31 years of silence, we stand – 31st Annual Silent Domestic Violence Memorial March

On Tuesday 7 December in Forrest Place, Perth, we marched for the 31st time, under a new wave of leadership and activism. We marched with the Centre for Women’s Safety and Wellbeing and 650 members of the public, domestic violence survivors, families, service providers and advocates as we told our stories loudly and evocatively, then fell silent as we walked in unified solidarity.

Pictured: The Cardboard cut-outs represent the victims that have lost their lives to FDV

As we gathered in the CBD for the first time for the stalls prior to proceedings, Event Manager Renee Solomon said it was an opportunity for all of us to be in a very public space, talking about challenging and personal issues loudly and unapologetically to incite conversations and action towards making a stand about family and domestic violence (FDV).

Speaking to FDV survivor and advocate, Tinashe La, she said she was encouraged by the new location and the opportunities it presented.

“The March reaches out to those who wouldn’t have had the opportunity to hear about domestic violence and abuse, and the help that is available. For example, this year it was right in the middle of the city, and anyone who would have been in the shops would have heard the message loud and clear,” she said.

“As a community, we need to support FDV survivors firstly by believing them and then asking them the question, what can we do to help.”

“In giving FDV survivors that voice to speak, we are actually empowering them to make decisions, when they have been controlled for such a long time. This empowers them to know they can actually make their own decisions, and as a community we need to help support and cheerlead them.”

Kombe Musonda from Zonta House Women’s Refuge, said the silence of the March was important to take note of and it didn’t happen by accident.

“We are not screaming and shouting and staying silent, because we would just become part of every other cause.”

Kombe Musonda

“It’s good to be different and it causes people to stop, actually listen, and ask the question – why are they silent? And if they look deeper into that silence and understand why we are silent, we get to see there are so many injustices in the world, and it’s a different perspective to stand firm on this and remain silent.”

“For organisations like [Zonta House] who work with women who are survivors of FDV, it is important that we stand alongside them, their children and their families and march with them, representing their stories and journeys.

Pictured: (l-r) Sasha, Kombe and Tinashe hold up signs in front of the cardboard cut-outs representing the families who lost their lives to FDV

An FDV survivor who did not wish to give her name, said the silent March procession spoke volumes about why we were here and choosing to remain with mouths shut.

“My silence is necessary and my body is here today in protest of my silence. We all have different stories and look through different lenses,” she said.

The Centre has gone through many changes in the past year and with departing staff and new faces, there has been new leadership and a new name, resolutely remaining committed to the cause. The Women’s Council for Domestic and Family Violence Services joined forces with the Women’s Community Health Network of WA and is now known as the Centre for Women’s Safety and Wellbeing.

Dr Alison Evans, Director of Domestic, Family and Sexual Violence at Centre for Women’s Safety and Wellbeing (CWSW), said last year’s Silent March was, sadly, the last march for outgoing Women’s Council for Family and Domestic Violence Services (WCFDVS) CEO, Angela Hartwig.

“Angela was CEO of the WCFDVS for over 25 years. I sat directly behind Angela last year to listen to Leah [an FDV survivor] bravely talk about her experiences of domestic violence,” she said.

Pictured: Dr Alison Evans reads her speech at the podium with an Auslan interpreter to her right.

“Angela was physically frail and weak and was in a wheelchair at the time and watched from the front row. Leah struggled to speak at one time as she was overcome – understandably – with emotion.”

“I watched from behind as Angela stood unassisted to applaud Leah and to no doubt encourage her, make her feel supported. I wept as I watched – both for Leah and for Angela. I wept because it was profoundly beautiful to see such bravery, such dignity, such leadership.”

Leah spoke so bravely and articulately at last year’s 30th Annual March Procession, and said through tears, that she knew she was one of the lucky ones. She said she was grateful to break free with her family and escape with their lives.

“I did everything I could to disappear. I was finally able to break free after 22 years and it’s now only just starting to fade.”

Leah, FDV survivor

Minister for Child Protection, Women’s Interests, Prevention of Family and Domestic Violence, the Hon. Simone McGurk, said by uniting on this day, we were sending a strong message to the community that enough is enough, and violence against women and children in any shape and form is never to be tolerated.

“This year’s campaign tagline is ‘Don’t be silent when you see violence’, encouraging bystanders to speak up and contribute to positive change towards the safety and respect of women in our community,” she said.

Minister McGurk maintained her portfolio’s focus on committing to eradicating the insidious scourge on our society that is FDV, especially in these challenging times amid the ongoing pandemic and subsequent health and economic effects.

“The McGowan Government recognises the stark reality that Western Australia has high rates of family and domestic violence and that to address this situation, effective long-term and systemic change is needed,” she said.

Pictured: A close-up shot of people sitting on chairs with roses in their hands.

Dr Alison Evans said she had long supported the statement that the personal is political.

“Women’s individual experiences of domestic, family and sexual violence are inextricably connected with the greater social and historical context,” she said.

“But we must never lose sight of the fact that the political is profoundly personal. Domestic and family violence is deeply shocking, deeply hurtful, and deeply disappointing to those who experience it.”

Dr Alison Evans

“Not only must we continue to pivot to the perpetrator – keeping them more visible and accountable, we must all be accountable to women and children’s experiences of domestic and family violence.”

Tinashe La, who told her story two years previously at the 29th Annual DV March, said that by speaking up as an FDV survivor and advocate, it made her realise that she had leadership skills that had never occurred to her.

“I learnt that if I can talk in front of Ministers and hundreds of people, then I can literally speak to anyone. The courage that it takes to speak out empowers you inside,” she said.

“We can continue to tell our stories by creating opportunities and platforms for people to speak out.”

Pictured: The CWSW Team members gather together in Forrest Place

Announced at the March just recently, the CWSW developed a comprehensive, accessible, and up to date ‘Support and Services Directory’. This is for any woman looking for support who is experiencing, or has experienced, abuse through family, domestic or sexual violence.

Having the listed services in one place, can help women find the right service at the right time, which hopefully will prevent women from having to tell their story many times. You can learn more about the Directory here.

Acknowledging the statistics:

  • Two thirds of assaults recorded in Western Australia in 2020 were related to family and domestic violence, and of those, 73 per cent were female.
  • Aboriginal women and children experience family violence at disproportionately high rates, with Aboriginal women 32 times more likely than non-Aboriginal women to be hospitalised from family violence.
  • 42 per cent of men aged 18 to 34 do not consider physical violence such as punching or hitting to be domestic violence, while 44 per cent said the same of non-consensual sexual activity.
  • 1 in 2 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced sexual harassment since the age of 14.
  • WA Police have attended more than 46 thousand incidents relating to Family Violence in the last 18 months.
  • 23,647 Family Violence offences were recorded in the above period.
  • 48% victims of homicide including manslaughter in WA were directly related to family violence in 2020.

How did we get here?

The first Annual Silent Domestic Violence Memorial March was held in 1991 by a group of women survivors who were outraged because the criminal justice system often failed to provide legal protection for women and children who died as a result of domestic and family violence.

FDV is increasing rapidly in Western Australia and should be considered a state emergency. Since 2010, physical assaults against family have risen 104%, and threatening behaviours against family is up to an alarming 157%, second only to fraud as the fastest growing crime in the state.

The lifelong physical, emotional and often fatal consequences of FDV can no longer be ignored. The CWSW acknowledges the state’s dire need for more to be done to protect victims as a matter of urgency.

The March, marks the #16DaysinWA Campaign to #StopTheViolence against women, which also coincided with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on 25 November. This year’s theme is ‘Don’t be silent when you see violence’. 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence runs from 25th November until 10th December and the movement reminds us to be a voice for the voiceless and campaign fearlessly for their rights.

We must ask ourselves, ‘what can we do to prevent violence against women’, as we encourage conversations, challenge misunderstandings about family and domestic violence and engage the community in activism at a grass-roots level. Let’s work together to end FDV once and for all.

Words by Jacqui O’Leary

If you or anyone you know needs help contact:

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