As a child sexual abuse survivor, the lack of urgency and leadership in the wake of the Jenkins review have been personally difficult to watch. Seeing Christian Porter make his own decision to leave his career, on his own terms, has been difficult to watch. The ongoing injustice, ignorance, selfishness and lack of progress is unrelenting. To continue to fight for progress and justice in the face of this patriarchy, white supremacy, and blind privilege takes a personal toll. There are no breaks, it is unrelenting and progress feels oh so slow.
Despite a year of so much pain and disappointment, I have been so deeply impacted by Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins, who shaped our nation by speaking out and shattering the shame and stigma of sexual assault. These amazing women taught us that you can powerfully reclaim space through sharing stories.
As a survivor myself, standing on the lawns of Parliament House hearing and experiencing Brittany owning that space still gives me goosebumps. The impact that both Brittany and Grace Tame have had on me and my healing journey this year cannot be overstated. Their voices gave me the strength to face and own my story, without shame, for the first time in 22 years. There are so many of us. Their impact, for survivors, has been incredible. The power of one story can change so much. Power is shifting. Power needs to shift.
As I sat in despair wondering how I had again found myself with my back against the wall, I began to question my sanity. Is it me? Am I expecting too much? Are my standards too high? But then came the messages from my supporters, one after the other, privately reminding me that it is not me that is broken – it’s the system.
The patriarchal system which has been built over time and is violently defended each day, to ensure that able-bodied cis white men maintain their position of unearned and unequal power. The system which leads a large group of privileged, selfish so-called freedom fighters to view a public health direction during a global pandemic to be an act of oppression. A breach of their human rights.
I choose the hard path, the confrontational path, the Greta Thunberg path which screams that everything is broken and we should all be seeking to urgently fix it. I spend a lot of my time desperately seeking change. But I am learning. Always learning. And while it feels like I am failing, my moments of personal defeat have shown me is that my defeat is another’s inspiration. So many of us see injustice and we speak out. We seek change. But because the systems which were built by white men remain so strong and so protected by those who benefit from their privilege – change is slow. And it is disheartening more often than not.
I am, most of the time, an optimistic warrior who can see what the world could be and fearlessly tries to achieve it. I am told I can’t, and my immediate response is ‘why not?’. But it would be dishonest of me to say that this tenacity is sustainable. I break. Often.
I continue to see deaths of my First Nations brothers and sisters reported as statistics. 500 since the Royal Commission. No urgency. No progress. I continue to see the court systems failing women and children. I continue to see the status quo protected, violently and desperately, by those who benefit from it. Many days it feels like a losing battle. But I am brought back from despair each time through hope. Incremental changes. Uncomfortable conversations being had when previously they weren’t. The silent ones starting to use their voice.
What I am learning, and it is no easy lesson, is to be patient. Persistent. We can’t be shouting every day, but that doesn’t mean we sit in silence. The patriarchal structures which continue to form the foundation of our Western colonised society were not built overnight. Change is slow, but the only way to bring about change is to patiently continue the movement toward the world we want. Where gender, race, sexuality, income – none of these are barriers. Right now, the dominant voice is the white able-bodied cis male. There are layers upon layers which have been put in place and continue to be protected to maintain that status quo. But make no mistake, the status quo does not benefit all. It benefits white able-bodied cis men. At the detriment of anyone who doesn’t fit into that group.
The only way out of this current state of being is to continue to take up space. Start the conversations. Challenge where you feel safe to do so. Use your voice, use your power, use your privilege – to seek justice for all. Raise the voices of those who aren’t being heard. Make space for the voices which aren’t represented. And know that there will be days when it feels like you are failing and making no impact at all. But let me assure you, even on those days – someone is watching, growing, gaining the confidence to use their own voice. And that is how change happens. It’s messy. It hurts. But it is possible and it requires all of us coming together, raising each other up as we unite to create a better world where those in power reflect and represent us all.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.