30 March 2021

'Canberra women are angry, frustrated, and won't be silenced': Sexual assault victims given greater voice

| Dominic Giannini
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ACT Victims of Crime Commissioner Heidi Yates has encouraged victim-survivors to come forward and help make the current system better. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

ACT women have been asked to share their experiences of sexual assault, harassment and abuse to help identify gaps in the current system.

The ACT Victims of Crime Commissioner, Heidi Yates, said the Territory needed a consistent approach to make sure women did not fall through the gaps.

“We want people to tell us if they did not have a great experience coming forward, what would have made the difference and, if they did receive the support they needed, what that looked like,” she said.

The ACT Minister for Women, Yvette Berry, acknowledged that there were missing links in processes and services available in the Territory and has tasked a new sexual assault prevention and response working group.

The working group includes women from all three political parties and will coordinate the community, the service sector, unions, and relevant stakeholders on responses to sexual assault in the ACT.

When asked why a tri-partisan group had not been set up previously, Ms Berry said the government was seizing the momentum around sexual assault to reform systems in place.

“It’s a time that’s come as a result of people telling their stories and a level of frustration, because we have been having this conversation for a long time,” she said.

“It was not that long ago, really, that women were not able to vote. We are still tackling issues of gender inequality in sport, in our workplaces, in our daily lives, in our schools. It exists everywhere.”

Ms Berry said cultural change takes time but that there had already been significant work across the country in relation to sexual assault, domestic violence and family violence.


Thousands of people rallied in front of Parliament House for the March 4 Justice. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Almost 70 per cent of Australians want the Commonwealth Government to convene a national summit on the issue and set targets and policies to reduce sexual assault and violence, according to the Guardian Essential poll released on Tuesday (30 March).

Ms Berry said that targets have worked in the ACT for sport and arts boards, but the government was still working towards getting a greater understanding of the issue before extending the approach.

“Targets help but they do not help with cultural change,” she said.

“Cultural change takes time but we are at a momentous occasion now where that change can happen, and it can happen really fast if we all work together.”

Female parliamentarians gave impassioned speeches in the Legislative Assembly on the same day the working group was announced, with the Shadow Minister for Women, Nicole Lawder, saying Canberra women were fired up and “Australians better sit down and listen”.

READ ALSO: She escaped with her life, he escaped with a suspended sentence: call for DV sentencing reform

“Canberra women are angry, they are frustrated, and they will not be silenced,” she said. “I am sick and tired of having the conversations [which] for me, has been for 40 years in the workforce.

“It is time we made a lasting change so our daughters and granddaughters don’t have to keep having the same arguments year after year, decade after decade.

“Grandparents, mothers and even daughters are standing up and saying enough is enough. No age is immune to gender discrimination, harassment, or violence.”

Elizabeth Lee

Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee has called for the Government to table a response to the Family Violence Act review. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Opposition leader Elizabeth Lee said the government needed to make sure no other woman fell through the same cracks as Tara Costigan, who was killed in 2015 after taking out a domestic violence order against her ex-partner.

Ms Lee said the current family violence legislation in the ACT was not working and called on the government to table a formal response to a review into the 2016 Family Violence Act.

The review was released under a Freedom of Information request by Region Media. The release of the report was delayed by almost a year.

“How many Canberrans have fallen through the cracks in these 12 months? How many Canberrans have been failed by the system designed to protect them?” Ms Lee asked Parliament.

Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury has agreed to table a response in the August-September parliamentary sitting period.

The final report made 18 recommendations to the ACT Government.

Women’s Health Matters has released a survey asking women to come forward with their stories and experiences to help reform how sexual assault services respond in the ACT.

The survey can be accessed at www.surveymonkey.com/r/DPJ3FSC.

Support is available through the DVCS 24/7 Crisis Line on 6280 0900 or through 1800 RESPECT.

For more information about domestic violence and coercive control, visit the Domestic Violence Crisis Service.

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The voting bit is rubbish. First nobody got a vote then only wealthy people got to vote, then men got to vote and shortly after that women got the vote.

“It was not that long ago, really, that women were not able to vote“.

Come on Yvette – no one in Australia, let alone Canberra, can remember back to 1902.

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