Category Archives: Advocacy

“I Promise This To You, Sophie Collombet.”

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BY ABBY MAC

It’s an odd and near inexpressible feeling to grieve for someone you didn’t know. A someone who you never met or touched, saw or even spoke to. Many might assume that you are being over-sensitive or just wanting to get in on the “action”; to be part of the community mourning if you grieve for this stranger. But, that’s not true for me.

Sophie Collombet was a young woman who travelled from her home country of France to Australia to study Business at Brisbane’s, Griffith University. On March 27, during the late hours of the night, Sophie Collombet was raped and bashed to death, eventually found by a jogger the next morning, at Kurilpa Park in South Brisbane.

Sophie Collombet

Sophie Collombet

I did not know Sophie or have any relation to Sophie, yet Sophie’s death has ripped my heart apart and an immense flood of grief has taken over my body. Pinpointing the exact reasons for my grief are hard but they vary from imagining the terror Sophie was experiencing in the last minutes to possible hours of her life. The fact that she died alone and near the bank of the ominous, Brisbane River. She died with the Brisbane City nightlife buzzing around her, yet no one could save her. Or mostly, that she died hurting all alone or, very potentially, with her evil offender near her.

Thursday night, along with over a thousand people, I walked in the candle-lit vigil from King George Square to Kurilpa Park to mourn, remember and show strength for Sophie and her family and friends. It was emotional. Tears from strangers was normal and once gathered at the park where Sophie was found, the crowd quietly sung “Amazing Grace” for the woman who was stripped of her life, due to senseless and disgusting violence.

Sophie Vigil

Rest in Peace Sophie – Candle-lit Vigil for Sophie on Thursday Night

Since Sophie’s death, community outrage has grown fierce that Brisbane is not really the safe city precinct which it claims to be on paper. Meena Narayanan, 27, was stabbed to death in Upper Mount Gravatt at the hands of her alleged boyfriend, late last month; Eunji Ban, 22, was a South Korean student studying in Brisbane bashed to death in a Central Brisbane park in November last year and Min Tae Kam, 28, was found in a shallow grave in Algester on December 19, last year.

The records of the above deaths as a result of unprovoked violence, are only some of the deaths which have occurred in Brisbane in the past six months. There are dozens more. What can be identified is that most of the victims are females under 30.

At the vigil for Sophie, I felt such shame as a citizen of Brisbane that just like Eunji Ban, Min Tae Kam and Meena Narayanan – who had all chosen Brisbane to study tertiary education, we had a responsibility to keep them safe. And then I realized, that our responsibility doesn’t just extend to those who come across the seas, but as a city and nation which have a duty to keep all our citizens – whether they be male, female, students, children, the elderly, whoever – safe and not be innocently stripped of their lives.

Many of the deaths have been cases of horrific violence against women committed by absolutely sickening men. The fact about Sophie’s death is that it is not the first of it’s kind, even for Brisbane. Her death was not the first time that a woman was a victim of horrendous violence and yet, our response as a community is similar to the ones before. We mourn, we grieve and we become outraged. We follow the pattern of calling on some sort of justice and methods to fix this violence against women. The same discourse occurred after the terrible tragedy involving Melbourne woman, Jill Meagher, who was raped and then murdered on the 22 September, 2012.

The conversations occurring to stop violence against, in particular, women, involve members of the public calling for more police precence or improved street lighting. Whilst I concede that this form of action is needed and would make some impact, these responses are not the only answers. The increasing cases of violence against women does not have one answer but many, which are hard and not easy. And, that’s very possibly why they aren’t being actioned.

Sophie Collombet’s murderer had an alleged history of mental illness and was homeless at the time, Jill Meagher’s murderer was countlessly released on parole or bail, or served minimum terms for the many incidents where he was convicted of violence against women, including rape. Eunji Ban’s killer, too, has recorded issues with mental health.

What we see is various issues which are already underlying problems in Australian society, yet are not being dealt with, and therefore are having serious and long-term affects in other areas of life. These underlying problems range from poor mechanisms to dealing with mental health, to homelessness, alcohol and drug misuse, unjust sentencing and notably,the perception that violence against women is a second-rate offence.

Again, we can improve lighting and police presence in these risky areas, but until we – as a society – start looking critically at the hard issues facing us, we will continue to see the dreadful ramifications in not only violence against women, but violence against the general community, self-violence, increased suicides and long-term economic effects.

So, I promise this to you, Sophie Collombet. I will never let you have died in vain. Your death and the tragic circumstances involving your death will not go unnoticed and I promise that I will do my very best to change the issues which contributed to your passing. You deserved a hell of a lot more from Brisbane and Australia than what you endured and I promise that I won’t sit in silence. I will yell and scream my loudest until someone else becomes loud with me, and what needs to be changed to prevent deaths like yours, will occur.

This, I promise to you.

Four international students have been killed in Brisbane since November, last year.

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What do you think of the circumstances respecting the death of Sophie Collombet? What about the other deaths in Brisbane? How can we – as a society – handle the problems leading to such violence?

Listen Up. I Deserve to Be Heard.

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BY ABBY MAC

To be honest, I am quite slack at this blogging business. I relish the stages where I want to publish an update everyday and my post-it note wall is spewing with ideas and then there are the miserable phases where I don’t post for months (note: this post is the first one in almost five months). Now, don’t get me wrong. My intermittent periods of posting and then not posting are not driven by my desire to post. Not. At. All.

I always want to post, though at times my want is stronger than at others. The level of my posting is mostly dictated by the time I have available.

Currently, it is holidays so my post rate will quadruple. During school times my posts tend to dwindle off because Growing Pains ever so slowly dwindles to the very bottom of my “To-Do” list and on very, very rare occasions do I reach anywhere close to the end of the list.

However, what always draws be back to this blog is not primarily an abundance of time that I am gifted with. It’s the fact that without this blog I don’t have a voice greater than my home, school or friends. My voice can’t be heard, or it is limited, without this platform which I can vent, rage, embrace, love or call for change. I am constantly brought back to this blog because with Growing Pains, I can be heard by anyone, anywhere and at anytime. And, this excites me and is empowering.

Today, I opened up my computer to write after reading stories such as the refugee who walked free from child kidnapping due to “cultural differences” and saw no time in prison after the molestation of a child. Or, when the hair-removal company, Veet, published ads claiming that an unshaven woman becomes a “man”.

So, whilst I sat and read articles like the above, I became outraged and felt so small. How could I – a young woman who lives in tiny Suburbia and hasn’t yet even had the chance to vote – change all these wrongs which infiltrate our world? Then I realized, not every change-maker has started with a voice which can be heard by the many people who populate our world.

Nelson Mandela did not begin with a voice, Gloria Steinem was not listened to and Martin Luther King Jr was oppressed due to the colour of his skin, but still, these people have all accomplished the greatest of greats and shaped history like few before us.

Gloria Steinem

Gloria Steinem raised her voice for the women’s movement in the 1970s.

I am lucky for the fact that I have this platform – the Internet – to express my opinion and not fear extreme penalty for telling the world.

Now, I vow, that no matter how far down the “To-Do” list my blog sits, I will write. I will write not for fame or money or glory, but because I deserve to be heard and my blog, is where I can be.

How do you use your voice to speak up? Do you sometimes feel silenced?

The Time Is Now. Speak.

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BY ABBY MAC

 

Something exciting happened.  Something very exciting.  I was published on www.mamamia.com.au.  Some of you might not find that as exciting as you thought it was going to be, nonetheless, it was a big deal for me and if you want to read the article (WHICH YOU WILL.  THERE’S NO CHOICE) you can click on this link –

http://www.mamamia.com.au/mamamia-cares/woman-biggest-risk-factor-domestic-violence/

For those of you who haven’t read the post, yet, I will quickly summarise it.   In support of my Mum, I frequently work with her local Zonta Club (an international women’s organization dedicated to aiding women worldwide) for various events and causes.  One of the events was a united walk to advocate ending violence against women.   The event has been and gone, very successfully I might add, however, just because this is the case, it doesn’t mean that conversation should end on domestic violence or my article is no longer relevant.

No in different languages.

“No” means the same thing. Whatever language you speak.

My article, though intended to create awareness for the walk, was based upon providing voices to the women, men and children who are silenced due to domestic violence.  I questioned the value in just walking and how that could possibly stop domestic violence.  The truth is, it didn’t.  But, that wasn’t the reason behind walking.  We walked to show a support network of women and men who were calling on political, social and cultural change to the epidemic that domestic violence is.  We were the people that may not have had the abilities to change laws or authoritative practice, but we were and will continue to be the people who had a voice and decided to get up and use it.  Like we all should.

Using your voice shouldn’t just be limited to domestic violence.  Anything.  Use it for anything you’re passionate about and where horrible wrongs must be ended. I often hear people complaining that they don’t know how to make change.  They haven’t got the resources, public profile or time to try and be heard, they say.  That may be true.  But, what they do have is undeniably the biggest asset one could possess and that is right to their voice.  Unlike the victims of domestic violence, they aren’t being silenced.  The only thing stopping them, or you, is all the reasons which you concoct in your mind to not do something.

A couple of nights ago, I watched a documentary named Girl Rising (http://www.girlrising.com/), which I must say is the most moving and emotional films I have watched.  It shows stories of nine girls who have been empowered or want to be empowered with education.  One of the most startling and incredible facts I learnt is that providing a girl with an education is one of the most rewarding (economically, physically, socially) investments that an individual, government or country can make.  I think that’s quite amazing.

Girl Rising.

Girl Rising.

Listening to both the horrific and heart-warming stories of these girls aged from seven to 15, what I learnt is that these girls were born into countries where they have been subject to evil acts and silenced whether it be due to culture, religion, threats of violence, rape or death, lack of or no education or seemingly no resources to be heard and yet, these girls and many more of them, are speaking out and being listened to.  I sit in Australia, a country rich in resources, where free speech is encouraged, you can be heard in so many mediums from social media to a democratic political stage and yet too many of us sit in silence, or we limit our opinions or desire for change to the dining room table.  Well, to put in bluntly, how very weak, cowardly and just wrong is that of us.  We have education.  We have knowledge.  And we have a voice.

So, get up and use it.

What are you passionate about?  How are you promoting or making change?