Our Hearts are Heavy as we March – 29th Annual Silent Domestic Violence Memorial March

The silence fell upon the nearly 800-strong crowd of women, men and children as we gathered our thoughts and began to grieve. Together with the Women’s Council for Domestic and Family Violence Services (WCDFVS), we grieved for all those who lost their lives from Family and Domestic Violence (FDV) and we marched in silence to honour the fallen. We marched in solidarity to celebrate our resistance to all forms of Domestic Violence; and to acknowledge that one death is too many!

This was not a day to raise our voices; the silence was enough. The silence was deafening and signified the loss, trauma, anger and overwhelming palpable sadness.

On Friday 22 November 2019, we marched for the 29th time as we remembered 12 victims of FDV in WA this year since the last Memorial March in 2018. We as a sector carry that weight, but more importantly, for the community and the families, it’s too hard and the pain is almost too much to bear.

Pictured: Survivor/Speaker Tinashe La

Overlooking the 12 white coffins, draped in white sheets, symbolising the women, men and children who had lost their lives, domestic violence survivor Tinashe La spoke out about her story of tumultuous grief, and the challenges she had as a migrant woman from a culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) community, escaping a violent partner.

“To say I was angry was underestimating my feelings – I was furious. So how did I allow myself to go through all this when I was never abused as a child,” she asked.

“Fear has crippled me from childhood and I didn’t even know it. Staying silent was learned behaviour. I had witnessed abuse and violence growing up in Zimbabwe, and nobody ever got reported.”

Tinashe La

Tinashe said nobody wanted to talk about the big topics in our society, so the voices of the vulnerable were rarely heard.

“We live in a society where everybody only wants to hear the good things. When are you graduating your degree, when you are getting engaged, when you are getting married or having a baby – and not how the process to get there is going,” she said.

“My life is my own. The only one that could save me was me. As Dolly Everett said: Speak, even if your voice shakes.”

Pictured: DV victim Jessica Bairnsfather-Scott’s family laying flowers on one of the coffins

MC Verity James spoke passionately about not remaining silent.

“Let’s not keep secrets that destroy us, because we all deserve to live our best lives. Let’s not keep secrets, let’s instead talk about it,” she said.

“Let’s honour those who need to tell their story and speak out about their truths. It is all about courage, and there is little that’s more important than that.”

Verity James

We were joined by Dr Cathy Richardson from Canada’s Centre for Response-Based Practice and Director of First People’s Studies at Concordia University in Montreal as she talked about the importance of unity across the globe in the face of domestic violence.

“It’s really important that as community service providers, neighbours and friends, to have that safe space where people can come forwards and tell their story and choose a place of harmony, care and dignity,” she said.

Pictured: (l-r) Dr Cathy Richardson, Angela Hartwig, Tinashe La, Minister Simone McGurk and Anne Moore

“Often when we are being harmed, that person harming us is bigger, stronger or has a weapon, and this is what we are fighting against. People will die for their dignity to speak their truth and say what is going on for them, and we need to listen.”

Women’s Council Chair Anne Moore joined CEO Angela Hartwig on the podium as they had the painstaking task of reading out the domestic homicides as many of the audience members laid roses on the coffins, before pausing for one minute’s silence.

“In our hearts we mourned continually as we heard of another death in our state, but we are here today in loving memory for those who have lost their lives,” Angela said, and began to read out the names of each life that had been lost.

How did we get here?

The first Annual Silent Domestic Violence Memorial March was held in 1991 by a group of women survivors who were outraged because the criminal justice system often failed to provide legal protection for women and children who died as a result of domestic and family violence.   

FDV is increasing rapidly in Western Australia and should be considered a state emergency. Since 2010, physical assaults against family have risen 104%, and threatening behaviours against family is up to an alarming 157%, second only to fraud as the fastest growing crime in the state.

Pictured: Mid-march, the supporters walk in silence

The lifelong physical, emotional and often fatal consequences of FDV can no longer be ignored. The Women’s Council acknowledges the state’s dire need for more to be done to protect victims as a matter of urgency.

This week, we mark the #16DaysinWA Campaign to #StopTheViolence against women, which also coincided with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on 25 November. The theme for 2019 theme was ‘Speak out to Stop the Violence’. 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence runs from 25th November until 10th December and the movement reminds us to be a voice for the voiceless and campaign fearlessly for their rights.

Pictured: Many prisoners who are incarcerated have silent and forgotten stories of FDV

We must ask ourselves, ‘what can we do to prevent violence against women’, as we encourage conversations, challenge misunderstandings about family and domestic violence and engage the community in activism at a grass-roots level. Let’s work together to end FDV once and for all.

Read more about why we must eliminate violence against women here and to see more pictures from the March, find SFV on Facebook.

Words by Jacqui O’Leary

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