Picture this: you’re on holidays. On the beautiful Coral Coast of Fiji, to be precise. You’re staying at a 5-star resort on its own island. The weather is absolutely beautiful, and the scenery stunning. You have delicious food. You have some of your favourite people around you. You’re doing all sorts of really cool, unique and relaxing things—things you may never experience again. And yet . . . something is missing. You feel empty.
Every day, at least six Australians will take their own lives, and at least 30 others will attempt to. Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians aged 15-24. We’re more likely to die from suicide than we are from skin cancer. Almost half of all Australians will experience some form of mental illness within their lives, with 65% not being able to access adequate treatment. Despite all we know about depression, anxiety and other disorders, there’s still an incredible stigma attached.
Depression is a truly horrible feeling. It’s not just being sad (though that is a really big part of it). It’s feeling guilty for feeling sad, it’s feeling anxious, it’s feeling desolate, it’s feeling overwhelmed, it’s feeling lonely, it’s feeling like no one understands, it’s feeling like things that once did or should bring you joy simply don’t, it’s feeling like you’re worthless. It’s hating yourself. It’s hating everyone else too, sometimes. The worst part of it is all these emotions are locked up inside of yourself. You don’t want to tell anyone, because you don’t want to bring them down, or you’re afraid they’ll judge you. You’re afraid they’ll simply say “cheer up”, like it were that simple. Or worse, that they’ll say you’re seeking attention. Things become both less and more important. You don’t want to feel like this. You know it’s illogical – but you can’t help it, and people who haven’t experienced it simply don’t understand that.
I’m sitting in my hotel room right now. Outside, the sun is shining. The palm trees are swaying pleasantly in the wind, and I can see little birds singing happily. There are beautiful flowers in the trees, and scattered on the grass. A carpet of frangipanis and other bright red flowers I don’t know the name of. The air is warm, whispering alluring secrets of happiness, and I can hear the sound of people laughing and children shrieking with joy. My family and friends are among them.
Nothing bad has happened. In fact, it’s been quite a wonderful holiday. I’ve explored caves, been immersed within Fijian culture, been treated to massages and manicures, snorkelled and seen beautiful fish, and been able to spend my days lounging around the beach. It sounds great, right? And I know it’s great. I know I should feel happy. I know I should feel lucky, and privileged, and just relax. But it’s not that simple. I’m sad, and everyone else around me is happy. They’re saying it’s the best holiday of their lives, and here I am, not exactly caring if I were to not wake up.
Maybe it’s just a spout of weakness, and maybe I’ll go outside, and all of this will be a bad dream. Maybe I’ll be able to shut it out. Focus on the small things. The good things. The sun is warm. I don’t have assignments due. The geckos are adorable. I bought a shell turtle wearing a hat and glasses. Those things are cool. Those things are good. Those are the things you have to focus on in order to not lose your mind.
Depression doesn’t go on holidays just because you do. It’s important to remember that it’s okay to feel sad, and you shouldn’t feel guilty for that. Talk to your loved ones—don’t bottle it up. Remember to ground yourself, take deep breaths and do small things you like and enjoy. If you think one of your loved ones is depressed, do not judge them. Do not criticise them. Do not get frustrated at their sadness, and do not tell them to “cheer up”; just be there for them. Be with them. Don’t give up on them. While they may not show it, I assure you, they’ll love you for it. Don’t become another statistic.
If you need help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, or dial 000 if you are in immediate danger. Call 1800 273 825 if you need to chat, or click here to chat to someone online. You can get through this. You are loved. You are strong. You will destroy those feelings with success. I believe in you.
No, but seriously; let’s. We really don’t talk about them enough—especially in a non-sexual context. The word feels strange to write, and even stranger to say out loud. Even my phone corrects “vagina” to “cagina”, as if an inanimate object could also feel awkward. Well, that taboo ends here! This is an important issue that could save your life—and a lot of young women really don’t have a clue about it. Now that is awkward.
Okay, brace yourselves, ladies (and any men who were unknowingly lured into reading this through the word “vagina”) here it comes: pap smears. What a terrible name. Smear. Smear. They really don’t make it sound appealing, do they? But in all honesty, It’s not that bad. The procedure takes probably less than thirty seconds in all, and it doesn’t hurt even slightly.
You can get a pap smear by booking in an appointment with your doctor, or at a women’s health clinic. Basically, they take you into a private room, just like any other doctor’s visit, and ask you to remove your underwear and lie on an examination bed. This bit is rather awkward, but remember: they are trained professionals and have probably seen thousands of vaginas in their time. They use a hard plastic tool called a speculum (not to be confused with a spatula) in order for them to see your cervix. From there, they take a quick sample of the cells and send them away for testing. And then you’re done!
Now, I would definitely recommend seeing a female doctor—at least for your first time. It’s much less awkward. My usual doctor is male, and I’m also friends with his daughter. The vagina jokes he made certainly didn’t make me feel more comfortable. The female doctor I sought out, however, was kind and made general conversation and even gave me some information for this article.
So, what the Pap smear actually does is test for any abnormalities in the cells around your cervix which can eventually lead to cervical cancer, as well as testing for the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), which is present in 99.7% of cervical cancer cases. HPV, which is an infection of the skin around think, moist linings of the body (like the nose, mouth, throat and genital) results from close skin contact, isn’t something to be overly concerned about: 4 out of 5 people will have it in their lives, mostly with no symptoms. Your body will usually clear it naturally in 1-2 years, but in some cases, it can stay longer and lead to cervical cancer.
According to the Cancer Council, about 1 in 10 Pap smears reveal abnormalities, though less than 1% of these abnormalities lead to cervical cancer. Even so, all women, regardless of age, sexual orientation or number of partners, should be tested every two years from the ages of 18-70 (or younger, depending on what age she became sexually active).
In 2017, based on recommendations from the Medical Services Advisory Committee, the Australian Government will make some changes to the Pap test. Women aged between 25 and 74 will undertake a HPV test every five years, which may also include various other tests. These changes are estimated to reduce the number of cancer cases by a further 15%. Hooray!
However, until then, Pap tests are absolutely necessary. Soldier through that awkwardness, and it could potentially save your life! Eighty per cent of women who develop cervical cancer had not had regular check-ups. Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers with a simple test—these tests have halved the mortality rate. Can you really ignore that?
Listen to your vagina, and don’t be afraid to talk about any problems you may have, no matter how seemingly miniscule. Don’t become another statistic because you were too embarrassed to ask. After all, happy vagina, happy life. Preach it, ladies!
Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz graduated last Tuesday, but unlike other students, she walked onto the podium to receive her degree carrying a mattress—the mattress she was raped on.
The incident was alleged to have occurred in her sophomore year in 2012 by one Paul Nungesser. As part of her senior art thesis, Ms Sulkowicz carried that mattress around with her in protest until she graduated, or Nungesser was expelled. Sadly, it was the former which came first.
Ms Sulkowicz’s senior performance project entitled Carry That Weight is powerful, empowering and devastating—a visual metaphor for her pain.
“The past year of my life has really been marked by telling people what happened in that most intimate and private space,” she told Columbia Daily.
“I was raped in my own dorm bed, and since then, that space has become fraught for me. I feel like I’ve carried the weight of what happened since then.”
Ms Sulkowicz filed a complaint against Nungesser in April 2013. Two other women also came forward with similar accusations (though they wished to remain anonymous). Despite this, Nungesser was found “not responsible” in Ms Sulkowicz’s case. Even when a further complaint was launched against the University, as well as with the New York Police Department, nothing changed. In fact, Nungesser has called her performance as a very public, very painful act of bullying.
Many people have been vocal about their support for Ms Sulkowicz, but many more have inundated the internet with dissent, disgust and disbelief. Various articles attack Ms Sulkowicz, some claiming her ordeal is utterly fabricated. In one instance, even Ms Sulkowicz’s Facebook grammar became a source of ridicule. Meanwhile, Nungesser is often characterised as the victim with strong feminist beliefs—because a feminist couldn’t possibly commit a crime.
Proving a crime is important. But how that crime is reacted to is equally important.
The backlash that one woman standing against rape has received is disgusting. This is why most sexual assault crimes are not reported by both male and female victims.. People who have experienced sexual assault are less likely to come forward over fear of ridicule and backlash. Even if somehow miraculously their case manages to reach the courts, they will have to re-experience the trauma through meticulous cross-examinations and confront their attackers.
Rape and sexual abuse is a major issue in our society. Here are some Australian statistics from the Centre of Abuse and Sexual Assault to put it into perspective for you::
- 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men will be sexually abused before the age of 16.
- Only 1 in 6 reports of rape to the police are actually prosecuted.
- 1 in 4 children will experience family violence
Furthermore, according to the Australian Government:
- 57% of women will experience some form of sexual abuse within their lives.
- 75% of male victims and 87.7% of female victims knew their attacker.
In another study by the Australian Government, young males represented the highest portion of male victims—particularly those aged 0-9, and that males aged between 10-14 have an 86 in 100,000 chance of being abused.
These are our men and our women. Our young girls and young boys. And they’re at risk of such an unspeakable thing. This needs to change. Victim blaming needs to change. Prosecution rates of offenders must increase. Education programs must be further instituted into schools from an early age—the cycle of violence and abuse must stop.
So, what can we do about it?
Solutions to curb sexual abuse and domestic violence can be viewed from the same lens, after all, their core is the same: abuse.
Australian of the Year Rosie Batty calls abuse “family terrorism”; and she’s completely right.
“Let’s put it in its context: this is terrorism in Australia,” Ms Batty said.
“If we look at the money that we spend on terrorism overseas, for the slight risk it poses to our society, it is disproportionate completely.”
“Let’s start talking about family terrorism. Maybe then, with the context and kind of language, we will start to get a real sense of urgency.”
Feminist philosopher Claudia Card’s theory of rape as a terrorist institution melds perfectly with Batty’s ideologies. In Card’s 1991 “Rape as a Terrorist Institution”, she explains that rape is used as a deterrence, just like deterrence from a crime is a punishment. Only in this case, the major task of rape is the subordinance and subservience of men to women—abuse can be viewed in the same way.
“Like other terrorisms, rape has two targets: ‘bad girls’ and ‘good girls’, those who are expendable…and those to whom a message is sent by the way of the treatment of the former,” the article reads.
“As reward, they [good girls] are granted ‘protection”. Though Card explains this “protector” may be even more dangerous than a stranger—statistics of victims knowing their abuser significantly support this idea.
Card’s ideologies are somewhat outdated, and also need to include the perspective of male victims, too—but her ideas are still completely valid. For women, abuse sends a message that she is not welcome; that she must tread carefully in life so as to not anger another and risk abuse. For men, due to the stereotypes that men must be strong, it sends the message that they must be quiet, conform or risk further abuse or ridicule.
Our very own legal system impedes productivity in terms of prosecuting abuse. Our adversarial system of innocent until proven guilty often lacks the ability to gain justice; abuse and rape is incredibly difficult to provide evidence for. For crimes to be prosecuted, they must also include two elements: the mens rea (the guilty mind) and the actus reus (the guilty act); if one party believes they are entitled to abuse another, or genuinely believes their actions genuinely aren’t abuse, it becomes very difficult to prove the crime.
A more proactive response is needed to the issue of family and interpersonal terrorism. Rosie Batty believes positive results can be achieved through the federal budget committing more money to long-term prevention and awareness procedures—particularly more Legal Aid. Crisis centres and hotlines must also be funded. What’s the point of having facilities if no one answers the phone? If there’s no room to house victims? If victims cannot afford a lawyer?
The fact of the matter is that things, as they are, clearly are not working. So what are you going to do to promote positive change?
Speak out Australia.
One woman per week is killed by a former or current partner in Australia.
Only nineteen weeks into 2015 , 37 women have suffered violent deaths, 25 of which have led to convictions. Twenty-four times, the culprit was a male—19 of which were either a current, or former, partner of the victim. Australian activist group Destroy the Joint thoroughly investigates each case through their Counting Dead Women campaign.
According to a study by the World Health Organisation, domestic violence affects 30% of women worldwide. This violence can take many forms including:
- Physical battering
- Emotional and psychological abuse
- Financial control
- Sexual abuse
- Spiritual abuse
White Ribbon estimates that within Australia, 1 in 3 women will experience domestic violence within their lives, and as well as 1 in 3 children. Domestic violence is also the principle cause of homelessness for women and their children, and is the leading contributor in death, disability and ill-health in Australian women aged 15-44. This is an epidemic. So why don’t we hear about it? Is it because these are issues in the private sphere, rather than the public? Or is it simply that subconsciously our society accepts the belief that women, and violence against women, is so normative that it is not important.
Are we so desensitised to violence?
The results from a recent campaign survey, The Line, would suggest as much. In this study, 3000 individuals, between the ages of 12-24, were interviewed. The results were extremely concerning:
- 1 in 3 believed “exerting control over someone” is not a form of violence.
- 1 in 4 did not think it was serious if a man, who was normally gentle, slapped his partner when drunk.
- 1 in 6 respondents said women should know their so-called “place”.
- 1 in 4 think it’s normal for men to pressure women into sex.
Compare this to Counting Dead Women: from a young age, we as a society are conditioned, whether it’s subconscious or not, to believe certain things as normal. This must be eradicated, beginning with education programs for young people.
Tina Fang, aged 25, was the first Australian woman to die from this silent, “private” killer; her throat was slashed in an Adelaide hotel room.
Rinabel Tiglao Blackmore, aged 44, died on January 2nd after jumping from a moving car on New Year’s Eve. She did this out of fear from her life from partner Shane Dickinson.
January 17th, 26-year-old Leila Alvi was stabbed in her car in Auburn by her estranged husband, despite having an Apprehended Violence Order.
Fabiana Palhares, aged 34, died in hospital on February 2nd, after her ex-partner attacked her with an axe—she was 10 weeks pregnant. Similarly, on February 28th, Tara Costigan aged 28, was killed with an axe at her home in Calwell by ex-partner Marcus Rappell.
Also on February 28th, 22-year-old Dianne Chi, was found in the boot of her car in Otway Ranges – the body of her partner Paul Phan also found intisde the car. Police are investigating a possible murder suicide.
On March 2nd, Kris-Deann Sharpley aged 27, was heavily pregnant when she was shot dead with her seven-year-old son Jackson by father Derek Sharpley.
March 7th, Prabha Arun Kumar was stabbed to death while walking home from work through Parramatta Park.
These are just 8 of the 37 horrific murders that have already happened. When will the next woman be found dead from domestic violence? It’s only a matter of time.