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CW: Discussions of sexual violence.

 

Diversity Editor, Elanor Leman, talked to Micaela Rafel and Joey Lim on their upcoming new
organisation, Young Women Against Sexual Violence. Although they intend the group not to be
unique or exclusive to UWA, they are both studying psychology here at present, and recently
hosted their first event on Oak Lawn.

M: So our first event was called ‘Our Stories Out to Air,’ which was really just to raise awareness
within the UWA community about sexual violence. We had a clothing line where people could
come and write either their stories or their thoughts on sexual violence, and hang it up on the
clothing line whilst people were walking by. Bring this topic to awareness, was the purpose of
that, and we had a few people come up and talk to us about it, which was great.

J: Some talked about their experiences, some of them gave us their support – I think it showed
that this is a big issue, and one of them even said, ‘Oh, I think there should be more of this at uni.’Taking a stand

E: And what plans do you have for future events?

M: We have our official launch event coming up on the 24th of October, which is going to be a
high tea at Hackett Cafe, and at that event we’ll be introducing what our project is about. We’ll be
having mental health professionals speak on the prevalence and topics surrounding sexual
violence, from their perspective, we’ll also be having a panel of women with lived experience of
sexual violence, and then a couple of guys from Man Up will be speaking, talking about how
social norms lead to sexual violence, and encouraging men to participate in this conversation as
well. We’ll have some live music, some food, and a raffle.

E: That sounds like quite a big event. So is it just the two of you? Are you looking for more people
to help you out?

J: For the future, yes, but we’ve just started, so it’s just us on board now.

M: in the future we’d love for women with lived experience or other volunteers to help us organise
events. For now, though, it’s just the two of us.

E: So open to more support in the future, but concentrating on the vision for now – and tell me
about your vision. What is that?

J: So we do hope to have, in the future, a safe environment for every young women – or just
women in general – to ensure that if they ever have experience of sexual violence, there are
people there for them, that there’s even an organisation for it, especially for this. We also do hope
to raise awareness, for the public, for everyone to know that this is a prevalent issue, and that this
can even happen to women in your lives, who you love and cherish. So yeah that was our aim and
goal.

M: Yeah – so there’ll be two things we’re doing. The first is the events, we’re intending on them
being every six weeks, depending on how things go.

J: And at those, we’re thinking of having creative collaborations with small businesses in Perth,
maybe art exhibitions, doing it a jazz bar, or maybe like a storytelling night, just for the public to
hear about these things. In addition, we hope to have fortnightly meetups, with young women
who have experienced sexual violence, to create a kind of community, and support, and also to
empower these women who have this experience. And they will be unstructured, these
conversations – we intend to call them Sister Connects.

M: We really want to have these discussions with people who otherwise wouldn’t necessarily be
engaging in them, so by doing the events in different venues, which already have their clientele,
that helps us to talk with people who aren’t already talking about it.

E: So you want a broad outreach, which is a part of not restricting the group to UWA. I suppose
that involves reaching out to other universities as well?

M: We’ve actually already reached out to all the other universities, but yes, we want to collaborate
with as many people, organisations, and businesses as possible.

J: We do plan to reach out to universities, and maybe schools in the future, with a look to creating
workshops or classes, on the terms, and how one can identify sexual violence.

M: I think a big issue is people thinking of sexual violence of an inherently very violent act, but
there are actually lots of other ways that nonconsensual things happen, and sometimes people
don’t even realise that a behaviour is assault – people who have experienced something know that
they’ve been violated, but don’t know to call it what it is, and often people who’ve committed
assault don’t even know that they have – so I think it’s really important to help educate people to
identify things for what they are. But workshops like that would be much further in the future.

E: So education, relating both to UWA and more broadly, you’d say that the general level of
education on sexual violence is inadequate, at the moment?

M: I think so.

J: Oh one hundred percent.

M: There’s education on things like contraception, but on things like consent it’s really lacking,
and needs to be discussed.

E: I keep coming back to UWA – I know that you’re broader than that, but I suppose, we’re at
UWA now, and this is your starting base. So, universities, what do you think their responsibilities
are in this regard?

M: I personally think that there should be a compulsory training or workshop, like the ones on
academic conduct – there is one, but it’s not very in depth or engaging, or compulsory – where
people actively have to participate in the discussion.

J: But there is a problem, people wouldn’t want to go to these – they don’t want to be involved in
the discussion. People will pay $20 a month for a Netflix account, but they wouldn’t donate $20 a
month to something like this. We need to make people want to engage with this sort of thing.

E: So you want it to be fun, but still on track with your goals.

J: Yeah, we want to encourage more people to speak up about this issue. Because honestly,
talking about this is so relieving, for people to implement this in their lives, talking to the women
that they love and cherish, and asking them about it, they would appreciate it so much.

M: And I think there needs to be a social shift in how we think about this – our norms go way
beyond just the university implementing things, but the university needs to be a part of it.
Everything needs to be a part of it – each group individually only has so much reach, but
collectively we’re all creating this change. So it’s really important to engage men in these
conversation, Man Up is a group that does that very well – but I think the university should be
adopting this sort of thing. All of these social issues, the university need to focus on in a deep and
consistent way. That’s a complicated question, but it’s a long term goal.

J: We’d encourage men to come to our events and educate themselves, know how to talk about
this with other people in their lives.

M: It’s all about self reflection, and everyone needs that. This is a really big issue, and we can all
talk about it, be aware of it, and participate in these conversations with our friends and family.

J: I would be inspired to see men involving themselves in these discussions.

E: But you are a group aimed at young women, so how do you negotiate who the group is for in
that regard?

J: So we want to have our Sister Connect events just for young women with lived experiences,
but our broader events will open to the whole community, the public, men too.

E: I noticed you don’t have much of an online presence – are you looking to keep this as more of a
community, Perth focused enterprise, or are there plans to expand?

M: We’re using online more as a foundation for promotion, and not so much for education, but it’s
early days. We’d like to utilise that space more, so we can have a broader reach than just our
specific events.

J: And sharing other organisations initiatives as well, is very good.

E: I know your previous event collaborated with the UWA Women’s Department, so there’s been
some involvement there.

M: And they’ve really helped us with this upcoming event as well.

J: Yeah, shout out to them!

E: Because you’re not planning on affiliating with the Guild, so the Women’s Department can help
out at UWA?

M: Yeah, we don’t want to be limited to UWA.

J: This is not just for us, this is for the whole community, for all young women in our society.

M: It often takes people a very long time to even identify what’s happened to them, to even be
able to speak about it to others, and then when you do speak, it can be really scary, not knowing
if people are going to believe you, if people are going to judge you, there’s a lot of self blame and
victim shaming out there. We’re aiming to provide a space for people to be believed, no matter
where they are in their process. And we want to to educate people at our events how not to victim
blame, because often people say things that are harmful without meaning to. For example, when I
first told my friend what happened to me, she said, ‘It wasn’t really rape, he just didn’t listen to
you.’ She didn’t have bad intentions, but people can sometimes say things that are really harmful.
It took me four whole years to accept what had happened.

J: It took me one whole year to finally tell someone, and when I finally did, my friends said, ‘Well
maybe next time don’t do this, don’t wear this, don’t say this.’

E: So you have the two goals of raising awareness, and supporting people who have these
experiences.

M: I think that by organising these events, and having other women contribute, it can be very
empowering. We are taking action and we are having our voices heard, which I think is very
important, because when you’re assaulted you have your voice taken away from you. So we’re
not only raising awareness, not only providing support, but empowering ourselves, as people with
lived experiences.