I hope you're sitting comfortably now, because I am here to make you feel uncomfortable. I'm going to start with a story of a 15-year-old girl…
It was a nightmare before Christmas. A car filled with men- 2 of whom she knew- pulled over beside Leia who was walking alone to a party. They offered a ride, she agreed, and she climbed into the vehicle where she was seated between two strangers.
As they drove, instead of arriving at the party, she was driven to an abandoned paddock, away from civilisation where Leia was overcome with an impending feeling of doom and a belief that she would not survive the night.
So, in that moment, she stopped fighting and just tried to survive.
She could only endure, crying silent tears that ran past her pale cheeks and over her knuckles until finally dripping onto the car floor which made as much a sound as the young girl's hushed agony. For if a sound were to leave her lips, they would threaten to unhinge her very jaw. That was how she was to remain, silent. Taken. Silent. Raped. Silent. Die. Silent.
The men took turns terrorising, abusing, assaulting and raping Leia. And she did not tell this story until 25 years later
I wonder how many of us really know what the term rape culture means? Now I know for a few of you in the audience, are all like 'Here we go, another talk about sexism. This isn't relevant to me.' Or perhaps you're a woman who's never experienced this.
Rape culture is often dismissed as just a phrase that is made up by fanatic feminists that want to make men look bad. But perhaps we do not truly understand what rape culture is. Because rape culture, is where rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalised and excused in society. Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and our vile victim-blaming mindsets.
We, as the future workers, parents and leaders of our country have a responsibility. That responsibility is to ensure that in no way do we contribute towards our daughters being assaulted, and our sons being assaulters.
Think about the six most important women in your life- your mother, your sister, your grandmother or your girlfriend. And now, take a moment to think that 1 in 6 women throughout their lifetime will be raped. One of them could be the most important women in your life. And this applies to males as well, 1 in 33 men will be raped throughout their lifetime. But particularly with women, why does society scorn women who’ve already been languishing for years in torment of their bodies being intruded, brand them as liars and ridicule them?
When hearing this story, some of you may be thinking, she put herself at risk. She made a conscious decision to get in a car filled with men even though she could have continued heading to the party on her own. Others may be thinking, well did she resist? Did she say no? And did she report to the police? Strangely, why doesn’t this happen with other traumatic events? If your house burnt down, you wouldn’t expect 7 or 9 news to immediately start asking, “why are you coming forward now? Was this insurance fraud? Was your house wearing something flammable? And is it even on fire at all because what is the line between on fire and not on fire?”.
Victim blaming behaviour is rife amongst youths in Australia that more than half think that if a woman is drunk, affected by drugs or wearing revealing clothing, they are partially responsible for rape. These victim blaming attitudes play into the myths that shroud sexual assault and make it difficult for survivors to feel comfortable disclosing their experiences. And continuing this attitude, refuses to acknowledge the truth of sexual assault- that it is the solely the fault of the perpetrator.
Now I love an ABCB rhyme scheme but this this viral footage of a group of elite private school boys chanting a sexist song is 50 shades of repugnant, reawakening a conversation about privilege and insidious misogyny. But what I find more concerning than the fact that this chant was proudly hooted in the public like a war cry, is the replies that say that their futures shouldn’t be ruined because “boys will be boys”. Boys who will become men. Men who take 93% of our country’s sexual offenders. And offenders, who have an 83% chance of not getting sentenced. Not all men are predators, but when there is so much violence, something has to be done. We can’t excuse anyone for this behaviour whether it is a man or woman or a different race. We need to encourage each other that especially those with their wits about them to know that this kind of behaviour is not okay, to speak up and feel okay to do so.
Culture does not determine our beliefs and behaviours; it only influences them. We have choices beyond culturally prescribed norms of society- we can challenge our own values, beliefs and behaviours when it comes to our attitudes to women in matters of sexual assault. Because, biologically? Yes, we are different. Different in our appearances. Different in our physiologies. Different in our voices and thoughts. But we are the same. Same in the way we all have to go school. Same in the way we have to find a job and provide for our families. Same in the way that we are all human. Rape is growing in our society and we are only accomplices to rape if we are not part of the solution. The missing piece to the puzzle is to simply not dehumanise victims of rape and not make excuses for misogynistic behaviours. To realise that language, stories and images that support or trivialise rape are so pervasive that we have become numb to them. And take action by not engaging in these sorts of rape jokes and misogynistic language or objectifications of women’s bodies.
We’re better than this. As girl learning at this school, I have seen both the good and bad of our nation’s youths. We are an extraordinary country and an extraordinary generation. We are in so many respects the envy of the world. I would argue so passionately that we are the most “woke” people you’d ever know of but today- I put my foot down and declare that it must stop with us.