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I write today as a survivor of rape.
I write as someone who has lived through the trauma of sexual violence, in the hope of highlighting the need to stand up for the respect and the rights of asylum seeker and refugee women being held in detention in Australia, and offshore on Nauru.
As detailed in many reports, many women in detention, both on and offshore, have allegedly been raped and sexually abused.
So today, on International Women’s Day, I want to bring attention to prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s words.
“We, as leaders, as a government, must make it and we will make it a clear national objective of ours to ensure that Australia is more respecting of women. Women must be respected. Disrespecting women is unacceptable. It is unacceptable at every level.”
Does this call for respect extend to women who are held in Australian run or funded detention facilities and offshore processing centres? Does it extend to women who have been found to be refugees, but who we refuse to resettle in Australia?
The shame of Australia’s offshore war on women
“Disrespecting women does not always result in violence against women. But all violence against women begins with disrespecting women.”
Rape is one of the most extreme forms of disrespect and violence against women.
At what point is it acceptable to walk away from that respect? At what point is it okay to turn our backs on those who have suffered at the hands of disrespect and violence, while in our care or due to our refusal to provide protection?
We simply cannot turn our backs on women who are seeking safety in Australia, many of whom are fleeing from the very violence and persecution our prime minister condemns.
In 2010, I was raped by a stranger. I am not writing to tell you about the rape itself, but rather the impact it had on me.
For years following the assault, I struggled with deep depression and anxiety. I suffered flashbacks, nightmares and panic attacks. Even today, six years later, as far as I’ve come there are still times when I am affected by it.
The last few months I have once again been experiencing flashbacks, nightmares and anxiety. In truth, I have come to realise that reading, hearing, and thinking about the sexual violence that is being perpetrated against women in detention and offshore centres is a large part of what has triggered my own trauma.
Yet I refuse to stop reading, hearing and thinking about it, because while it continues, I cannot possibly ignore it.
While I know every person’s experience is different and I don’t know exactly how these women must be feeling right now, because of my past I can begin to imagine and understand some of the pain, trauma and suffering they are experiencing.
What I cannot begin to comprehend is how they are surviving their current situations, given the immense trauma they have experienced. I cannot comprehend how they are surviving in such isolation and uncertainty.
I am an Australian citizen. I live in safety and security, I have access to medical care and counselling, I have a network of endlessly supportive family and friends. In spite of all this, the trauma of the rape almost broke me. For a long time I believed that the mental and emotional impact of it had permanently damaged me; that I would never be the same again.
And perhaps I won’t be.
Every time I hear about another woman being raped or sexually assaulted in detention centres in Australia, or on Nauru, I can’t help but feel their pain. I feel their pain and I take it personally, because these women have fled persecution and sought safety in Australia, and yet, in our care (or lack thereof), they have been subject to such heinous crimes.
It took me years to be able to speak openly about what happened to me, but knowing what I know about the horror of what it is to live through and survive rape, I can’t remain silent.
This Friday, 11 March, will mark the six year anniversary of my rape. However, instead of letting this date loom over me as the anniversary of something that almost ruined my life, I am reclaiming it as the day that did not break me, did not ruin my life, because I survived. I survived and while recovery is a long and winding road, I know that I can and will make it: I am already making it. This Friday I will be celebrating my survival with my family and friends, and celebrating all that makes us women so strong, resilient, and powerful.
Today of all days, it weighs heavily on my heart that we are denying women in detention the same opportunity. We are denying them the opportunity to heal, to receive adequate medical care and support, to live in safety and security. I have great hope and faith that given the chance, these women will recover. I have no doubt that they are strong and resilient, for they have already withstood so much; too much.
We need to open the road to recovery for asylum seeker and refugee women. All survivors of rape need immediate and ongoing medical treatment, quality care and support. They need an opportunity to heal, and to begin to rebuild their lives.
I want Malcolm Turnbull’s actions to speak as loud as his words: “We must become known as a country that is known for it’s respect for women”.
Asylum seekers and refugees women included