Funded by the State Library of Western Australia, 16 Days, 16 Stories is a courageous new collection of stories presented in solidarity with survivors of domestic violence, recorded for the annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign.

“There is no suburb of Australia that doesn’t have this,” says survivor and advocate Sarah on the pervasive nature of domestic violence. Here, Sarah outlines the power of #MeToo, new dialogues, and intersectional approaches to ending harm for good.

*Not her real name.

Content Warning: Please be advised that the following story contains themes of family and domestic violence that some listeners may find distressing. If you have been impacted by family or domestic violence and are in need of support, you can contact the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service.

Photograph of a woman with a ponytail

[Transcript]

I’m conscious that there is a lot of discussion around what domestic violence is or what, you know, this entire space is. And a lot of the time the people who are lending their voices to it with the best of intentions don’t necessarily come to it with the nuanced experience of having lived through it or worked in it.

And I think the fact that we’re starting to invite people from all of those different angles to be contributing their stories is really, really important. And as much as it’s hard and painful to do it, I thought it was important to be available to it. So, when I think about people talking about the justice system, one of the things that I find in Western Australia, which is particularly jarring, is that we effectively separate sexual assault from family and domestic violence on a governmental level, which really doesn’t sit with people’s experience in needs. They’re not separate things. More often than not; if a woman or girl or children are facing any sort of, you know, domestic terrorism, which is quite often what has ended up amounting to, there has been elements of sexual violence. It’s one of the most effective ways to control and terrorise a woman. It’s certainly also much more prevalent than I think we are willing to admit as a childhood experience.

And, you know, the fact that our systems are setting things up to separate them as if they’re two different things is also really flawed.

It makes me uncomfortable how often we seem to talk about stopping family violence as if there’s a fixed pie of resourcing for it. I think intervening before people get harmed, of course, would be ideal. But the reality is until we get really, really good at that, we’re going to keep seeing people needing the supports on the other end of having been harmed or trying to escape harm.

And I think we’re kidding ourselves if we don’t think that every single person is far more connected to the impacts of this than we are inclined to admit. The children that witness or directly bear the brunt of this are going to turn into our future. The women who are currently facing it or escaping it are much more plentiful than we realise. We’re interacting with them on a daily basis. They’re not hidden away from any tiers of society. You know, as much as we like to pretend that Australia is not class-based, that there is no suburb of Australia that doesn’t have this.

We’re losing so much of the, the brightness of our future because of this. One of the mythologies I’ve certainly butted up against, particularly even in terms of, just in this space and advocating for support around it is this idea that people who come from good suburbs couldn’t possibly be victims. And there’s this idea that, you know, if a woman comes from a, you know, good profession, good suburb, her income bracket is high, she must be fine. As if we don’t actually know what financial abuse is or emotional abuse is. As if being educated makes you shielded from any of those forms of abuse or physical violence. I just find it baffling that this is quite unchallenged. And I think the thing that I’ve also seen is that a lot of people talk about it as if when they’re in a boardroom, there’s not going to be any lived experience in that boardroom. But the statistics say, you know, if there’s enough, particularly women but probably also men, they’ve got some pretty direct contact with it, either they grew up with it, they witnessed it, or they were victims themselves.

So, I think if we actually all admit that all of us are impacted by it, then of course it’s all about responsibility. And if it’s all of our responsibility, then we can all do something about it. And of course, everyone needs to do things within their capacity and where they can do it and remain safe. But I think like when you look at the #MeToo movement and the way that that’s opened up conversation and the way that it’s empowered those who’ve chosen to participate in it, to share their own stories, it’s shifted the dialogue so significantly. As much as social media can effectively become your own echo chamber, it is noticeable that social media is different nowadays. People are willing to push on each other and say this is unhealthy. There might be a lot of horrible things out there, but there’s also a lot of people saying, “Hey, this is not okay.”

I think when one of the things that makes me think that education is absolutely key is when the #MeToo movement first came out, I was sitting on a bus and I happened to be behind a couple of teenagers in school uniform and they were on their phones and the boy was talking to the girl about how he was chatting with a girl that he was interested in and he wanted to send a particular message, but he checked in with his friend sitting next to him first about whether it was pressuring and whether it was an open enough invitation. And I didn’t realise that the kids in front of them were also part of their group and it was another two boys, and they hopped up and sort of leaned over the back of the seat, and the two boys talked about how they have come to realise that you’ve got, you need to talk in a different way to make sure that you’re not pressuring people.

And it was just remarkable. And they still, they waited and invited the girl to also contribute to this conversation. It wasn’t a bunch of boys telling each other how to talk to a girl when they had a girl to also ask, but like they were explicitly discussing how to have a respectful exchange that made space for this girl. And also saying, they checked in with him, you know, “Are you actually listening to her as well? You haven’t, like, already asked her out, have you? Like, if she said no, you better just cool it and back off.” And I just thought, “Oh, okay, we’ve got a really good chance.” Because this #MeToo movement has not been around for that long, and this is how the kids are running with it.

I think anything that gets the conversation going is going to be valuable. I think the challenges that,sometimes the ways in which people choose to have some of those conversations, will not always be gentle or productive for all participants. And that’s less than ideal. But anything that prompts a conversation or anything that prompts someone somewhere to go away and think about it; surely that’s going to help us move a little bit further in a direction where we can’t close our eyes again.

Being a newer person in this sector and certainly knowing other people who’ve been in more, even more high-profile leadership positions, women who are facing or have faced domestic violence, there is definitely a pushback recently on letting it be known that you are a survivor or facing it at the moment. There is this idea that, I’m not really sure why, but somehow, we’ve heard enough from survivors, like they’ve been driving this sector for decades now and now we need to be rational and take away the emotionality. And I think that’s really, a pity because this is a very, very human issue and I’ve yet to meet a human that is entirely rational and doesn’t have an emotional component. And that’s part of how you actually heal people and help them recover.

But there’s also this strange idea that, sure, like if you’ve been through trauma, which unfortunately a heck of a lot of people have, regardless of whether it’s FDV-related or not, you’re not going to be participating in these sorts of high-policy level conversations the right way, as if you’ve lost the capacity to be a professional. And I think that goes hand in hand with this lack of understanding around so many issues like mental health and physical illnesses. And there’s still this internalised shaming of being someone who’s coming through this. So, I hear a lot of women who might talk about having come through their experience as long as it’s long ago enough. But I’m definitely hearing from a lot of people that if it’s current or recent, don’t talk about it, because you won’t be able to be a part of the legislation and policy change at the moment. Your opinions and your contributions will be assumed to be informed too much by emotion and distress.

I think what we’re really missing is the phenomenal strength and power it actually takes to endure, to survive and certainly to leave. And that is another component of the nuanced understanding that I think is broadly lacking.

I don’t think we can make effective policy for anyone without them. You’re, you’re not making change for people when you do it without them. I think it’s valuable to have a diversity of perspectives in those sorts of rooms and in those sorts of conversations. But when you don’t involve people who have that lived experience, then you’re missing a very valuable set of insights.

Copyright © 2019 the Storyteller

This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by the Storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories.

Production by Rita Saggar and Claudia Mancini. Recording by Terri Bellem.

Photo by Edgar Martínez.

 


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