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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2021 Week 03 Hansard (Wednesday, 31 March 2021) . . Page.. 724 ..

My initial reaction was to feel ill-placed to comment on the assault of women by men. But as a man with a position of influence and as a representative of over 35,000 women it is my responsibility to support systemic change to the places and spaces in which women in our community experience violence, oppression and discrimination. Unfortunately and heartbreakingly, it has been evidenced that these spaces and places include but are certainly not limited to our houses of parliament.

As a queer man and somebody who has experienced sexual assault, I have a complex and close relationship with the issue of gendered violence. While in the significant minority, men who experience sexual assault are at significant risk of social isolation and mental health issues due to fear of ridicule and shame. Services such as Canberra Rape Crisis Centre’s service assisting male survivors of sexual assault are vital to ensuring that these men are supported to tell their stories and work through and with their experiences.

Sexual violence in the queer community is rarely spoken about, but it is prevalent and it is most definitely influenced by gender. People who are gay, bi or lesbian experience intimate partner violence at similar rates to the general community, yet our experiences and our relationships are so rarely represented in the public conversation or policy responses to gendered violence.

There is little research into the experiences of sexual assault by trans and gender-diverse people. However, a 2018 study by the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales found that trans men, trans women, and non-binary people are experiencing sexual assault at four times the rate of cisgender women. This is a particularly poignant point today on the International Transgender Day of Visibility.

A local piece of research on the experiences of queer women in Canberra, undertaken by the Women’s Centre for Health Matters and Meridian ACT in 2018, found that 62 per cent of queer women have experienced domestic, family and sexual violence in their lifetime. Underlying the importance of a nuanced system response to the needs of queer people, one participant is quoted in the report as saying:

I’ve never felt safe to disclose my experiences of childhood and adult sexual abuse, and domestic violence, or my sexual orientation. No health professional has ever seemed even remotely aware that either could be a factor, or what long term physical and mental health implications can follow. No awareness at all of the differing general or sex specific health needs of queer/lesbian/bi women … not even my female gynaecologist is that sensitive. They never say or ask anything that gives you a hint that it would be ok to disclose to them without being more traumatised by their response. That combined with heteronormative at best or homophobic at worst makes the whole thing a tightrope.

As this woman explains, homophobia, transphobia and heterosexism affect the experiences of and responses to intermate partner violence in the LGBTQIA+ populations. As a feminist, I am deeply moved by the stories that have been told over the last few years and particularly moved by the stories I have heard from my colleagues in the past few days. Sitting in this chamber the past few days, listening to the strong, courageous women who I serve with, makes it very difficult for me to understand how anybody can make a living as an empathy consultant.

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