We've got your back: Empowering Indigenous women to speak out

Remote community volunteers in sexual abuse cases lack the support they need, but a new project in NSW is reaching out to tackle both the causes and effects of abuse.

Maree* is a counsellor, friend and advocate for victims of sexual abuse who many in her community rely on for strength in their darkest time.

But she's not a trained professional and she's not a sexual health worker, rather an average woman making a difference.

“I've just come across a lot of people in my work and in my personal life with a lot of my own relations who've shared stories with me,” she said.

“People that we trusted did these things to them but I say to them that they don't have to ruin their lives with drugs and alcohol that there is help out there and if they're ever ready to get help, they can come and see me anytime and talk to me.”

Her story is not uncommon in regional and remote Aboriginal communities, where strong women are the pillars of strength for victims of sexual assault.

Hearing countless stories of abuse each week - they often bear the burden of finding help for the victims.

“You think to yourself - how you would feel if it happen to you? Especially with people who are close to you that tell you.

“You let them know that you're always there for them, even though they go off the track, you're still there for them.”

But the "Hey sis, we've got your back" project is reaching out to women like Maree.

This group gathers to share stories and workshop how they can help these women deal with sexual assault.

Yatungka Gordon from the NSW Rape Crisis Centre says the project was set up with Mudgin Gal Women's Centre to form a strong network after finding many women were subject to abuse in their community.

“It's about bringing them women together and finding the common theme of how they work and where they work and just building a really strong network for Aboriginal women that's why it's called 'hey sis we've got your back' cause the line of work in sexual assault can be quiet full on, she said.

But they're not just targeting women.

Ashley Donahue from Mudgin Gal women's centre reaches out also to men in sports to tackle this issue.

“Unless we start speaking to men about these violent crimes, we're not going to get anywhere because there's no point women just talking about it constantly if we're not talking to the people who are doing these crimes,” he said.

One in five women in Australia will experience sexual assault or domestic violence and Indigenous women and children will experience sexual abuse 3 to 5 times this rate.

For Karen Willis, from the NSW Rape Crisis Centre, working with men can change these statistics.

“It's also about empowering that ethical and silent group of Aboriginal men to work with women to change those statistics and to make people free and safe from violence so that kids can grow up playing and enjoying their life and not worry about what's going to happen,” she said.

Most sexual health workers can suffer from “vicarious trauma”, this type of trauma occurs over time after hearing distressing stories of abuse day after day.

It's this trauma that the new project aims to tackle.

For Maree, a project like this can not only make a big difference to her life but also to the victims.

“Don't think you're alone and don't blame yourself for what has happened cause it's not your fault.”

Contact the NSW Rape Crisis Centre on 1800 424 017 or the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence hotline on 1800 737 732.

*name changed to protect privacy.

Source: SBS

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