"Enough is enough."
That's the message the Loddon Consortium for Gender Equality and Violence Prevention says women, everywhere, are sending in the wake of sexual assault allegations linked to Australian politics.
The federal government's response has sparked anger and prompted a call to action. Bendigo women are among those making themselves heard - particularly today, which is International Women's Day.
A march for justice is planned for Bendigo, as thousands of women and their allies prepare to protest the response to alleged incidents of sexual assault in Australian politics.
The national movement calls for a full police investigation of rape, sexual assault and misconduct allegations concerning politicians and staff.
It calls on the High Court to commission an independent and wide-reaching review of gendered violence in Australia's parliaments, including federal parliament.
It also calls for the establishment of a federal Independent Commission Against Corruption, and for national strategies for "deep cultural change" to promote equality, respect, fairness, integrity and a level playing field for all in workplaces and in the political and criminal justice systems.
A consortium of the region's leaders in violence prevention and the promotion of gender equality has joined in the national movement's calls.
The Loddon Consortium for Gender Equality and Violence Prevention intends to send a strong message to the nation's leaders as it supports the March 4 Justice movement.
The message is simply: "Enough is enough."
The consortium - which includes the Centre for Non-Violence, Annie North Women's Refuge, Sunbury and Cobaw Community Health, Centre Against Sexual Assault Central Victoria, and Women's Health Loddon Mallee - says women have had enough of their voices not being heard, their stories not being believed, their calls for action being ignored, and their history being silenced.
"We are calling on the community to join us in a respectful gathering to reflect on the experiences of victim survivors of sexual assault and other forms of abuse," the consortium said in a statement.
March 15 is the date set for the March 4 Justice, the largest of which is expected to be in Canberra.
Bendigo's march is scheduled from noon to 1pm that day at View Point.
Centre Against Sexual Assault Central Victoria chief executive Kate Wright said there had been strong interest in the national discussions, sparked by the high-profile sexual assault disclosures made in recent weeks.
They include that of Brittany Higgins, the former Liberal staffer who alleges she was raped by a former colleague in Parliament House in 2019.
Four other women have made allegations against the man accused of raping Ms Higgins.
Attorney-General Christian Porter is the subject of a separate allegation of sexual assault, which he has categorically denied, dating back to 1988.
Everyone knows a woman who has been sexually assaulted or abused, the Loddon Consortium for Gender Equality and Violence Prevention says.
"We know that, in recent weeks, more and more women (and some men) are talking about experiences throughout their lives and realising those experiences were sexual assault, grooming or abuse," the consortium's statement said.
"They have been living in silence for too long. Sitting with the impact alone - because we have created a society where talking about sexual assault is taboo. Where the fear and shame of being blamed or judged has stopped people from seeking help.
"This is the society we have created. Where victims are silenced by their perpetrator, the system, and then by their community."
Centre for Non-Violence chief executive Margaret Augerinos acknowledged it was hard to hear stories of abuse.
"But how you feel should not be the reason someone does not feel safe to disclose what happened to them, nor should how you feel silence them," Ms Augerinos said.
"As a community, it's time for us to really listen to victim survivors - and ask, what are we doing to contribute to a community that continues to make excuses for those who abuse them?"
The consortium echoed the words of Australian of the Year Grace Tame, a survivor of child sexual abuse and an advocate for change.
"It's time to make some noise Australia. Let's get loud," the consortium said.
In an address to the National Press Club on Wednesday, Ms Tame highlighted the need to talk about the actions of abuse perpetrators.
By avoiding addressing their actions, "we enable them to charm and manipulate not just their targets, but all of us at once, family, friends, colleagues and community members, and this must stop", Ms Tame said.
"Our discomfort, our fear, and resulting ignorance needs to stop giving perpetrators the protection, power and confidence that allows them to operate."
Ms Tame raised the need for a heightened awareness of the phases and forms of grooming, as well as calling for education and structural change.
"You've heard me say it before, it all starts with conversation," she said.
"Every story is imbued with unique catalytic educative potential that can only be told by its subject. Let us genuinely listen, actively, without judgement, and without advice to demonstrate empathy and re-ensure it is and never was our fault."
Hours later, Mr Porter held a press conference in which he identified himself as the cabinet member accused of raping a woman who had since taken her own life.
Mr Porter said the allegations against him "did not happen" and refused to step down or aside.
"If I stand down from my position as Attorney-General because of an allegation about something that simply did not happen, then any person in Australia can lose their career, their job, their life's work, based on nothing more than an accusation that appears in print," Mr Porter said.
Both he and the Prime Minister rejected calls for an independent inquiry, citing concerns about upholding the rule of law.
South Australian police are further investigating the death of Mr Porter's complainant, at the request of the state coroner.
New South Wales Police issued a statement clarifying its work on the woman's complaints, after the case's closure was cited during the government's response to the allegations.
The government's handling of recent disclosures has been the subject of intense scrutiny.
Flash points included Mr Morrison saying his wife Jenny had helped him understand Ms Higgins' allegations by thinking of them "as a father first", and Ms Higgins' former boss, defence minister Linda Reynolds, using the words "lying cow" in response to the initial coverage of the assault allegations.
Annie North chief executive Julie Oberin said the message the nation's political leaders were sending was that victim survivors would not be believed if they spoke up.
She said the government's actions had also sent a message that men's reputations must be protected, first and foremost.
"Everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence, however, to shut the conversation down without an inquiry gives a clear message that women lie about being raped and cannot be trusted," Ms Oberin said, referring to the allegations against Mr Porter.
"So many women are angry, enraged and grieving. So many are disclosing for the first time what has happened to them in the past. Some have reported, and most haven't. They are not expressing that they got any justice. They carry with them the burden and trauma of the past, the grief of the present, and the worry and despair about the future."
The consortium recognised conversations about gendered violence were difficult for victim survivors and encouraged them to reach out to support services.
"We also encourage all members of the community to connect with women in your life, as current events may be impacting on them more than you are aware," the consortium said.
Attendees at Bendigo's March 4 Justice on March 15 are reminded to bring face masks, hand sanitiser and water.
COVID safe arrangements will be in place.
For more about the Bendigo March 4 Justice, click here.
International Women's Day is usually a time of celebration, but specialist service and community leaders say this year is different.
"This International Women's Day we don't want lip service about the value of women. We want change. We want justice. We want action," Annie North chief executive Julie Oberin said.
It comes as women and their allies call for justice for gendered violence, particularly in the workplace, in response to allegations of sexual assault linked to Australian politics.
"Choose to challenge" is the theme of today's International Women's Day - something Ms Oberin urged people to do to bring about much-needed cultural and structural change.
"We want to be safe and equal. Too many of us are victim survivors," Ms Oberin said.
Centre Against Sexual Assault Central Victoria chief executive Kate Wright believed change was needed at a government level and a systems level to give all women - particularly victim survivors - a voice.
"My hope is the anger and frustration is heard and real change can occur," Ms Wright said.
Bendigo mayor Jennifer Alden believed the "choose to challenge" theme came at a time when the community was doing just that.
She believed the march planned for Bendigo on March 15 was an understandable response to the important conversations happening nationally and internationally.
Another of the day's themes is women in leadership - something Women's Health Loddon Mallee chief executive Tricia Currie said society was seeing through movements like the March 4 Justice.
She said the marches were expressing the nature of gendered violence, the respect that was not being given to women and the importance of hearing women's voices.
"Each and every one of us needs to provide leadership in our families, in our communities, in our nation to ensure the inequities that have been seen so starkly... are not just challenged but actually redressed," Ms Currie said.
If you or someone you know is affected by the issues raised in this story, help is available. Contact:
In an emergency, phone 000
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