I’m tired and weary from a week where it feels like women of Australia and a few good men have had enough. I have rambling thoughts and I have a few facts, it doesn’t hang together well as a post, but that is the point really.
One in four women have experienced sexual abuse or assault of some kind and the rest of us are connected to these women, they are our friends, our sisters, our daughters, mothers, aunts, cousins. They are more likely to tell a friend than a police officer. The rate is three times more for indigenous women. Data from 2017 shows, one in three victims of sexual assault cases hospitalised, identified a spouse or domestic partner as the perpetrator. In 2018, the rate of police-recorded sexual assault was almost 7 times as high for females as males. Almost 2 million Australian adults have experienced at least 1 sexual assault since the age of 15. Surely this is enough of a reason to want to increase what we are doing to educate, train, support and heal? Why does it take deaths and public figures to be in the news to draw attention to these crimes? This is an epidemic, it is an everyday assault on our communal health and wellbeing. COVID measures are called for to change behaviours, physical distancing, policing of good hygiene, check-ins could all take on a different shape. In this epidemic there has been too much of washing hands. As more people share their #metoo stories, triggers are inevitable, accidentally causing what were safe spaces to not be so safe any more. I know I am avoiding and monitoring where I am going, what I am reading and listening too.
I have been heartened with the work being done in schools on consent. Remember the meaning of consent: the mutual agreement properly attained freely with an understanding decisions have both immediate and consequential effect. Children are rarely able to give consent that is fully informed, having little or no access to knowledge of the potential of actions. As we get older we learn more deeply the value of consent and why being explicit is necessary, and how it can be revoked at any time. If a sixteen year old did not give consent then that is rape of a minor. If an eighteen year old or eighty year old is in the same position, it is rape. No child can give consent, that is the point about the age of consent, so it is always rape if the victim is under the age of consent. In the state where I live, the age of consent is 17. There is a lot I don’t consent too. And in the political and legal contexts I don’t care if our societal standards and expectations have changed over decades, I am reminded that consent can be withdrawn at any time, and I am hoping those who voted for a national government that seems bereft of basic HR practices will withdraw their consent to being governed by them the first chance they get.
If there is a whiff of an inappropriate behaviour and before it is proven to be true or not, individuals are stepped down, directed to HR to resolve and then the investigations can be explored in light of policy, the law and health considerations. This happens every day in workplaces everywhere. It is proper practice, nothing special. I am completely perplexed why this has not happened in Parliament or at the direction of the Prime Minister.
I need a lie down and a good cry, my anger muscle is worn from over use, my compassion index remains high and I am grateful to those picking up the mantel and building the pathway of this reckoning. The avengers will be taking to the streets in pursuit of justice. This is personal, this is political and at scale. There are consequences and accountabilities to be had. You don’t need to be a father or a mother to have a conscience as so wisely pointed out by Grace Tame at the National Press Club this week. I have been musing for the need of a national helpline – let’s call it the Jenny Support Line and any one not quite sure what to do can give a Jenny a call. The Cornish don’t need to have a mortgage on Cousin Jenny’s to provide sustenance and comfort for those down in the coal mines. Maybe some men don’t know what to do and need some guidance, a quick call to Jenny will give them the confidence and strength to take a public step forward and help build a place where everyone is safe and those that groom and misuse their power are nipped in the bud of their blossoming predation.
While every possible channel I am connected to seems to be blinking, buzzing and bleating to get my attention. The calls and messages are from the re-traumatized, the vicariously traumatised, solidarity sisters. There is sadness. There is fear that sharks are circling around complicity with someone else’s story, or the shame of your own story surfacing. There is pain and deep aching for a time when safety and care for the victim will out weigh the privilege of a man’s position or career. There is her family, there is his family, friends, children – all innocent – being dragged into dark and confusing spaces as they are alienated from the world they knew. Hearts are broken. Lives destroyed. Martyrs are made before revelations.
Trust is sacred. When trust is broken, like shards of glass strewn on the floor, being careful where you step lest you cut yourself on a sliver, your fragility stocks grow. Delicate and careful placement of words, actions, attention to where you tread is heightened. This is not a time for casual or loose language.
Like so many others, I am tired and want to sleep and crawl under the covers and get it to go away. I turn off feeds, and don’t watch news, and still it seeps in with calls and conversations, uninvited and consistently. I am finding it hard to be angry, it feels more like resignation and grief to me. Time for truth telling and bearing witness is here for all who cane bare to speak and listen. Time for compassion too, making spaces and moments for quiet, rest, recovery. Please be kind to yourselves and your friends, take a break from it all if you need to and be compassionate to those who need to tune out from it for a bit. Be confident that we have each other’s backs and will act in solidarity when the time comes to take to the streets, the ballot box, the legislative chambers, the courts and be creative with our voices in music, song, dance and visual arts. Our bodies are sacred are to be honoured as the vessel of the soul, meeting this moment with our most sacred selves will invite more of the divine energy we will need in and from each other to shift these moments into the tsunami of change being called for right now.
At Womadelaide last night listening to my favourite drummer and his band as they played one of their best known numbers the lead singer said: Change happens by those without short memories. On the eve of International Women’s Day 2021 I pay my respects to all the women who have gone before who have enabled progress by putting their bodies on the line, and to their male allies. The bow is bent, the arrow poised, we are in warrior pose.
NB if you are in Adelaide details of the March 4 Justice can be found here