We have your back

By Amy McQuire, February 28th 2013, Tracker Magazine

NEW SOUTH WALES: Aboriginal women are six times more likely to suffer a sexual assault than non-Indigenous women. But they are more than just victims, writes AMY MCQUIRE*.

Yatungka Gordon is just one of many strong Aboriginal women who are working in an area silenced by taboos.

Sexual assault does almost irrevocable damage to our people and communities, and yet we continually push it under the carpet, where the dust compounds and suffocates.

No doubt, speaking about sexual assault is not solely an Aboriginal taboo. It is one that affects women across religion and race, throughout the world.

But despite this, in this country, Aboriginal women are more likely than any other to suffer a sexual assault.

The 2009 census found Aboriginal people made up 8 percent of the 7,210 victims of sexual assault in New South Wales. And that’s only the instances that have been recorded.

Ms Gordon, from the NSW Rape Centre, reports Aboriginal women are six times more likely to suffer a sexual assault than non-Aboriginal women.

Ms Gordon says there are a number of reasons why the taboo still exists.

It ranges from historical distrust with police and government agencies, threats within the community and a fear of losing connections to land and community that could stem from speaking out.

“I think the taboo is of course talking about it,” Ms Gordon told Tracker.

“It’s about getting people to have critical but respectful conversations about sexual assault in the first place.

“The other taboo is that as Aboriginal people we don’t have a good history with DoCS (Department of Community Services) or the police, so there are barriers to reporting.

“The other thing is people will worry about how the community is going to respond – am I going to be believed?”

But whilst Aboriginal women make up a larger proportion of sexual assault victims, their strength is often underreported.

That’s not to say they aren’t taking an active stand in reducing sexual violence.

Ms Gordon is the project officer for Hey Sis – We’ve Got Your Back!, a network formed in conjunction with the NSW Rape Crisis Centre and the Aboriginal controlled Mudgin-Gal Aboriginal Corporation, based in Redfern.

Both these organisations want to support the strong Aboriginal women who are on the frontline.

“It’s important to have a network of strong Aboriginal women. There are those out there who have been working for years… it helps take the pressure off what they’re doing so they don’t feel so isolated.”

Aboriginal women working in this field are often at risk of vicarious trauma, which occurs after working for long periods with victims of assault or violence or suffering.

“Sometimes people are working in their own communities, and they are working against sexual assault and are close to it. It’s important you look after yourself. It is a very daunting subject,” Ms Gordon says.

It’s important considering many Aboriginal women are volunteers, and are personally invested in repairing their communities.

CEO of Mudgin-Gal Aboriginal Corporation Dixie Link-Gordon says “the formation of this network reflects the determination of Aboriginal women to stop sexual assault… There is a real feeling that by working together, Aboriginal women can and will achieve a significant reduction in this violence in our communities”.

The Hey Sis network is currently hoping to build itself, forging ties with women across the state.

But they are also working to ensure stable funding to continue operations. Currently, the network is being supported by private donors and corporations like Gilbert and Tobin.

Ms Gordon is working to ensure there is secure funding in 2013.

It’s a problem that will not go away over night.

Ms Gordon estimates it will take the next three decades to reduce rates.

“We have a 30 year plan. That’s how long we’ve got to turn down these rates. But it’s about
the day to day work and effort that is being put in.”

If you want to find out more about the network, please go to http://www.heysis.com.au/

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