In May last year author Tara Moss spoke on national television about the reality of being victim to sexual violence. In her book The Fictional Woman Moss wrote, for the first time, about being sexually assaulted in her 20s.
"What I found was that when you're talking about the experience of women and girls there are fictions that we hold that things like sexual violence happen to other people," she said on ABC's Q & A program.
"I'm someone who wants to be speaking out and becoming an advocate for some of these issues for women and girls. I really felt like I couldn't talk about some of these issues for women and girls without talking about sexual violence and I couldn't talk about sexual violence without putting my hand up and showing solidarity with other victims of crime and saying. 'I'm one of you'."
Moss was described as "brave" for having made the disclosure.
"They don't tell you that at the time. They don't tell you you're brave, you're a role model, that you've survived something. They often tell you that you should be silent. They tell you that it's your fault. They tell you that you were asking for it, that you did something wrong."
It was a powerful message and one that resonated widely. Shortly after her appearance on Q & A, Karen Willis from Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia got in touch.
"I was aware of Karen Willis, we had met previously, and it was wonderful getting a letter from her reaching out and offering support," Moss says. It was the start of an important conversation that has led to Moss being appointed Patron of The Full Stop Foundation, a new initiative from R & DVSA to support programs to prevent sexual assault and domestic violence, being launched in NSW Parliament today.
"We are finally having a public conversation about domestic violence and we can thank Rosie Batty for her unprecedented ability to reach the public and we have to seize this moment of raised awareness to stop the violence," Moss says. "Whilst awareness of sexual assault and domestic violence is raised the violence itself hasn't stopped. This is the next step. It's about prevention. Stopping the violence full stop."
It's no simple task but it's a challenge we must meet.
One of the most critical services that R&DVS Australia provides is the 1800 RESPECT phone line. It is free and available to any person and is staffed by professionals trained in trauma counselling.
"I wasn't aware of the 1800 RESPECT free counselling hotline and it struck me that I was aware of other important helplines – like the Kids helpline and Beyond Blue," Moss says. "But the specific hotline for people who have experienced sexual assault or domestic violence was one I wasn't aware of."
After disclosing her personal experience of sexual assault, hundreds and hundreds of Australians have opened up to Tara about their own experiences. Being able to direct them to an experienced professional is critical, because opening up to a friend or reaching out to an author won't necessarily be enough.
"They have 40 years of experience in this area which is no small thing. They are at the coal face," Moss says. "The service is vital. I have already heard back from so many people that it's saved them in a very dark moment."
Last year the 1800 RESPECT hotline answered about 50,000 calls but thousands of calls went unanswered.
"We absolutely need 1800 Respect fully funded so that every person gets their call answered when they are brave enough to make it," Moss says. "Every call is answered by a top end professional which is necessary because it can be a matter of life and death."
In addition to ensuring that the service is adequately funded so that every single call is answered, The Full Stop Foundation is determined to stop the violence in the first place by implementing evidence-based primary prevention programs that will change the violent attitudes and behaviours that lead to sexual assault and domestic violence.
Having spent 40 years working with women experiencing the trauma of sexual assault and domestic violence, no organisation is likely to understand the enormity of this challenge more intimately than Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia. Equally, no organisation is better placed to know and lead in this regard.
The Full Stop programs include supporting women who are already taking a stand against violence, challenging gender-based violence in workplaces and changing violent behaviours.
"It's not easy and it's not going to happen over night but it is what we need to invest in so that all Australians can live without the threat of violence."
If you would like to support the Full Stop Foundation please donate here.