Hi, I am Robyn, and I’ve been invited to speak here tonight because I have lived experience of domestic violence and sexual assault.
I am also an academic who began studying and researching to try and understand what had happened to me … and why?
And… why it had been allowed to happen?
Lived experience is a nice term isn’t it? Very clean and smooth.
Easier to hear I suppose than if I were to say I have been beaten, raped, sodomised, abused, bullied, controlled, manipulated, kept isolated and poor… but these are the unfortunate facts of my life – and an amazingly high number of other women in our society.
And it seems like we use nice generic terms to smooth over the too confronting bumps rather than upset the audience – or the politicians and media.
Now I do need – and want – to say one thing. Women are not the only victims of domestic and family violence. Nor are men the only perpetrators.
Domestic and family abuse is unacceptable regardless of the perpetrator’s gender or relationship to the victim. However; of the reported statistics women and children overwhelmingly make up the greater proportion of victims, so please forgive any generalisations based on that.
Generally, Violence towards women is from someone they know…but not always.
A long time ago, when I was young, I lived on the edge of Northbridge.
It was not the modern trendy hub it is today. In those days it was quite grotty, and dark.
I had been on a night out with some girlfriends. It was late. I was sober, but my friends were quite sozzled and had hooked up or were otherwise engaged.
I decided to walk home. It was only about 3 kilometres I suppose, and I should have been fine. I was young and believe it or not – fit.
About a kilometre along I thought I could hear footsteps behind me… My imagination, right?
Further along I became aware of a presence behind me.
It was a semi industrial office sort of area with very little residential buildings. I saw people sitting on the darkened veranda of a run-down house in Carr Street.
I felt a degree of relief and headed towards the house if nothing else in the hope that I was mistaken and the person behind me would pass me.
There were three men on the veranda, and none of them spoke English.
By this time, I was scared, and thinking do I face one man, or go to three strange men?
I could see my units… so surely, I could make the last 500 metres or so safely?
I was grabbed and assaulted as I crossed the well-lit car park of my units.
Despite my awareness of the person behind me, and of being at risk, I didn’t scream straight away.
Shock and fear initially robbed me of my voice.
My attacker kept saying he wouldn’t hurt me. Depends on your definition of hurt I suppose.
I was trained in self-defence
I was part of a demonstration squad for a martial arts group…
all that went out the window, forgotten in the shock of it all, and in fear.
I resorted to the more primal – eventually I screamed, and I fought… pure struggling and scratching. It took what seemed an eternity, but I am sure it wasn’t, and people responded.
Everything from shut the f up with that screaming
what’s all the noise about,
and then the cavalry rushing out to help.
My attacker ran off and I was not “raped” in the legal definition
but I was hurt and very shaken.
I did not realise that in Perth at the time there had been a series of similar attacks and a specialist fast response team of police responded to the call. As people the two male detectives were nice enough, but it was a case of why were you out? What were you doing on your own?
At the time I felt like it was at least partly my fault.
Many other things happened in my life and I am defiantly not the young, fit, naive woman I was.
Because of this incident and many others in my past I am hypervigilant and very cautious of being out alone, day or night.
I have been involved a lot with offenders, so I am aware of how some assess situations to find the right, vulnerable victim.
I am old and slow now, often need to walk with a stick for balance, so I am a target.
It is a horrible shock to realise most women have a similar awareness. Unfortunately, it is something that has become the norm that many women and girls need to have this form of awareness to prevent becoming the victim violence.
That assault was nearly 40 years ago. Also, about 40 years ago was the start of the reclaim the night movement.
This is where I must apologise to our superb Auslan translator …(name)… because I only just added it.
40 years and nothing has changed, if anything the situation of female safety has become worse.
In the month of October this year 9 women have been killed.
Look at the nine women closest to you – nine women.
According to the Red Heart website, at the time of writing 65 women have been killed in Australia – victims of homicide or manslaughter – since January. I say at the time of writing because I wrote this yesterday and sadly the number of female victims of homicide and manslaughter so far this year the number could have gone up by tonight.
That sounds awful and trite and sensationalist, but it is a hard and horrific possibility.
I don’t know if it is because society – and women – have become more mobile and consequently it is more necessary and able to be out and about, and therefore more easily victimised, but the numbers of assaults and attacks on women have not gone down.
Reclaim the Night what started as a response to the murders committed by Peter Sutcliffe, the man dubbed the Yorkshire Ripper who killed 13 women and attempted to kill 7 more in and around Leeds in 1977.
Understandably fear gripped the community…women were told for their own safety not go out at night. Reclaim the Night was in response to that fear – saying we will not be intimidated, we have a right to go safely in public.
Reclaim the night has developed into a much bigger international movement and phenomenon where women and the community say … enough.
The “me too” movement has recently inspired people – women and men – to start lobbying for more safety and sexual safety in society, be it in public, at home or in the academic or workplace.
Why? Despite 40 years of public lobbying and conversation, why has so little to changed?
I do not know the answer.
The frequency of violence, particularly violence against women and children in our community is a very complex question.
The circumstances of each woman’s death are individual yet there is an over riding pattern of violence against women.
It is easy to blame men, and as I said earlier it is true that statistically most violence is perpetrated by men – against women, children…and other men.
But there are a lot of good men out there, good men who want things to be better …safer…for women and children but I wonder if some of them know what exactly they can do to help promote change?
It is still far too hard, too unsafe to report assaults and sexual assaults.
Yes, there are support workers who are amazing, well trained empathic police who are supportive and understanding, medical staff who truly care and support victims of violence.
But it is not enough.
Until there is a major cultural shift in our communities and our homes that shows females are valued and precious, and that life and safety is a right and not a privilege – it will not be enough.
Until this cultural change then leads to change in how the court system looks at violence, and violence against women it will remain “too hard”.
There are baby steps being taken –
and we should acknowledge and praise that –
but society and communities are a long way off yet.
We need to encourage talking about this,
not to smooth it over with nice safe words and descriptions that are pollie speak or make for good sound bites.
We – women and men, young, old, all points in between – should try to be aware of people whose attitudes towards violence are unacceptable and voice that it is unacceptable – not aggressive, calm and controlled will win, but say “enough”.
There’s a good campaign around now about men telling their friends or colleagues if they are inappropriate…this good and needed but also very hard.
Do you know how hard it is to be the first person to do something different? To stand up and be counted? That first time is difficult, in a group and individually.
If you know a woman or man who does have the courage to stand up and speak out, say thank you, compliment them on their strength – little things can make a difference Talk to each other. Be open. Be encouraging.
If you have sons, nephews raise them with awareness.
Women should not have to read on the net or the news things like…
5 safety tips for women who walk alone at night
Personal safety in Perth
Safety tips for women- common sense safety tips
We should not have to read them and take them on board – but for the moment please do!
Talk to people. To community.
Another big thing for me is not to let complacency or feeling that you as one person, or even you as a group cannot do anything.
I get concerned that as subjects such as DV, and violence against women, violence in general becomes more talked about people stop listening.
When you first hear about this sort of violence there is shock, outrage even, interest.
As more people talk about it some people begin to switch off because they feel they have heard it before, it becomes normalised to hear people talking about DV and women being murdered – people are talking about it now, so things must be changing, there is no need for me to be involved, everything is under control…
Do not stop listening.
Do not stop talking about things that are very important.
Support and encourage others to discuss this, to keep interest and indignation high.
This is a matter that requires community and social change.
We are community and society
We are power,
We have voices.
If we affect one person we have made a difference, and who knows where that will lead?
Reclaim the Night Perth, Russell Square
26 October 2018