University of Western Australia students Joey Lim and Micaela Rafel are rallying women together to speak out against sexual assault.
Young Women Against Sexual Violence is a not-for-profit organisation raising public awareness by encouraging young women to speak up and share their experiences with others.
The idea came to Miss Lim from a startup business unit, where she was required to create a business inspired by a personal problem she wanted to solve.
She said a mutual friend connected her with Miss Rafel, and together they created the organization with a shared goal of raising public awareness.
“The people who have experienced sexual violence don’t talk about it, and it’s really tough to talk about it because of the stigmas like shame and embarrassment that surround it,” Miss Lim said.
Miss Rafel said they host events every six weeks, ranging from art exhibitions, poetry nights and other creative outlets to create safe spaces that engage people in conversations.
She said the other aspect of the organisation was to facilitate connections through fortnightly private meetings, called ‘Sister Connect Sessions.’
Miss Lim said: “We want to create a community where you won’t feel judged about talking about it, where people will always be around to listen to you.”
A 2016 report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found 6 per cent of women experienced sexual abuse from non-family members before they were 15, and 5.5 per cent experienced it from family members.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics also reported 1 in 5 women have also experienced physical or sexual violence since the age of 15.
“If you’re a 30-year-old woman and you haven’t experienced some form of sexual assault, you’re very lucky,” Miss Rafel said.
She said what we’re taught from a young age becomes ingrained in our behaviours when we get older, and can lead to dangerous situations.
She said it was disappointing to see the lack of support from friends but was encouraged by strangers who supported the idea, from local business owners to lawyers and accountants.
Marina Korica is the manager of the Mental Health Access Service at Multicultural Futures; a free service that supports migrants and refugees who are experiencing difficulties with their mental health.
Mrs Korica also has a degree in social science, and a postgraduate certificate in women’s health.
She said factors associated with high risks of sexual violence against young girls can range from cultural and social norms to acceptance of violence.
“Of the young women seen by the MHAS who have experienced sexual violence, a number have been in Australia on student visas.”
She said women who have been referred to counselling and developed a network of friends have gradually seen their mental health improve.
“Addressing sexual violence against young women requires cooperation from criminal justice, welfare, health and education sectors.”
Miss Rafel said for future events they want half or more of the attendees to be men.
Miss Lin said when reaching out to male friends to attend the events, many of them felt like they’d be attacked or perceived as a creep.
“I want them to be reminded that they’re doing it to support the women in their lives that they love and cherish.”
The Sexual Assault Resource Centre provides free support to people affected by sexual violence, as well as free 24/7 telephone advice for those in non-metropolitan areas.
Young Women Against Sexual Violence can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0416 141 208.