Hello from an old friend on International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day. As a woman, it is a day to reflect on how far we’ve come. 

I was lucky enough to grow up in a family where strong women were supported and celebrated. Where we were encouraged to question, challenge and disturb the status quo. Where we were motivated to be educated, work hard and break through barriers. Where we were inspired not only by the generations of women who came before us, but by the men who were their equals, their partners and their greatest champions. The foundations on which we celebrated our womanhood was strong. Or was it a fantasy?

Despite my foundation and the fact that I have been raised in a way that celebrates women, I am feeling so incredibly downtrodden today because it is still unsafe to be the very person we are celebrating. The foundation that my family so proudly built has been constructed on unstable ground where privilege, power and politics have created a base that’s unbalanced…seeping with systemic and cultural misogyny in its core.

You see, despite my foundation, I was once the victim of not one, but two men who asserted their power over me by stealing away my innocence and stripping me of the trust I once had for the men around me. I was abused sexually and emotionally by these men and it took me years to regain my power back and survive them. I was blessed to find a man who, like my family, values my strength and determination. A man who knows my story and loves me because of it, not in spite of it. A man who I built a family with.

But despite my foundation and the fact that I survived my own hell at the hand of predators parading as respectable representatives in my community, my children became second generation victims of the same crime by another man. Another man who was well respected, well known and well liked. In 2013, my then 5 year old told me that a man who was most trusted by our family had sexually assaulted her. She is the youngest of my three daughters. What has followed in the time since that day, has been a very painful journey for our family. My three daughters then 10, 8 and 5 were all victims of this horrible man…and they weren’t alone. 

Because of my foundation, we took our fight for justice to court…supported by a loving family who were convinced that justice would be served. However what followed was a perpetuation of the abuse that my girls had already suffered. What followed were days where my children were victimised by bully men in wigs, who demonstrated further to my kids that men in positions of power should not be trusted. Despite every effort by the defence to break my kids, and a judge who allowed him the stage to do it, the man was found guilty- on a reduced number of charges- and was sentenced to jail- for a very small amount of time.

Since this time, and despite my foundation, my family have survived suicidal attempts, disordered eating and extreme anxiety. We have watched our baby girl endure invasive surgeries to address the physical impact of sexual abuse on her tiny body. We have survived educational issues because of the amount of space that complex trauma takes up in the brain. We have withstood him being released early from prison and being allowed to walk around in our community. As a mother, and my husband as a father, we have had to grieve the loss of our children’s childhood. We’ve had to support our children through the most difficult experience, that could only be made worse if we were to permanently lose one of them. We’ve had to endure a legal system that allows lies to be told about you that question your character, integrity and professionalism, all because you dared fight for the justice of victims against a wealthy white male. It’s been horrendous.

Because of my foundation and experiences, I thought I had protected my children from men seeking power; paedophiles, rapists and the like. When I revealed to my middle daughter that I knew she would survive this, because I too was a survivor, she told me that she would never have children, because she wouldn’t want them to go through this. My 10 year old thought that sexual abuse was hereditary- and unfortunately, if people continue to be silent on this issue, it may well be.

On a day when we should be celebrating women, I reflect on the last few weeks in our country and the controversy that some of our leaders are embroiled in and wonder why my children were prepared to stand up and say what this man did was wrong, but these highly educated, well spoken, leaders in our country, won’t. And it makes me cry.

I look at Brittany Higgins who needed our leaders to stand up for her- and think about the female leaders who knew what happened and wonder why? Why as an elected leader, as one of those very rare women in a position of leadership in our country, why you didn’t stand beside her and say, “I believe you”. Why didn’t you say that you are sorry this happened and that you are prepared to acknowledge a putrid culture that continues to allow men to behave badly and to shame and blame victims?  Why won’t you take on the systemic culture that allows men to behave badly and women to remain silent because they are frightened of the repercussions? It’s time that, as a country, we have a problem with a dominant male culture that rules by fear. Please step up- give us something to celebrate on this day!

I look at the rhetoric about rape allegations against our lawmakers…our politicians. I hear the stories coming out about prestigious all male schools and don’t feel shocked, but rather validation. When I look at the alumni of these schools and the positions of power and authority that they have held in our country overtime and today, it confirms for me that as a country we have so much to do to ensure that we rid ourselves of this systemic and cultural misogyny that makes any attempt at celebrating women tokenistic at best.

My 17 year old daughter Facetimed me yesterday morning to show me her fat lip. She was hit by a young man on Saturday night. She was upset as she was trying to stop him from stomping on the head of her friend’s dad after he knocked him to the ground. She shook her head into the camera and said “Mum, I thought that if I told him to stop he would. Instead he did this”….I was not surprised and neither was she. Despite her foundation.

Today a friend called me to tell me her 19 year old daughter was raped and assaulted on the weekend. I am gutted for this young girl and her family. I was not surprised. Despite my foundation.

Whilst there is so much to celebrate and so many advocates to thank on this day…my foundation is shaking and will only be reinforced by a systemic and cultural change in this country that sees people in positions of power step up and create a stable footprint for our nation that we can all be proud of.

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