CENTRAL Victorian organisations, groups and individuals are today marking the start of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence.
While COVID-19 has changed the way people engage with the global movement, moving many events online, central Victorian specialist services have found a safe way to share the stories of victim survivors.
Pairs of shoes line the bottom of an exhibition space in Fountain Court, in the Bendigo CBD.
The shoes represent the client group of the Centre Against Sexual Assault Central Victoria, a Bendigo-based specialist counselling and support service.
The shoes are framed by a series of artworks by clients of the Centre for Non-Violence, a Bendigo-based specialist family violence response agency, and Annie North, the region's crisis refuge and domestic violence service.
One thing the exhibition aims to convey is that anyone can be affected by domestic and family violence and sexual assault.
Another is the resilience and hope of victim survivors.
"You might have experienced sexual assault recently or 20 or 30 years ago - it doesn't define you, and you can recover," CASA Central Victoria chief executive Kate Wright said.
Each pair of shoes was accompanied by words CASA Central Victoria's clients had provided after engaging with the service.
"We work with clients from as young as three up to 99," Ms Wright said.
The shoes had been selected to reflect the many and varied walks of life central Victorians who had experienced sexual assault came from.
"Sexual assault and its impact does not discriminate," Ms Wright said.
Almost two million people nationwide would have experienced at least one sexual assault since the age of 15.
Ms Wright said 60 per cent of the service's clients had experienced sexual assault in the context of family violence.
The National Community Attitudes survey showed a number of damaging myths about sexual assault prevailed.
"One in five people believe that non-consensual sex in marriage is legal and one in three people believe that rape is because men cannot control their need for sex," Ms Wright said, referencing the survey's findings.
"We know this is not true and we need to bust these myths, along with many others.
"It is the responsibility of the whole community to work towards the prevention of sexual violence."
CASA Central Victoria was hopeful the exhibition would encourage people to talk about sexual assault - and, in doing so, break down the stigma victim survivors experienced.
"Our clients experience shame and they often experience blame," Ms Wright said.
She said blame and shame was often gendered, and in the case of young women could involve commentary about what they were wearing and where they were when it happened.
"It is never the victim's fault. It can happen to everyone and it does happen in our community to all people," Ms Wright said.
A poster at the centre of the exhibition carried the words: "We are survivors. We rise and resist."
The words were surrounded by drawings of soaring birds, made by women with lived experience of family violence. The poster came about through a therapeutic workshop offered by the Centre for Non-Violence.
Many of the works from Annie North's clients were made during women's groups and brought together by therapeutic clinician Michelle Long.
Ms Long was hopeful people looking at the display would see how different kinds of therapy and art therapy could help survivors.
"And, I suppose, also to put out there for people who might need support or some help that these options are out there," she said.
The agencies involved were hopeful the exhibition would generate discussions about respecting women and calling out disrespect or violent behaviour.
Annie North Women's Refuge chief executive Julie Oberin called violence against women a national emergency.
"The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the 16 Days of Activism leading up to International Human Rights Day shine a light on what has always been a pandemic of violence against women," Ms Oberin said.
"Not a pandemic as in disease, but in that it is prevalent in every country across the world and has been for a very, very long time.
"It is being called the shadow pandemic to COVID-19 but it was never a shadow pandemic. If it takes that to show how prevalent and dangerous gender-based violence is to influence decision makers, we will live with that name."
Centre for Non-Violence chief executive Margaret Augerinos said one woman a week, on average, was being murdered by a current or former partner.
"We've seen too many horror stories and tragedies where women have tried to leave, where women do absolutely everything right, they seek support, they get intervention orders, they seek safety, and still they are stalked, harassed and murdered," Ms Augerinos said.
She said a whole-of-community effort was needed to address environments that enabled concepts of ownership that could fuel violence and contribute to gender inequality.
The Together Our Voices Are Stronger / Walk In My Shoes exhibition is on display until December 7 in Bendigo Bank Exhibition B space, inside Fountain Court.
The window is near Dymocks, Bendigo Ice Creamery and Hoo-gah.
If you or someone you know needs support for domestic, family and sexual violence, contact:
- The 24-hour statewide Safe Steps family violence crisis response line - 1800 015 188
- The Sexual Assault Crisis Line - 1800 806 292
- Men's Referral Service - 1300 766 491
- The Centre for Non-Violence - 1800 884 292
- CASA Central Victoria - 5441 0430
In an emergency, phone 000.