Sexual assault in the ACT
On 28 April, in response to growing concerns over sexual assault in the ACT community, Women’s Health Matters participated in a landmark event that brought together responsible Ministers, all sides of politics, top-level ACT Government representatives, the Chief of Police, and the CEOs of non-government organisations.
Women’s Health Matters presented the overall themes from the findings from our survey so far. that we have been undertaking to better understand women’s experiences seeking help in the ACT, and their views about the services and support that they received.
Those key themes that women have shared with us are:
- While our current system responses assume that victims seek support and services immediately, our survey responses showed that many women took a long time to disclose or chose never to disclose;
- Women told us that they did not seek help because of the trauma they were experiencing, their experience of stigma and victim blaming, their fear of not being believed, and their feelings of shame and guilt;
- The majority of the perpetrators were known to their victims;
- Few of the women sought help for their physical health – mainly for STI testing and seeking emergency contraception;
- For many women, the delay in seeking support meant they had accumulated trauma and the decision to reach out for help was as a result of their deteriorating mental health – due to shame, fear, flashbacks, and panic attacks;
- Many women saw GPs for access to mental health care plans, but the costs involved were a barrier, and the waiting times for publicly funded options were discouraging;
- When women did feel ready to reach out for help, many told us they could not find the help and supports they needed due to long wait times, lack of empathy and understanding by responses, and not being believed or being blamed for what happened to them;
- The majority of women sought help from counselling or from friends and family - - because they felt safe, believed, and were given space;
- Women told us the justice responses they received made them feel interrogated and blamed rather than supported – and very few made the decision to go through the justice system; and
- Women spoke of the need to educate the wider community more widely about sex and consent, and to focus on these specifics in teaching in the schools (not just ‘respectful relationships’).
Following the presentation of those results, each Minister spoke about their commitments to responses to address this issue.
Three groups have been set up to inform improvements to the responses, and Women’s Health Matters will be representing the voices of ACT women in those groups in the Prevention and Response working groups. We look forward to making sure that the input women have given us is used to shape the right responses in the ACT.
Thank you to all those women who have already shared their experiences about the responses in the ACT and their views on what needs to be done
. If you have not completed the survey yet, but would like your input and views included, the survey can still be accessed at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/DB36LZM
The survey closes COB Friday 7 May.