When we talk about sexual harassment and assault, we have an unfortunate habit of universalizing, and therefore reducing, the quality of the discussion. We often fail to acknowledge the diverse and individual nature in which sexual harassment and assault affect us all differently.
An alarming amount of research highlights the disproportionate rates of sexual harassment and assault amongst Indigenous Wom*n. In 2012, it was estimated that an Indigenous Wom*n was 6 times more likely to be sexually abused than a non-Indigenous Wom*n and 34 times more likely to be hospitalised as a result of domestic violence.
Sensationalist media headlines feed us these statistics as a‘national crisis’ –but their reports frequently erase the multifaceted nature of Indigenous Wom*n’s lived experiences. In ‘Black Panther Woman’ (2014), Marlene Cummins
shares her experiences of sexual assault as a young woman, not wanting to report the crime in fear of further demonising the Indigenous men in her community. Although this documentary is amongst the few platforms that have given a voice to someone who might otherwise remain unheard, Cummings has said post-release that she was not given any counselling despite her trauma in recounting her assault onscreen.
Although Marlene’s story is one of inspiration and strength for all Wom*n, support for her story cannot just be empty rhetoric: experience teaches us that we must prioritise the services available for Wom*n, especially Indigenous Wom*n, in order to create a supportive network for those who have experienced sexual assault and harassment.
We need to give agency to Wom*n whose voices are overshadowed, listen to their stories and support them. As Celeste Liddle wrote last year, “Aboriginal women are strong. They are survivors who have borne the brunt not only of all policies of colonisation enacted upon our people in this country, but also the ripple effects and transgenerational trauma for several decades. They need to be given the space and support to address issues of violence within communities. Continuing the discussions on gender, and how this intersects with racism and poverty making Aboriginal women more vulnerable is imperative to tackling the problem of Violence Against Women”.
If you need help, advice or support or know someone who does, call 1800 Respect.