Politics Analysis

Higgins and Tame can't do it alone: Men must step up

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(Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons)

It was with a sense of exhaustion and despair that I attended the women’s March for Justice yesterday. I’ve been attending similar protests for most of my adult life and yet, here we are, facing a Federal Government that offers us less justice than any other in my memory.

*CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses rape and sexual abuse

Like tens of thousands of women, I’ve demanded “justice” from the legal system for decades. However, justice is rarely done for those victims of rape and sexual assault who brave that system, and when it is, the toll it extracts is enormous. It is a system designed by men, for men. It has never worked for us and perhaps it never will.

To demand justice from such a system is futile and self-defeating. It’s time we faced this hard truth. It’s time we fully acknowledged what we are up against. It’s time we swallowed that most bitter of pills — there is no justice for women in this country. White women could have learned this long ago from Indigenous women and women of colour. We haven’t. We’re still marching for what does not exist.

We need to relinquish our dreams of justice. We need to face reality and then we will know what to do next.

If you doubt me, consider the events of the last few weeks. The alleged rape of Brittany Higgins in the office of the Minister for Defence and the subsequent cover-up at the highest level of government, for example.

The alleged brutal rape of a 16-year-old girl by the Attorney-General, Christian Porter, and the refusal of Prime Minister Scott Morrison to initiate an inquiry into Porter’s suitability to hold that high office, for example.

The Prime Minister’s declaration of Christian Porter’s innocence, without having read the alleged victim’s statement, for example.

The Prime Minister in Question Time, after the March for Justice, declaring that in other countries protestors are felled by bullets for their audacity, but we don’t do that here. In other words, be grateful we allow you to protest about rape, and the many other violences perpetrated against you, without shooting you.

Mr Morrison should be grateful women are seeking justice and not revenge.

Protests are better than nothing. However, we need many, many more. And we need to change their focus.

Don’t march for justice. March because there is no justice; march because there never has been any justice and march because there never will be any justice, as long as we are imprisoned in this system.

This system will never be made just for us. It cannot be made just for us. Individually and collectively, we continue to hurl ourselves against its implacability and we retreat bloodied and maimed, and some of us die. Indigenous women know this. Women of colour know this. We must listen to them.

Two powerful young women have led this latest wave of fury, Brittany Higgins and Grace Tame. Both survivors, both courageous beyond all expectation and they have led with clarity and resolve. They can’t carry all the burden. None of us can.

Men, it’s time to step up. Organise your own marches against the sexual and other violent acts perpetrated by your brothers against us. Tens of thousands of you can do what we’ve done for decades. We appreciate you as allies, as supportive participants in our protests. But now, you need to take your own stand as well.

We have every reason to believe that the Prime Minister is becoming increasingly unhinged — and his Government with him. No man in charge of his faculties would respond to women protesting violence and sexual assault with a warning that in other countries citizens are shot for doing this. Morrison is demonstrating the classic signs of an abuser in his attitudes and words.

This is where we are at, after yesterday’s protest.

It rained heavily at our march. The mood was sombre and subdued. This was unlike any other march I’ve attended. 

If you would like to speak to someone about sexual violence, please call the 1800 Respect hotline on 1800 737 732 or chat online

Dr Jennifer Wilson is an IA columnist, a psychotherapist and an academic. You can follow Jennifer on Twitter @NoPlaceForSheep.

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