The initial thought behind this sexual assault resource pack was inspired by two Somali-Canadian women, Habon Ali and Asmaa Ali who during the #Somalitoo movement took it upon themselves to create a similar resource. It got me to explore some of the options and services that are available in my state of South Australia and slowly I started to organise some of the information into a PDF file. I figured it could save people the trouble of having to spend hours on the internet figuring out what services are available to them. This kind of information could be useful to all residents in South Australia and it’s better to have some common knowledge about sexual assault and be proactive about it because unfortunately, anyone could fall victim to it.
The Somali community in South Australia is very small and I already knew there wouldn’t be any sexual assault services created by our community for our community. This is definitely an area we can improve on in the near future as we move forward. It would benefit us all if we had a trained professional from the Somali Community Council of South Australia working to actively dismantle the stigma around sexual violence whilst also helping people navigate mainstream services. There are many people in our community who are either new to Australia or aren’t proficient in the English language which can make knowing and accessing culturally appropriate mainstream services even more challenging. It’s our shared responsibility to work towards creating a culturally appropriate service for our community and making sure no one is left behind to battle the trauma that accompanies sexual assault alone. The greater African community in South Australia does not seem to have sexual assault services or resources that all Africans can access. There are few services that deal with domestic and family violence such as the Migrant Women’s Support Group and the PEACE program run by Relationships Australia. However, these services don’t necessarily focus on helping people heal from sexual violence-related traumas. One of the few services that can help with this is STTARS which is an organisation that works with people from refugee backgrounds by supporting survivors of trauma and torture.
I was really hoping that the greater Muslim community in South Australia had overtime established some kind of service that we can all access. We have Muslim associations, Islamic centres/societies, masjids, faith leaders and yet none of them from what I have gathered address sexual violence openly. This is not a criticism but an unfortunate realisation that sexual violence is attached with a stigma that plaques all our communities. Faith leaders have a responsibility to build a network of support since the trauma from sexual violence can deeply impact a person’s connection to their faith and community. For some people, their faith is also deeply connected to their healing process which is why support from the community is absolutely crucial. Any Muslim should feel comfortable and safe to go to the imam at their local masjid, share their experience and feel assured that appropriate support and referral will be provided. There are many mainstream services that could provide training and education around sexual violence to faith leaders so they can better help victims and survivors of sexual violence in their community. I understand it can be difficult to talk about such a heavy topic during congregations but our silence dismisses the actions of perpetrators and suffocates the voices of survivors. Both perpetrators and survivors are amongst us in congregations and as a community, we need to openly show our support to survivors and condemn the actions of preparators.
In 2018, a project was run in Boston, USA called the ‘Pieces of A Bigger Picture’. A resource pack was developed to help faith leaders support victims of sexual violence as well as ways they can address it during congregations. It would be interesting to see this kind of project be implemented at local masjids in Adelaide so that the Muslim community as a whole can benefit from it.
I’ve been writing about this topic all month and I’m sure some of you might be wondering why I’m taking this particular issue so seriously. Thankfully, I don’t have any lived experiences of sexual assault and may Allah (SWT) keep us all safe but the following statistics are simply too shocking for me to ignore.
■ “Intimate partner violence is the third greatest health risk factor for women aged 25-44, with the first being childhood abuse and neglect.” – ourwatch.org.au
■ “Young women (18–24 years) experience significantly higher rates of physical and sexual violence than women in older age groups” – ourwatch.org.au
As a young woman living in Australia, I see myself, my sisters and my friends in these statistics. To put the reality of the situation into perspective, violence against women, in particular, is very widespread in Australia. It has gotten to the point where we have ‘The National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010 – 2022’ and we don’t seem to be making drastic improvements. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 1 in 6 women and 1 in 16 men fall victim to sexual violence by a current or previous cohabiting partner. In fact, 16% of women have experienced sexual violence from a male they know and often it’s a previous cohabiting partner. Somali women, African women and Muslim women of all nationalities aren’t immune to these statistics.
The fact that women in my community are shamed and feel pressured to deal with such a traumatic experience alone, angers me. The fact that the Somali community has been settled in South Australia for over 30 years and have not established any kind of service is not only disappointing but a clear illustration of our misplaced priorities. The fact that we don’t have access to services that are designed for the greater Muslim community is also disappointing. People sometimes forget that our Islamic faith has a very holistic approach to dealing with things such as healing from trauma which mainstream services & counsellors can sometimes fail to understand. This is why I urge all of us to do better and I’m extending an invitation to anyone willing to collaborate with me to create the change we need to see in our communities. Every change that was ever made started with an idea and someone taking initiative. I don’t have all the knowledge and resources to create the kind of service I’m talking about but I do have the vision and willingness to enact change in my community.
Make sure to leave your comments and I’ll be sure to get back to you.
Until then, take care of yourselves and stay safe.