CW: Sexual violence and institutional betrayal.
On Friday 28th October, women and their supporters, with the global Reclaim the Night movement, took to the streets of Canberra for a peaceful march to raise awareness of sexual violence. Our Engagement Coordinator, Emily Bottoms, was asked by the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre to speak at Parliament House Lawns on her work with The STOP Campaign, and the power of community led activism in the sexual violence space, in the face of institutional betrayal. Here is her speech below.
I moved to Canberra three years ago from Melbourne to study at the ANU. Like so many other students who move to Canberra from all over Australia, I lived on campus at a residential hall. While I will be forever grateful for this opportunity, my time living on campus opened my eyes to the shocking reality that is the culture of sexual violence in university institutions. But within this reality was a glimmer of hope at the end of a very dark tunnel, and that glimmer of hope is the reason I joined the STOP campaign, and is my key motivator for all of my work as an activist.
I am a student and primarily engage with students in my work with STOP. I truly believe in the power of peer engagement and empowerment. As a grassroots organisation founded by students fed up with the lack of support from their institutions and passionate about making universities safer for everyone, the importance of finding community in the face of significant institutional betrayal, is a priority of ours, and an area in which we have been able to reclaim power as young activists.
As The STOP Campaign continues to grow, both in its membership and outreach which extend beyond the confines of our humble beginnings, we have been able to engage with more and more like-minded individuals across the entire ACT community. There is one key reason for our rapid and continued growth as a grassroots organisation; the lack of trust in institutions. The power of connecting with one’s peers on significant issues that affect their day to day life, rather than talking at them from a position of authority should not be understated. The sad fact is that this power comes from a deep rooted distrust of institutions.
Organisations like STOP shouldn’t have to exist.
Young people in pastoral care positions in university residences should not have to deal with disclosures at the rate that they do currently, with little to no support. However, the extensive distrust in institutions means that peer-led activism and engagement is the best way to connect with communities.
Students want to be listened to, and they want to be heard as equals. Institutions have been largely unable to build strong and safe communities, leaving this to us, and other young, vulnerable people, to pick up the pieces. While this shouldn’t have to be our responsibility, we will continue to engage and empower Canberrans who are let down by their institutions, through strong community activism to break down barriers and stigmatisation of sexual violence.
This fight is not over. The issue of sexual violence, specifically on university campuses, is not solved and the work of The STOP Campaign and all grassroots community groups continues to be vital in creating lasting socio-cultural change to ensure university is a safe place for all students. Everyone gathered here today, students, young people across Canberra and the community members who support our cause continue to play an important role in bringing about positive sociocultural change to prevent sexual violence and promote sexual wellbeing.
As our voices grow through community activism, we are able to highlight the issues that systematically affect those most vulnerable in our community. Transgender and gender diverse students are twice as likely to experience sexual harassment in their time at university than heterosexual or cis-gendered students. Yet it is these same groups that are continuously ignored by institutions when it comes to effective measures of support. I acknowledge that sexual violence activism is dominated by straight, white and cis-gendered people. It is an ongoing responsibility to use this privilege to amplify voices and views that have been historically dismissed. We can use the power of activism and community support to hold the door open for all victim-survivors to share their stories and achieve justice.
As we grow as a campaign, our collective power grows alongside it. The growth of The STOP Campaign and other grassroots groups with the support of community members like yourselves, means that we can no longer be silenced. Institutions cannot ignore us anymore. People want change, the growth of our campaign highlights this. Community activism allows us to reclaim our power as young people that institutions have taken from us, to create meaningful and lasting change.
The STOP Campaign