FOR the first time in 14 years, Ballarat has taken back the night.
More than 200 people marched along central Ballarat’s footpaths last night to protest against sexual violence against women.
They chose not to walk on the streets to symbolise that sexual violence often occurs in secluded areas and behind closed doors.
The group blew whistles as they snaked through the city’s entertainment precinct in Lydiard Street North before heading down Camp Street and ending in the Bridge Mall.
Led by the Ballarat Centre Against Sexual Assault, men and women from all walks of life joined the march.
Tanya Fowkes was one of them. She was marching for her two teenage daughters.
“It’s a good way to show that violence in the street or in the home is not acceptable,” Ms Fowkes said.
“It’s certainly a problem in Ballarat, I don’t think any community is immune to violence. But we’re out here to show that we’re aware of it and we won’t stand for it.”
Take Back the Night committee member and CASA counsellor Katrina Bevelander said the walk was well-timed, coinciding with the international Reclaim the Night event and following the outpouring of grief over the alleged rape and murder of Jill Meagher last month.
“It’s about the Ballarat community breaking the silence on sexual violence,” Ms Bevelander said.
“It’s about the community taking this on board and not turning a blind eye. It’s about Ballarat saying this can’t happen anymore.”
One in five Australian women experience some form of sexual violence in their life, and according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 80 per cent of those will be known to the perpetrator.
“Why is our outrage any less for those experiencing it in their homes,” Ms Bevelander said about the public response that followed Ms Meagher’s death.
“There’s a ripple affect sexual violence can have in families and in communities and what happened with Jill Meagher reflects that. Even if you aren’t directly affected, it can still have a big impact.”
In a moving speech before the walk, Ballarat MP Catherine King urged the community to take a stand.
“Tonight as we walk we remember the violent assault and murder of Jill Meagher, the murder and failure of our system to protect Sargun Ragi and the countless women, children and young people who will not be safe tonight,” she said. And we say as a community – enough.”
Anyone requiring assistance related to sexual assault can contact CASA on 5320 3933 or after hours on 1800 806 292.