For the first time, Wagga Women's Health Centre hosted a candlelight vigil for survivors of sexual assault on Wednesday.
More than 40 Wagga residents took to the grounds of the Wagga Botanic Gardens to partake in the vigil, which was being held to coincide with the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence.
Proud Wiradjuri woman Aunty Cheryl Penrith was honoured to have led the way for First Nations women at the event. "I'm honoured to have been asked to be involved with the Wagga Women's Health Centre candlelight vigil because First Nations women are at the top of every statistic you can think of," she said.
"It takes courage and it takes spirit to come to events like this. Sexual assault has ripples within our families and our communities and for us women who are patriarchs we have to go around and fix things and get people to step out of the shame and step into the light and tell their truth."
Wagga Women's Health Centre patron Jan Roberts said the event represents an opportunity for women to come together, especially in times of great need.
"Silence is a powerful weapon to be used against women, particularly in the area of sexual violence, [and] with silence comes shame," Ms Roberts said.
"Tonight, we come together to break that silence and stand in solidarity."
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Advocate for acknowledgement and justice in rape and sexual assault Saxon Mullins, who was born in Wagga, was also invited to speak at the event, and there was one message in particular she desperately wanted victims to hear.
"[Many sexual assault survivors] are told by many well-meaning people that their trauma has made them strong or your trauma made you brave," she said.
"I think it's so important to recognise that your trauma did not make you brave, you were already brave and that is how you survived.
"Your trauma did not make you strong, you were already strong, that is how you survived.
"That idea that you needed something terrible to happen to you so that you could become the person that you are is absolute rubbish because you didn't need that trauma, you needed to be protected and you weren't.
"Recognising that is power and taking back your own emotions is power."
Ms Mullins said it is important survivors take the time to heal by acknowledging what they feel.
The candlelight vigil may have been the first to have taken place, but it will not be the last as the centre plans of holding the event annually.
- If you or someone you know needs help, contact 1800RESPECT or the Sexual Assault Crisis Line on 1800 806 292.
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