure – including at the heart of government – to address gendered violence, harassment and inequality.
At the packed #March4Justice rally in nipaluna/Hobart, Australian of the Year Grace Tame urged people to both speak up and listen, warning that “evil thrives in silence”.
“Behaviour unspoken, behaviour ignored, is behaviour endorsed,” Tame told the crowd in a powerful speech (you can watch it here, filmed by Croakey’s Melissa Sweet).
Groomed and sexually abused by a paedophile when she was just 15, Tame said she had been afraid of doing something about that abuse “until a different kind of fear usurped that fear”.
“That was the fear of doing nothing,” she said.
Former Liberal Party staffer Brittany Higgins also delivered her first public speech since she made public her allegation that she was raped by a colleague at Parliament House, calling on leaders on both sides of politics to “stop avoiding the subject and side-stepping accountability” for sexual harassment and abuse in politics and the wider community.
She said she was cognisant of all the women who continue to live in silence, those who are faceless, who don’t have the mobility, the confidence or the financial means to share their truth, who don’t see their images and stories reflected in the media, those who are no longer with us, and those who have lost their sense of self-worth and are unable to break the silence, “all of which is rooted in the shame and stigma of sexual assault”.
“We fundamentally recognise the system is broken, the glass ceiling is still in place, and there are significant failings in the power structures within our institution,” Higgins told the crowd outside Parliament House, saying it was “unfathomable that we are still having to fight this same stale, tired fight.”
Some of the answers to her questions were loud and clear – including in the ‘unfathomable’ response of Prime Minister Scott Morrison to the #March4Justice rallies, boasting that in Australia such rallies could take place without violence from government.
Lawyers for Attorney General Christian Porter announced, just ahead of the major rallies, that he was launching defamation action against the ABC and journalist Louise Milligan over the airing of historic rape allegations against him.
SANE Australia also issued a statement today, co-signed by trauma expert Michael Salter, about a “highly stigmatising, harmful and offensive” article published in The Weekend Australian, that drew on journals written by Porter’s accuser, who died by suicide last year.
The article implied that the woman is not to be believed because they had experienced mental illness, SANE Australia and Salter said, noting that “having a mental health illness does not inherently make a person a less reliable witness, or their account less believable”.
Their statement said:
The piece that appeared in The Australian has been highly distressing for many who have experienced mental illness, trauma or distress. For many, it has reminded them of difficult and distressing experiences either of their own trauma, or of having their experiences invalidated because of their experience of mental illness.
We urge those who are commenting publicly on this issue to consider the impact that these discussions and the ongoing public narrative might be having on those directly impacted by these tragic events, as well as on the countless Australians who themselves have experiences of mental illness, trauma or distress.”
Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women questioned how people could fight for gender equality when, as Latoya Aroha Rule wrote at Guardian Australia, “equality has not yet been achieved between Black and white women in the first instance, let alone women who are transgender and/or non-binary and gender non-conforming people”.
Those participating in the rallies were also urged by people with disability to back their calls for the government to extend the Disability Royal Commission and to provide sufficient protections for those who want to share their stories of violence.
Read this Twitter thread from disability advocate El Gibbs on “horrifying levels of violence” experienced by women with disability, who represent 40.9 percent of all female victims of male intimate partner violence and a quarter of rape cases reported by females in Australia.
Women and girls with disability in Australia are also “more exposed to practices, which qualify as torture or inhuman or degrading treatment, including state sanctioned practices such as forced sterilisation, forced abortion, and forced contraception”, she tweeted.
Croakey readers may also be interested in this piece by former private school student Chanel Contos on why she launched a petition calling for more holistic sexual consent education, which has now attracted more than 30,000 signatures and nearly 5,000 testimonies — confronting Australia “with the harsh reality that we live in a rape culture”.