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Wednesday, 4 December 2002
Page: 7139


Senator STOTT DESPOJA (1:44 PM) —I rise to speak about the issue of violence affecting women. In particular, I would like to look at some recent developments in my home state of South Australia and how these issues are affecting or are involved in wider debate about women and gender violence. As many people will know, last Friday marked the beginning of the global campaign called `16 days of activism against gender violence'. As I am sure this chamber is aware, violence is a reality for millions of women around the world, irrespective of their race, culture or age. Although there is evidence to suggest that violence against women is more prevalent among women and girls of lower socioeconomic status, we know that it affects women from every walk of life, whether they are wealthy or poor.

Recognising the global nature of violence against women, the `16 days of activism against gender violence' campaign is global in scope. It is supported by more than 1,000 organisations around the world. A quick web site search, for example, reveals that this campaign will reach from Adelaide to Angola, Croatia to Cambodia, Israel to India and Rwanda to Russia. The campaign will highlight all forms of gender violence, sexual violence and physical violence: violence against mothers, violence against daughters, violence against women in their homes, violence in the community, violence by loved ones, violence by the state, violence against women in the armed forces, violence against refugees, violence in times of peace and violence in times of war.

The 16-day campaign incorporates four significant dates: 25 November was the International Day Against Violence Against Women, which commemorates the murder of the Mirabal sisters by the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic on 25 November back in 1960; 1 December, which we know as World Aids Day; 6 December, which marks the anniversary of the Montreal massacre, when, as you may recall, a man walked into a Montreal university and shot 14 women, engineering students, for being feminists; and 10 December, which marks the 54th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in which nations around the world acknowledge that every human being has a right to life, liberty and security of person without distinction of any kind. The global campaign will utilise as many forms of media as the number of countries that are participating, from video clips, radio advertisements, documentaries, stickers, posters, billboards, calendars, marches, street theatre, visual arts, public debate, seminars, workshops and fundraisers to fair stalls.

In my home state, I was honoured to launch the South Australian chapter of this campaign on Friday last week, when people gathered at the Migration Museum for the launch. It chose to focus on the issue of adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. The South Australian campaign seeks to increase community awareness of the prevalence of childhood sexual abuse and the secrecy that so often surrounds this issue. It seeks to increase the community's capacity to respond appropriately to adult survivors, particularly those who choose to disclose their experiences. We know that in Australia one in three women and one in six men—these are horrifying statistics—have experienced this abuse. These numbers clearly identify this issue as a mainstream issue. However, as we know, Australians in the past have been willing to sweep this issue under the carpet or to at least leave it to the experts. Obviously, it is a very difficult issue with which to grapple. This issue is therefore the focus of the South Australian campaign. The slogan of the campaign is: `Listen. Believe. Make our journey easier.'

As I said at the launch, there are many things I could say about this issue. I could talk about the statistics more. I could talk about the evidence linking child sex abuse to mental illness later in life and what we could do to address this. I could talk about the flaws in the criminal justice system. I could talk about prevention strategies. But the bottom line—and this has come through in this campaign and from people we have talked to who have experienced childhood sex abuse—is simply that they want to feel confident that they can disclose their experiences, that they can be heard and that they can be believed. That is what the campaign is about: ensuring that our community is one in which people feel safe and secure to tell their experiences, a community that is aware of the prevalence of child sexual abuse and refuses to stigmatise those who have been abused. As a community, we have to be honest about this issue. By treating it as secret or taboo, we fail to give legitimacy to the claims of those who have been abused, we turn a blind eye to offenders and we breach our duty of care to future generations. Women's Health Statewide, who launched this campaign, have been at the forefront of these issues in South Australia—among other groups, of course—and I congratulate them on their attempts to raise awareness of the prevalence of this issue and their attempts to increase the community's capacity to respond.

Another issue which I wish to address is of a serious nature. It is of grave concern to me and many others. Mr Acting Deputy President Ferguson, being a South Australian yourself, you may know about this issue which is starting to dominate debate in our home state. I refer to the emergence of a group known as the Black Shirts in South Australia. The group started in Melbourne, with a view to spreading nationally. The Black Shirts web site states:

The Black shirts are dedicated to support any and all who crave to bring back the very term marriage and family and stand against any force or power bent on corrupting children or the dismantling of the family unit or the destruction of the marriage.

Some people may say that this sounds like a reasonable objective, but this stand has taken the form of picketing outside the homes and workplaces of women who are separated from previous partners or who have begun a new relationship. The founder of the Black Shirts, Mr John Abbott, along with others who are similarly clad in black, with their faces and identities often masked, claim that they are working to support the sanctity of marriage and to strengthen the family through leafleting houses, lecturing via microphones or megaphones and visiting neighbours. They claim that the campaign is to alert neighbours and coworkers to `unsavoury actions' and to shame `morally corrupt' women.

One Melbourne demonstration involved the letterboxing of pamphlets which contained personal information about a family residing in that street and which referred to the woman involved by her first name. I am very worried about these campaigns. I think these are campaigns of harassment aimed at humiliating, undermining, ultimately controlling and potentially terrorising women. It is a signal to women that their choices and their lives are not their own.

At the same time as the Black Shirts nobly claim that their fundamental code is to stay within the bounds of the law, there is the potential of wholesale flouting of that law. Men are called on to `study the law and then decide if and when and what means to use to protect his own children'. There is a call for men to examine which laws to apply to them and to follow only those, while advocating that an individual accused of a crime be dealt with `by the letter of the law' and not `restrained of their freedom on hearsay and innuendoes only to be denied of what is rightfully theirs'. `Rightfully theirs'—as we approach the end of 2002, women and children should not be referred to as the possessions of someone else, as the possessions of men. The Black Shirts say, `When it comes to protecting our children, the law must stop at the gate.' I have been very careful to use the terminology that has been used by this group so as not to misrepresent them in any way.

An issue of great concern to the Black Shirts is the failure of the law to deal with adulterers. In relation to adulterers, Mr Abbott believes:

People should take them out, find the nearest branch and hang them for what they're doing. But unfortunately the law does not allow that, and we are law-abiding. The question they need to ask is how long before the laws change ...

I hope we see no vigilante behaviour or changes to the law introduced in the near future in relation to this issue. I am sure that these kinds of views are news to the chamber. Marriage breakdown is a sad reality. Rarely is such breakdown the fault of one party. I will not elaborate on that. I think people have differing views but we have laws that reflect this reality. The Black Shirts are picketing in cases where marriage has already broken down, where parties have separated and are trying to move forward. Their aim must be to have women and children return to broken relationships and broken homes. Surely that is the objective if those are their actions. I understand that a meeting of the Black Shirts was held in Adelaide recently and that it was not well attended. I think that speaks well for our home state of South Australia and I hope that it is a signal to people to rethink their actions.

Another matter of concern in the last element of my contribution today also affects women in South Australia. It is the threat to their right to protest against war and other forms of violence. That right is currently being questioned. The Speaker of the House of Assembly in the South Australian parliament, the Hon. Peter Lewis, ruled last week that monthly vigils held by the Women in Black movement are too frequent and has declared that vigils every three months should be sufficient.

Women in Black is an international movement which utilises silent vigils to protest against things such as war, rape as a tool of war, ethnic cleansing and human rights abuses all over the world. Founded in 1988 to protest against Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Women in Black—speaking a variety of languages in a growing number of countries—now gather regularly in silent vigil. In New York City they meet weekly on the steps of the New York Public Library. I note that women also gather in Azerbaijan, Belgrade, Italy and England.

The Adelaide chapter of Women in Black have been holding monthly peaceful, silent vigils on the steps of Parliament House in Adelaide for more than a year. However, it has now been claimed by the Speaker of the House of Assembly that these monthly gatherings are excessive and that allowing such forms of protest will result in a plethora of groups seeking to protest outside Parliament House and will ultimately lead to confrontation. I understand that Adelaide's Women in Black are seeking a meeting with the Speaker of the House of Assembly to discuss this issue and in the meantime intend to silently and peacefully protest. I wish them well with their efforts to gain that meeting. I hope that the South Australian parliament will reconsider that decision. While I may not always share the views of all organisations or community groups, I certainly recognise their right to protest in a lawful manner and one that does not involve intimidation, harassment or terrorism of our citizens, whether they be men or women.

I put these issues on the record today not only because I and others feel strongly about them but because we are in the midst of the `16 days of activism against gender violence'. It is an appropriate time for us, in the 21st century, to reflect on how men and women are treated in this day and age. I hope that we see some movement from peace-loving individuals. In relation to the issue of the Black Shirts and their campaign, I hope that they are not successful.

Sitting suspended from 1.57 p.m. to 2.00 p.m.