When organisers of the March 4 Justice in Talbot called for speakers to step forward and share their stories, Red Lion resident Lyndsay Last did not hesitate. Unionist, feminist and trade teacher, Ms Last told the march attendees exactly how she had suffered at the hands of abusive men.
Sexaully assaulted as a child, raped by an acquaintance at 17 ("I invited him in for a cup of coffee, the next moment I was fighting him off and looking for a pair of scissors to stab him with"), a victim of family violence in her 30s, Ms Last says her survival is testament to the strength of her support networks and the grounding of self-belief feminism gave her. She says she never reported the attacks on her - because she knew what the consequences would be. And that is what has to change.
Ms Last agreed to be interviewed by The Courier.
"I don't think I understood, when I was three or four, one of those, that I was sexually assaulted. Because fellatio means nothing to a three-year-old, right? It doesn't mean sex, it doesn't mean anything. It took me a very long time before I actually realised what it was. I was in my late teens before I thought it out in my head, what that experience meant.
"I became a feminist when I went to university. We did 'consciousness-raising' back in those days, we had 'liberation' and so on. Now it's because of that experience that, when I went through being raped, I had things to hang on to, and people that I could talk to: not in the wider community, it was very personal. There was that shame involved, and I had to work through that.
We're all under the same rules, and we all suffer the same wayLyndsay Last
"The same when it came to domestic violence. I'm a feminist of 25 years, a good feminist working for all the right things. I mean, my jobs were in that area: I worked in equal opportunity, for instance. And I still went through domestic violence - and I still didn't leave. It was my house. I was paying the mortgage. He wouldn't go.
"Maybe, I think, the universe was going, 'You're so smart, you were saying to women, go on, leave, and then it took you years before you did.' It's not as easy as you say. You really need people around you, just to lean on, to express things to - not for them to tell you what to do, or give you advice. That's no good. It's just to be there.
"Being there is really the most important thing. Women - and men - need to be there for each other. I think at this point, men have got to start standing up a lot more and saying what's right. We've got to call out stuff. When we see a bloke who's doing something threatening, frightening a woman on the street, don't walk by. Go up and say to the woman, 'Do you need a hand? Do you need my help?' You don't have to force yourself on people. But you do have to say to the person involved, 'Do you need my help, I'm here to help you.' And that would be a really good first step for everybody.
"Sisterhood means the women I've worked with through my life and women who've been involved in the movement. I was involved in the union movement (Ms Last was an organiser with the Technical Teachers Union of Victoria), I was in equal opportunity, that sort of thing. Like-minded women setting up things like WIRE, the Women's Information and Referral Exchange.
"Those women who were around you, giving you strength and you gave them strength. And that's really important - you had to talk to each other about it. You group together, regardless of your differences, because we are different. Our Indigenous sisters are different from our immigrant sisters, but we're all under the same patriarchy. We're all under the same rules, and we all suffer the same way."
March in Talbot reflects national support
"We're marching today because there are women we've all known who are no longer with us, who cannot march with us, because of violence."
This strong statement, by organiser Fiona Somerville, was just one among many made during the March 4 Justice in the tiny town of Talbot, north of Ballarat.
Over 50 women and men joined the march in the town of 440 people, a percentage which, if reflected in Melbourne, would have numbered over 500,000 protesters.
"I'm here for two very close friends who both died by their own hand in the past because of these issues," Ms Somerville said.
"I'm here for the younger women, the younger generation, who shouldn't have to put up with it like our older generation did. I'm here to support the town. It's an important issue, just as important in small town as it is in the city.
Ms Somerville said the idea for a local march had built organically, with the support of many local people, and some who had travelled a distance to attend.
The March 4 Justice main speaker in Talbot was Anne Taylor, who told the protesters her connection to the town stretched back to 1938, when her grandfather was the local police officer.
We're marching today because there are women we've all known who are no longer with us, who cannot march with us, because of violenceMarch 4 Justice organiser Fiona Somerville
Ms Taylor said she had both attended and taught at Talbot Primary School, and still had a home in the town.
"When I heard there was a rally here, I thought, well, I'll just be one of many in Melbourne, this is the rally I want to be at," Ms Taylor told the crowd.
"Women have a history, sadly, of being sexually harassed, of being abused, being put down, being overlooked. And that's what we're here to say: 'Enough'. On the ABC last week, they quoted a survey; 38 per cent of the respondents had been sexually harassed at work, but almost none of them had reported it.
"They didn't report it because they didn't think it would make any difference. And they didn't report it because they'd be the ones who would most likely have to leave the workplace."
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