Indigo Shire Mayor, Jenny O’Connor, spoke at the Wangaratta Women’s March for Justice on 15 March, 2021. These were her words.
Hello and welcome to this ground breaking day. Today we march and today we make it loud and clear that enough is enough. Today we draw a line in the sand.
I want to thank our wonderful organisers for inviting me to speak, and to thank each and everyone of you for turning up and adding your voice to the growing chorus of women and men around the country that will no longer accept that women are subjected to sexual assault, work place bullying and gendered violence.
We are marching to acknowledge the voices of so many women who have been silenced out of fear of retribution or of being shamed or not believed. Women from all walks of life. Cis women, trans women, gay women, straight women, partnered or single, mothers or childless. Young and old, and from all political persuasions. Today we are united.
We are marching today to demand the highest standards of behavior from those who are elected to hold the highest offices in the land, rather than accepting the lowest levels of behaviour that we have seen.
We are marching today to shine a light on the truth of women’s experiences and to give voice to the scores of women whose stories have never been heard but who’s lives have been forever affected by the impacts of sexual assault and violence. For the survivors whose lives have been changed forever, and for those who have not survived.
For over a decade I worked as a counsellor with victim/survivors of sexual assault. I have heard literally hundreds of stories from women who have experienced abuse and violence – who had been sexually abused as children or assaulted in later life, sometimes by strangers but all too often by trusted men – teachers, priests, bosses, colleagues, family members, husbands and partners.
Women who have been assaulted and abused in their homes, schools, churches, workplaces, public spaces and indeed as we are hearing in increasing numbers, even in our own parliament house.
So many of these assaults were not reported to police – and why would they be? We know that only 10% of sexual assaults are reported to police and of those that get to court only 10% will result in a conviction.
It is no wonder that so many women stay silent and why some men continue to abuse women almost with impunity.
We are here today because the criminal justice system has failed us.
The presumption of innocence is fundamental to the rule of law, but so is the right of victims to be believed.
We are here today to honour and support Brittany Higgins and Grace Tame and the many other young women who are speaking out in in increasing numbers for their incredible courage and to show them our support. To send a message to those who have not yet spoken that we will believe you.
We are here to pay tribute to the life of Kate and demand that an independent investigation be established to determine whether the man she has accused is fit to hold the highest legal office in the nation. To tell her family that while she is currently being discredited in the media and an investigation into her allegation is being refused, that she matters. Her story matters to so many of us.
Sexual assault and gendered violence is the result of a culture of entitlement and structures that gives inherent power to men so all too many of them believe that they have a right to our bodies.
How many of us have experienced harassment, unwanted touching, body-shaming, slut shaming, or felt afraid of being attacked? How many of our mothers, sisters, daughters and friends have experienced sexual assaults, violence harassment or intimidation?
We have had enough.
Currently it is estimated that two million women in Australia have experienced sexual assault. Currently on average one woman a week is murdered by a current or former partner. It seems that these horrifying numbers are accepted in the highest office in the land. We are here today to tell those of you who are elected to the highest offices that we expect the highest standards of behavior from you. We expect integrity and honesty – not cover ups and lies. We have had enough.
So today we march for justice. For ourselves, for our sisters, our mothers, our daughters. For those who have spoken out and those who remain silenced.
We march in demand of better treatment of women by our justice system, and by our governing bodies.