We March Through 30 Years of Silence and 30 Years of Solidarity – 30th Annual Silent Domestic Violence Memorial March

On Friday 27 November in Supreme Court Gardens, Perth, we marched for the 30th time, and this year despite a pandemic, we came together as 600-strong and marched for the women and children who have lost their lives to family and domestic violence, with our silence saying more than words ever could.

495 pairs of shoes lined the garden, with men, women, children and tiny baby booties representing a life that was taken too soon, in a far too tragic way. Across the grass, a number of women and children were represented through the 26 cut-outs which stood still and silent. These wooden women and children became the silent witnesses and a sombre symbol of the fallen victims we mourn each and every year. In 1996, these life-size cut-outs were created to honour and remember, so we never forget the people we have lost and that they didn’t pass in vain.  

Pictured: The shoes that represented the lives that were lost

In the 12 months since we last marched, there had been 15 deaths (WA Police November 2020) and each death was represented with a single white coffin. Every coffin represents a family broken and shattered and the ripples that flow into our community amidst the heartache of loss and grief.

Women’s Council Domestic Family Violence (WA) acting CEO Kedy Kristal said domestic homicides accounted for a quarter of all homicides in WA.

“The deaths are women, men and children and have been perpetrated by partners, siblings, or adult children,” she said.

“Stopping family and domestic violence is a community responsibility and it starts with raising awareness and acknowledging the problem. We need full community support because no community is immune.”

Once again, the event was eloquently emceed by the compassionate Verity James who reminded us that family and domestic violence (FDV) was not just a number, it was a person with a story.

“Covid reminded us of a time where we needed more than ever to have these conversations about FDV and understand that women and children are not safe in their homes.”

Verity James

Minister for Prevention of Family and Domestic Violence the Hon. Simone McGurk maintained her portfolio’s focus on committing to eradicating the insidious scourge on our society that is FDV, especially in these challenging times amid the ongoing pandemic and subsequent health and economic effects.

According to the WA Government website, aligning with the WA Recovery Plan, an additional $1 million had been allocated to the 22 Family and Domestic Violence Counselling Advocacy and Support (FDV CAS) services across the state to assist these vulnerable community members.

Pictured: (l-r) WA Ombudsman Chris Field, the Hon. Simone McGurk, Anne Moore Chair WCDFVS, ASUWA Branch Secretary Wayne Wood and outgoing CEO WCDFVS Angela Hartwig

Minister McGurk said when it came to FDV, there was always so much more work to do.

“This remains clear as we march together again for the 30th time. We have a lot in common and when we work together, we can achieve so much,” she said.

“We will walk alongside each other, in silence and say that FDV is not welcome in our community.”

I will raise my voice

Overlooking 15 coffins draped in white cloth, one lone and brave survivor Leah representing the Women’s Council Survivor’s Reference Group, tells her aching story of family and domestic violence.

“My experience with domestic violence started before I can even remember,” she said through tearful gasps.

“Living with my mother and step-father who both had issues with substance and alcohol abuse, the abuse saw me going into home care again and back home again so many times, because they always assumed I was better off living with my abusive mother. As an adult, it was no surprise I ended up in an abusive relationship myself.”

Pictured: Leah at the podium, supported by Emcee Verity James

Leah went on to explain her journey and her subsequent escape which led her to where she is now.

“I did everything I could to disappear. I was finally able to break free after 22 years and it’s now only just starting to fade.”

Leah, FDV Survivor

“I know I am one of the lucky ones and I am so grateful that I could break free and my child and I could escape with our lives.”

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.

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.

Pictured: FDV Survivor and Activist Sheree Lucas Neto holds up her placard as she marches

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. This year’s theme is ‘Respect starts with you’. 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.

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 and see the pictures from the March here.

Thank you to the sponsors of this event: Government of Western Australia Department of Communities, Anglicare WA, Yorgum Healing Services, The Australian Workers’ Union WA, SDA Western Australia, Stopping Family Violence, Australian Services Union and Unions WA.

Words by Jacqui O’Leary

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