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I think I speak for a lot of Australian women when I say I’m so tired after this week

Anna Spargo-Ryan
·5-min read
<span>Photograph: Nick Bakhur/Alamy Stock Photo</span>
Photograph: Nick Bakhur/Alamy Stock Photo

How are you?

Same.

I started to write “it’s been a long week for survivors” but that monumentally understates the years we’ve already spent here, trying to reconcile what has been done to us with what we’re permitted to say.

On Wednesday, Grace Tame addressed the Press Club in Canberra in her capacity as Australian of the Year. Her address was measured, bold and forthright, asking a breathless audience to speak out, to listen and to push for structural change.

Related: 'Share your truth, it is your power': Grace Tame’s address to the National Press Club

Together with journalist Nina Funnell and other survivors, Tame has created a measurable difference for victims, upending archaic and one-sided law in Tasmania. Her naming as Australian of the Year had a hint of a turning point in attitudes towards sexual violence. If the institution could recognise the importance of her work, maybe they had also reflected on how they perpetuated it? It was a lofty, brief and beautiful dream.

Only hours later, we watched a man stand at a podium to face a national audience. His hands shook. His eyes were wet. When he spoke, there was a quiver in his voice. Attorney general Christian Porter strenuously denies the allegations against him and reassured that they won’t be believed, and he is absolutely entitled to the presumption of innocence. But through the denial of one woman’s testimony, other men were reminded that women can’t be trusted.

The government’s own reports say the incidence of false accusation is “very low” – around 5%. A 2020 government report found that of women who have been sexually assaulted in the past 10 years, 87% did not contact the police. About two-fifths of accused rapists brought before the court were found guilty, and about 97% of sexual assault offenders recorded by police are men. In 2017, the National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey (NCAS) found that 42% of people agreed “it was common for sexual assault accusations to be used as a way of getting back at men”.

When the prime minister, Scott Morrison, spoke to the press about allegations by Brittany Higgins that she had been raped by a Liberal staffer in 2019, he declared he understood it after his wife helped him to imagine it happening to his own daughters. Asked about this in Canberra, Grace Tame took a considered pause before carefully articulating: “It shouldn’t take having children to have a conscience.”

The Liberal party has a problem with women. The parliament has a problem with women. Australia has a problem with women.

As well as the attorney general facing rape allegations, multiple rape allegations centred on parliament, and the minister for defence, Linda Reynolds, allegedly calling a victim a “lying cow” (although Reynolds has said this was not in relation to the allegation), the head of the ADF, Angus Campbell, has also cautioned first-year cadets not to go out alone while being attractive in case they get raped.

The PM has been clear that he supports Porter to keep his job, despite his own admission he has not read the evidence. He has called for the public to “offer the same generosity” to Reynolds for a sledge she made in private. And the message goes on being delivered to young men across the country: don’t worry, they won’t believe her.

One of my own stories goes like this: 20 years ago I woke up to a man already assaulting me. We hadn’t been on a date; I was visiting a friend and this man had offered me a place to stay. I don’t remember every single thing about that night. I don’t remember what we ate or exactly where we were or what time it was. But I do remember the way he took what he believed to be his.

I didn’t think he had done anything wrong, at first. After all, I had slept in the bed. Maybe I had given him a reason to imagine we were going back to his place for something more. While I slept. Unconscious. And anyway, he was so well-liked and good looking. Years later, when I had finally realised this never should have happened, I told my friend. He did not believe me.

Related: Trauma like mine doesn’t have a gender. But too many men need to imagine a woman they love to feel empathy | Amy Remeikis

I don’t presume to speak for all women but I think there’s a good chance I do when I say I’m so tired. I’m so tired of having to disclose my own sexual assaults so a man can practice compassion. I’m so tired of having to be contextualised as someone’s mother and someone’s daughter before I can be believed. Women are victims and protectors both.

It is still necessary to confess to the indiscretions that have befallen you, to the laundry list of touchings and takings. This is also how we form the femininity that reveals us as hysterical, an aberration, an overreaction. To have a girlhood, outward or inward, in any kind of body, is to start with a baseline of trauma.

If the government refuses to set climate change targets, let rage be our renewable energy.

Monday is International Women’s Day. It comes around so fast, doesn’t it? We’ve hardly had time to celebrate Another Community Leader is Accused of Sexual Assault Day and we’re already here again.

We don’t want the government to host a morning tea, catered by women, organised by women. We don’t want their 30-second video patronising our womanhood. We need them to come out loudly against sexual assault. We want policies to protect women from harm, to support their recovery and keep them safe. We want action against a nation-wide culture that says women are liars. Take over the burden of carrying blame. Legislate for listening.