Ursula Benstead

SlutWalk Melbourne 2011: Ursula Benstead

Ursula BensteadUrsula is a counsellor/advocate with WestCASA. WestCASA is one of the 16 Centres Against Sexual Assault across Victoria and it aims to facilitate the healing of victim/survivors of sexual assault and work towards the elimination of sexual violence in our society.  Ursula also works as a psychologist in private practice providing counselling, individual and group clinical supervision and training.

Transcript of SlutWalk Melbourne Speech (28 May 2011):
Hello, I’m Ursula Benstead a counsellor/advocate with the Western Region Centre Against Sexual Assault (WestCASA) and a psychologist in private practice. I have come here today with my friends, workmates, my husband and my son to say enough is enough!Here in Australia almost I in 5 women report experiencing sexual assault since the age of 15 and the figure is thought to be higher for childhood sexual assault. Men and boys are sexually assaulted to, but not nearly as frequently as girls and women. Because more than 90% of sex offenders are male and more than 80% of victims are female we need to focus on the issue of male sexual violence towards women.

I have counselled survivors of sexual assault for 15 years and the pain and destruction I have witnessed is indescribable. But what is really hard to bear is the victim blaming that the brave women I see experience.

It has to stop. We need to be addressing the attitudes in society that have lead us to say to girls it is your responsibility not to get sexually assaulted rather than focusing on why men think they can sexually assault, usually with few or no consequences.

Every week at WestCASA we are faced with a long list of new priority referrals. We don’t have the resources to see them all. We then have to prioritise the priorities. Who is more in need of support? The 12 year old who was raped last week by her 20 year old cousin but has some family support or the 17 year old who is now homeless because she ran away from home to escape her step fathers nightly rapes or… well I could go on and on….you get the picture.

Another thing I’d like to point out is that the majority of women we see are sexually assaulted as young children in their flannelette pyjamas or are women who have been raped by their x-partners whilst doing the dishes in their track suit. It’s not about the clothing or behaviour of the victim it’s about power and control. The responsibility lies with the perpetrator and society and it’s institutions that implicitly and sometimes explicitly support victim blaming. Our culture of victim blaming also stops many women from speaking up about sexual assault to friends, family and the police.

So that’s why I’m here at the slutwalk. The word slut is used as a weapon to insult, hurt, shame, blame and denigrate girls and women. I know there is a lot of mixed feeling out there about calling this protest against victim blaming a slut walk – but really, if it creates a world wide dialogue that throws the spotlight on victim blaming, misogyny and social justice and it involves people who have never really thought about these issues before – then that’s got to be a good thing.

The last thing I would like to say is that I am a feminist and proud to call myself a feminist. I’m saying this because the word feminism like the word slut has become a dirty word that it seems people, even women, want to avoid.

Feminism is generally misrepresented and misunderstood. The principle at the core of all feminist philosophy is that women and men are entitled to the same rights and opportunities. Including the right to not be sexually assaulted, the right not to be blamed for being sexually assaulted the right to wear what they like and the right to express their sexuality how they like. Women’s rights are human rights.

It is dangerous to think that equality has been achieved and there is no longer a need for feminist action. If that were true we would not be here today and WestCASA would not be swamped every week with calls from women and girls who have been sexually assaulted who may have to wait 6 months for counselling because we cannot keep up with the demand for our services.

Thank you

– Ursula Benstead, 2011

For further reading, we recommend Ursula’s piece; ‘The Shark Cage’: the use of metaphor with women who have experienced abuse (Psychotherapy in Australia, Vol 17 No 2. February 2011)