On Friday afternoon, around 250 students attended a snap rally at Town Hall called by School Strike 4 Climate activist Danielle Villafaña. The rally demanded the firing of Attorney-General Christian Porter following recent revelations of sexual assault, and additionally called for the firing of Federal Defence Minister Linda Reynolds.
The rally heard many testimonies from survivors of sexual violence. Shanaya Donovan, a seventeen year-old Dharug woman who chaired the rally alongside Villafaña, spoke on her personal experience of sexual harassment and argued for better protections for vulnerable women and girls: “Today, seventeen year old me is standing here, urging you to step in and protect the young girl with her school skirt all the way down to her ankles, because she can’t do anything about it. Do it for the young girl who is walking down the street getting harassed by men, because she can’t do anything about it.”
Erin O’Leary, a young Dhungutti woman and student activist, highlighted the sexual abuse faced by First Nations women, who are twice as likely to face sexual violence. O’Leary recounted the story of an unnamed Indigenous woman and survivor: “She was abused every single day of her young life. She told me that the pain never goes away … This story doesn’t need a name to resonate, this story is shared by so many Blak and First Nations women, this story needs to be heard”.
The protest also highlighted the ongoing fight for reform on university campuses. Anna Hush, co-director of End Rape on Campus Australia and 2016 SRC Womens Officer, pointed out the lack of justice for survivors on campus.
“Universities are coming up with all these nice slogans about equality and about respect but ultimately nothing is ever changed. The effect on survivors is that they’re dropping out of university with more debt, with degrees they were never supported to complete. They’re living with the effects of trauma and unresolved harm, and it’s not good enough,” Hush noted.
Villafaña called for those in attendance to sign the petition started by Chanel Contos, demanding more adequate sex and consent education in schools. The petition now has over 20,000 signatures.
Greens MP Jenny Leong addressed the recent revelations of sexual assault against Christian Porter, saying: “We say, Christian Porter, we don’t believe you. We do not believe you because you are a very slimy and conniving man that knows how to spin shit to try to stay in power and protect your own arse.”
Additionally, Feiyi Zhang, a community sector worker and member of the Australian Services Union, spoke on the cuts faced by domestic and family violence services under the Coalition government. “The government is due to, in July this year, cut 56.7 million dollars from our services,” Zhang stated.
The energy in the crowd shifted to heavy grief as Villafaña returned to the microphone. They delivered an emotional and empassioned account of their own sexual assault to an audience struggling to hold back tears.
“I hope that one day, girls like me are no longer going to have to walk home with their keys in their hands, and know that there are people who believe them and trust them. I hope that if you are a survivor here today, whether or not you reported, you know that I believe you. So many of us believe you, and we know that the system is fighting against you, but we are going to bring that system down,” Villafaña proclaimed.
The rally concluded with a march to the NSW Liberal headquarters on William St. Teenagers left chalk messages on the footpath, including one which they left the rally chanting with conviction: “We’ll be back”.