An amazing trip
I recently returned from a lengthy speaking tour which took me to Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide and New Zealand. I addressed schools, women’s conferences, youth groups, health and wellbeing events and The Mask You Live In. In New Zealand I was a guest of TEARFund, speaking on what I call ‘Everyday Trafficking’ –the links between sexualisation of girls and the global trade in their bodies. I addressed awareness and fundraising events to help raise money for organisations working in prevention, rescue, prosecution and rehabilitation, including Hagar International.
I had a profound time especially with students in the public and private schools I visited. What I especially noticed on this trip was how a pornified world was impacting now on very young girls. I was asked questions about how to deal with sexual harassment, pressure to send sexual images and provide sexual favours, by girls as young as 12 years old. One cried as she described the impact of receiving unsolicited pornographic videos from a group of boys. In one school I met two 15 year olds who had been gang raped. I fear things are getting worse, and they’re getting worse younger.
But it really was a remarkable trip and every day I woke up thinking – how am I so fortunate to do this work? Laura Pintur, 23, who led our successful Zoo campaign, travelled with me, inspiring young people to see that they too can make a difference in the world. Here are some photos:
First week of the NSW, SA, New Zealand tour – about to address girls at St Patrick’s Campbelltown with Laura Pintur
With the boys at Kings Baptist Grammar School, SA
Privileged to address the inspiring girls at Wilderness School SA
Great session with girls at Kildare College SA
With the Year 5 + 6′s at St Peters Lutheran Primary School SA
St Peters Lutheran Primary SA
With some of the year 11 and 12 girls I addressed at Seymour College SA
My final gig at the end of two weeks in SA – Our Lady of the Sacred Heart – quick pic with some of the girls.
A great night speaking for Tearfund NZ at Crossroad Mangatangi about how the sexualisation of girls is fueling the global sex trade
With (L-R) Anna Roberts from Nvader, Laura Pintur and Sarah Scott Webb from Hagar, in Christchurch building awareness about the global sex trade for Tear Fund New Zealand.
Passion ignited: how I’m going to use my trauma to work for change for girls
This is one of the most moving responses I have received following an engagement in a school. Thank you Melanie – you make it all worthwhile.
Dear Melinda, I am a staff member at *** College… I am 21 years old, and currently studying full time … I have also recently returned from a trip to India where I worked with women who have been trafficked into sex slavery, so much of what you said today hit very close to home.
I heard the first half of your talk with Year 9 students this afternoon (unfortunately I had to leave early), and I must say, I learnt as much during those forty minutes as I’ve learnt in perhaps a year of my degree. Studying academic theories is an important part of understanding how we come to inhabit and process the world around us. However, seeing those theories represented practically, through advertising and popular culture, truly drives the message home, and that is what personally happened for me today. I came to fully realise that, although the status of women has advanced significantly over the last century, women in the 21st Century face entirely new challenges and obstacles.
I was not among your target audience today. Therefore, I can imagine, if I was affected as profoundly as I was, how powerful you and Laura’s message was for the girls to hear. It seems like only yesterday that I was their age, sitting in that very auditorium myself, listening to guest speakers and wishing that they would speed things along so that we could snatch an early minute for lunch. No one was wanting to snatch an early minute today. Unfortunately, the vast majority of females know what it feels like to be degraded and objectified in some way.
My personal experience of grooming, sexual abuse and subsequent eating disorders has ignited my own passion for combating this issue, and empowering young women to defend their rights and develop a sturdy sense of self-worth, so that they never feel as though they are incomplete people who need a man to fulfill them. I believe that everything happens for a reason… perhaps, I endured trauma so that I could empathise with the struggles of others. If this truly is my life’s purpose, it is both my greatest blessing, and my greatest challenge. It is difficult to inspire others when you yourself lack inspiration, or feel as though your voice is silenced.
The very nature of abuse, or any form of oppression, as I’m sure you know, is that the victim loses their ability to speak. Overcoming this hurdle remains difficult, as I live in fear of the man who perpetrated the abuse, and it is only now that I am beginning to tell people of my experience. It is only now that I am realising that the shame is not mine to carry – the burden of shame sits upon the shoulders of the man who committed terrible acts, knowing full well that he is protected by a patriarchal society which sexualises girls and young women and blames the victim. Perhaps, had I heard your presentation while I was still at school and before my abuse began, I would have been more prepared and knowledgeable, or known how to recognise these manipulative behaviour and been empowered to speak out. I have driven myself mad with, “could have,” “would have,” and, “should have’s” for years, but I know that this thinking, too, is reinforced by a society in which women, according to the legal system and media, control the actions of a depraved predator.
Hearing you and Laura speak today has had a significant impact on me, because it has empowered me and reminded me of why I do what I do. It has helped me to realise that I am indeed on the right path. I feel comforted in knowing that I do not stand alone; that there are women who are actively doing something to ensure that females of all ages are protected, and that those responsible for the gross sexualisation of women are held accountable. It has filled me with promise for my own future. I hope to be as passionate an advocate as you, Laura and the many other strong women who are fighting to secure equality and justice, and who are helping those in need to not only find, but to own their voice and their right to use it.
Some people believe that equality starts and ends with voting rights and equal pay. But it goes so far beyond this. It starts with voting rights and equal pay, and it doesn’t end until women can stop organising their daily commute around when the sun will set at night. It doesn’t end until people stop asking the victim, “What were you wearing?” It doesn’t end until a victim of rape or abuse feels that she can speak and be listened to, rather than speak and be silenced. Once again, thank you for filling me with inspiration and empowering me to continue on the path I am taking. It is days like this which make me proud to be female, despite the risks that just being female entails. I feel privileged to have heard you speak and I hope you truly realise the power of your words and advocacy in planting the seed of change and helping women on their own journeys of recovery. I wish you all the best and hopefully we will meet in the future at some point.
Kind Regards, Melanie.
MTR talks sexual exploitation and trafficking on Radio New Zealand National
Listen to the interview