It’s on my way to the theatre that I receive a text message from a girlfriend. She asks me if she should text her attacker from decades ago because the pain is still raw – and she wants him to know. Like so many of us the #March4Justice has brought up old wounds and like a scab that won’t heel we’re picking at it again.
I only days later am served in an art gallery by the Aunt of my perpetrator. Is this the coincidence of a small city? Or just a reminder that the assault is still real?
Whichever it may be, by my girlfriend’s text message and my silence in the art gallery I know we are the keepers of these men’s deep dark and brutal secrets. It’s quite a responsibility holding this secret for them, to be silent for them and protecting their loved ones.
While #March4Justice was such a pivotal moment in the #metoo movement and our feminist history. What it did was make many of us realise that while we can march, while we can shout and while we can be there together we can not take away the pain keeping their secrets does to us.
Brittany Higgins and Grace Tame have brought us all together with their strength and relentless tenacity to not let their perpetrators crimes lie. However what they have also done is hold a mirror up to all other women who don’t have that strength.
And there are many reasons why we hide what has happened to us. Shame, stigma and sheer trauma are some. It is also the system we have in place to report and seek justice.
Sexual assault is a crime. It was the feminist movement in the late 60’s and early 70’s that instigated a movement across the country to reform our rape laws. It was here in South Australia in 1976 where the first piece of major reform happened followed by Victoria in 1980 and New South Wales in 1981. While it was women who demanded this reform it was led by men to legislate it and to create the laws that ensue.
The ABS in 2019 recorded the rate of police reports for sexual assault between 2010 and 2018 for Australians aged 15 and over rose by more than 30%. Over that same time: “The rate of finalised defendants proven guilty of sexual assault rose from 12.2 per 100,000 Australians aged 15 and over in 2010–11 to 14.1 per 100,000 in 2018–19.”
Ask the legal system why there are so few convictions and they say it is due to the lack of evidence and ‘eye witness’ accounts. But according to ABCs The Drum, victims verbalised a problem we all know – delayed hearings, prejudicial attitudes and an unrealistic image of what a victim should look like.
So while we struggle with an outdated and outmoded judicial system, moments like these mean we have historical events to contend with that with time are even harder to prove.
I say a huge thank you to Brittany and Grace. They are of a generation that will not accept what so many of us have. They are also committed to changing this system which is so stacked against the victim. While we keep marching and demanding change may we also hold space and strength for each other who – for whatever reason – cannot be so public with their fight.