Women speak out about sexual abuse

By Rhonda Dredge

The CBD had its own version of the March 4 Justice on March 15 as thousands of women spread throughout the Treasury Gardens then launched smaller protests at significant sites around the city.

A group of young women, led by Whistleblower Activists and Community Alliance, protested outside the headquarters of the Liberal Party in Collins St.

Tears fell as they stood one by one on a seat to tell their stories of sexual abuse. 

One girl said she was raped by her boyfriend at 15 and reported him to the police but a witness refused to testify. Another was assaulted at a bar and froze but this was counted as consent.

The crowd chanted “we believe you” after each of the testimonies.

Organisers encouraged the women to speak out even though they were visibly distressed by the experience.

“We’re going to stay until every person who wants to speak has spoken,” activist Marian Costello told the impromptu demonstration as she held out the microphone to the crowd.

She compared the protests to those of 120 years ago when “suffragettes took Collins St and smashed every window along the way.” 

These stirring words reflect the anger of women across the country following the claims by Brittany Higgins that she was raped in Parliament House in 2019.

One group marched down Collins St with placards calling for the sacking of the Federal Attorney General Christian Porter.  

Two lawyers from a CBD law firm attended the rally in Treasury Gardens and said it was the first time they had ever been to a protest.

“This is the first time because it personally affects me,” Bridget Slokum said. “We’ve been sexually harassed. Absolutely.”

She said that the law was a male dominated industry. “There are a lot of alpha males. Every one of us knows someone it’s happened to.”

She said that responses were not adequate when complaints were made and that young women in particular found it hard to stand up to bosses.

“I’m old enough and ugly enough but when you’re 24 and a graduate lawyer you don’t know you can say ‘no’ or complain.”

Women in the workforce don’t want to speak out for fear that it will affect their work prospects, she said, but the rally gave women a much-needed opportunity to give voice to their concerns.

Some older women couldn’t believe women were still campaigning for the same issues as they did in the ‘70s.

“I’m 51 and I’m so angry this is still an issue,” Beck Yule said, as she stopped to let a bystander photograph her placard. “I thought this issue was sorted out a decade ago. Our Prime Minister doesn’t see a problem.”

The Karter sisters, jewellers from Prahran, dressed alike for the occasion with black bows and “Enough” printed across their t-shirts.

They sat in front of the corporate offices at 101 Collins St and spoke about their own experiences of abuse. 

“I used to work for David Jones in Sydney,” Helena said. “I almost lost my job after I reported someone.”

She said that the Federal Government had shown contempt for woman during the allegations of the last four weeks. 

“These women’s issues have hit a note,” she said •

Caption: CBD lawyers Faz Zamani (left) and Bridget Slokum in Treasury Gardens.

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