The System Failed Me: Believe Survivors
By Danielle Pore Villafaña
There is so much shame that surrounds survivors of sexual violence. Like many women, the system failed me. My experience with the Australian justice system was traumatic and I often wonder if I would still experience the same anxiety I do now if I did not report.
I remember the call from the police so vividly. Hearing that they had chosen not to press charges felt like a slap in the face. I was made to relive the worst thing that has ever happened to me in front of a crowd of strangers, only to be told they did not believe me. Sometimes I am not sure what was more traumatic: what happened to me, or how badly the system failed me. I often think about the girl I was before I was assaulted and before I reported. Fourteen and so full of hope and light. I think about how naive she was for thinking she would see justice. This is a very harsh characterisation but it is often hard to see it any other way.
One of the few things that have allowed me to keep my trauma at bay is knowing that I am not alone in this struggle. In Australia, one in three women have experienced sexual or physical violence perpetrated by someone known to them. Of the 140 000 cases of sexual assault reported to the police annually, less than 30% of these ever result in legal action.
As girls, we grow up learning how to keep ourselves safe. We are taught to scream ‘fire’ instead of ‘help’. This perpetuates the notion that the onus should be on victims to educate their perpetrators on sexual violence. That it is the role of women not to get raped rather than the role of men not to rape. Furthermore, this narrative excludes male and non-binary survivors making it ever harder for them to access justice.
The flaws we see in our justice systems are built on a foundation rooted in rape culture. Offenders are influenced by a culture in which harassment is normalised. Beginning with ‘locker room talk’, catcalls, and dickpics eventually culminating to rape, molestation and even murder. We need to be challenging the harmful ideas we have created surrounding sexual
In response to the clear inequalities that permeate all levels of our societies and institutions, I founded Believe Survivors. Believe Survivors is a youth-led organisation that aims to reform the system and culture surrounding sexual violence. We believe that survivors deserve a justice system that is transparent, accessible and just. Through our advocacy, we aim to deconstruct the culture surrounding sexual violence, provide survivors with the legal literacy required to access justice, and reform institutions so that they respond effectively and fairly to sexual violence.
The system failed me but I refuse to let that define me. I am a survivor. It has taken me a long time to be able to call myself that, I admit some days I feel much more like a victim than I do a survivor. I am standing on the shoulders of so many other courageous women who spoke up and had the audacity to see themselves as something more than what society has characterised them to be. We are not going to see change overnight. However, survivors are intrinsically courageous and powerful. When we raise each other up and fight together we will be able to create change. We will not stop fighting until access to justice is fair and equal. Believe survivors. (Instagram: believe_survivors)
**Disclaimer. This article deals with social issues of rape and sexual harassment. If at any time you feel confronted or upset by the issues, statistics and stories shared in this article, please contact:
(NSW) National sexual assault hotline - 1800 737 732,
(NSW) The Rape Crisis and Sexual Assault Hotline - 1800 424 017
(AUS) Mensline Australia on 1300 789 978
(AUS) Or 000 if you are in immediate danger **
* Cover image by Alexandra Haynak from Pixabay
** The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Woke magazine.