THOSE on the front line of the response to violence against women in central Victoria say the global #MeToo movement is empowering those who have experienced abuse to share their stories.
With Orange the World: #HearMeToo selected as the theme for this years 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence, they are hopeful womens voices will be further amplified; their experiences will be heard, believed and respected; and they will be supported.
Womens Health Loddon Mallee executive officer Tricia Currie said the theme for the global, United Nations-driven campaign was one of solidarity.
Its about standing together, so people are not standing alone when they speak up, she said.
Whether in private settings or public gatherings, Ms Currie said the hashtags of womens experiences of sexual harassment had prompted discussions that werent taking place before, and a greater appreciation of the incidence and prevalence of gender-based violence.
Women are certainly feeling they can speak upwhen they perceive its worth taking a risk they will be believed and there is an interest in people hearing their story, she said.
But barriers to womens empowerment remained.
#HearMeToo is around the changes we do need in institutions and workplaces to ensure they are striving towards gender equality, Ms Currie said.
Gender inequality underlies the physical violence one in three women in Australia has experienced since the age of 15. It also drives the sexual violence experienced by one in five women, and the emotional abuse occurring to one in four women in this country. Gender inequality has made women more vulnerable to economic abuse.
In about 95 per cent of reported cases, women experience violence at the hands of men.
Centre for Non-Violence family violence prevention and development general manager Robyn Trainor said barriers to women speaking out locally included resistance and backlash and fears that peoples attitudes and beliefs would impact on their ability to be believed and supported, too.
Ms Trainor said a narrative in the community or the media excusing or normalising violence like describing a perpetrator as a good bloke limited a womens capacity to come forward.
What underlies everyone's behaviour is an intent and attitudes and belief, she said.
So when we see violence against women excused or minimised, that needs to be challenged because what we know sits beneath that behaviour is attitude of disrespect or inequality that prompts to think that behaviour is acceptable.
Challenging the condoning of violence against women; promoting womens independence and decision-making; challenging gender stereotypes and roles; and strengthening positive, equal and respectful relationships are among the actions we, as a society, can take to prevent gender-based violence.
Ms Trainor said bringing people together to learn about womens experiences of violence, abuse and inequity and work together to address the drivers of violence was part of what made the 16 Days of Activism which start tomorrow important.
Mens violence against women is a community issue, she said.
Its about women uniting across the world to say this is totally unacceptable to all of us. The inequity and violence happening around the world is totally unacceptable and we need to highlight that locally.
The Centre for Non-Violence triaged and responded to 1698 police referrals related to violence against women in the past financial year.
The organisation supported 1623 women through case management; provided 465 women seeking freedom from violence with financial support; and supported 401 women at court.
Ms Trainor said barriers to gender equality locally included rigid gender stereotypes, which prevented girls from seeing the pathways to their aspirations.
We need to challenge that from a very early age, she said.
We see a lack of representation of women in leadership, or womens leadership not being acknowledged and valued.
She said women were often the carers in their community, where they were doing much of the unpaid work to keep communities healthy.
Gender stereotypes also created limitations for boys and men, Ms Trainor said as she highlighted the need for more positive representations of men as fathers, carers, and in home environments.
We need to challenge those cultures that create opportunities for men to be disrespectful together, and most often disrespectful toward women, Ms Trainor said.
She said the Victorian Governments Respect Women: Call it out campaign invited men to call out other mens behaviour.
Annie North chief executive Julie Oberin said the communitys attitudes on women coming forward and sharing their experiences were important components of the #HearMeToo theme.
Its so important when we encourage women to speak up that we actually, really listen to them, she said.
Its really brave to be able to speak up, and we must support women to do that.
Ms Oberin said the #MeToo movement had resulted in some high profile cases, and backlash for those who had spoken out.
She said it was important women were heard, believed and supported.
Loddon Campaspe Centre Against Sexual Assault chief executive Kate Wright said there was still much to be achieved.
We need cradle to the grave changes in attitude toward not just how we view women and children, but how we view each other, she said.
UN Women executive director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said this years 16 Days of Activism aimed to support all those whose voices were still not being heard.
Of violence against women, she said: This is a vicious cycle that has to stop.
Today's global movements are setting new collective expectations for accountability and actions and calling for the end of impunity.
Tomorrow is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
WARNING: This story may distress some readers.
FOR Jodie*, the #MeToo movement started with an increase in the coverage of violence against women.
"More people were speaking out about these atrocities, sharing statistics and asking what was being done. I was one of these people," she said.
"Then when the Harvey Weinstein saga came out. I could not stop researching the victims' stories and was horrified by what these women had been through: The abuse of power... of shame, isolation...
"Talking to my husband about the details of some of the accounts one day in the car, I came upon an old memory of my own that I had locked far away in my mind for over 20 years. I stumbled through what happened and the obvious conclusion that I was raped.
"This memory I had repressed because I would not have been able to deal with it as a 16-year-old girl, at a party my parents didn't know I was at, under the influence of alcohol and a joint the perpetrator - a male about seven years my senior - and friends had provided.
"My behaviour over the last few months started to make sense - the obsession over the Harvey Weinstein case and a higher level of anxiety.
"I was happy, loved my life, loved my husband and children, so why let this get me down?
"I was just so sad, crying while watering the garden, not sleeping at night, anxious for my children's safety, feeling like I haven't loved myself because of all the underlying shame I felt for what had happened to me."
Jodie said she doubted herself and her feelings, asking herself questions like, 'Did it even really happen?' and 'Is it really that serious?' She would even tell herself to, 'Get over it'.
"I had a lot of trouble accepting that I was raped and it made me very sad, made me feel unsafe, and made me feel like I had done something wrong," she said.
She said she was grateful to have contacted the Loddon Campaspe Centre Against Sexual Assault and for the free counselling she received to help her work through the many layers of how sexual assaults had affected her life.
"I say 'assaults' as, during my therapy, I had many different memories surface of different sexual assaults and behaviour that I had never dealt with," Jodie said.
"What about that other time when that guy made me do that when I told him I didn't want to, or when that guy touched my breasts when I had not given him any indication of interest, or when that guy flashed me?
"So many different situations, all of which I was taking responsibility for, or where I didn't want to make a scene, didn't want the man to feel bad or embarrassed.
"These feelings are behaviours I am working on changing and continually identifying in our society's culture."
She believed holding perpetrators accountable was a big part of the change needed to reduce physical and sexual violence against women, which the World Health Organisation estimates to be experienced by about one in three women, worldwide.
"The #MeToo movement has helped me by providing me support," Jodie said.
"In identifying with so many others I can take strength and be reminded that I am supported, I am not alone and I am going to make change, I'm going to talk about this.
"#MeToo is powerful in the number of victims saying, 'No! No more - this is not our shame, it is every perpetrator's shame!' It is victims standing together, taking back control and, importantly, starting a conversation.
"I wont be ashamed anymore or take responsibility for these men's actions and I will do whatever I can to keep this conversation going and improving our society's views on respect and appropriate behaviours."
In the process of taking back control, Jodie decided she wanted to hold her perpetrator accountable.
"I spoke to the police and started my report after months of counselling," she said.
"Hardest thing I have ever done, talking about finer details of the circumstances and rape. After so long, trying to dredge up all the horrible details - hand was here, then touch was there, he said this...
"Do not think victims are lying or getting benefit from making reports. It is reliving trauma. It is dredging up more than you ever should.
"It is knowing that you will have to stand in a court of law, and the law allowing you to be character assassinated. The law enabling the fact you enjoy sex as a reason for that man to take what he wants from you. What you wore to become supporting evidence."
Her bid for justice did not result in a conviction.
"I didn't stand a chance, so I stopped the legal process and my perpetrator is another one of the many still out there," Jodie said.
She felt the courts were set up in such a way that a survivor could be considered to be lying until a crime was proven beyond all reasonable doubt, yet a perpetrator did not even have to take the stand.
"Seriously, what hope do victims have?" she said.
"The laws and processes need to change, people who do these crimes are not being put away - support victims, not criminals."
By sharing her story, Jodie was hopeful fellow victims of survivors of sexual assault would know they were not alone.
"I hope they know it is not their fault, to hold their perpetrator accountable," she said.
"I hope they can get strength out of the sharing of stories to know they don't have to hide their story anymore, there is help out there."
*name has been changed to protect privacy
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732. In an emergency, call 000.
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