A Queensland sexual assault helpline has recorded a staggering increase in calls over two months amid the national conversation about sexual assault.
Domestic violence crisis counselling and support service DVConnect recorded a 36 per cent increase in calls between January 21 and February 21 and a 42 per cent surge in the month to March 21 on its statewide sexual assault helpline, which provides free and confidential counselling and support.
It comes after Converge International, a national workplace employee assistance program, recorded a 62 per cent increase in calls to a workplace counselling service on sexual discrimination and harassment in just two weeks last month.
Converge International director Cate Page said the service was still experiencing a higher level of calls for support.
Sexual assault and harassment have dominated media coverage for weeks since survivor Grace Tame was named Australian of the Year and Brittany Higgins alleged she was raped in Parliament House.
In February, former Sydney private school student Chanel Contos started a viral petition to improve sexual consent education, prompting thousands of students to anonymously reveal their own experiences online.
The federal government has since announced it will revamp sexual consent education in schools and the Queensland government is currently reviewing its sexual consent education curriculum.
DVConnect chief executive Beck O’Connor said, despite the fact one in five Australian women and one in 20 men experienced sexual assault since the age of 15, nine in 10 women did not contact police.
Ms O’Connor said many worried their experiences would not be taken seriously or that they would face repercussions either personally, professionally or from the perpetrator.
However, she said, victims were buoyed by large crowds protesting against gendered violence at March 4 Justice rallies across the country.
Ms Page said it was awful that sexual discrimination and assault were occurring in the workplace, but it was encouraging that women felt they could come forward.
“The cause of it is very much due to the conversations … starting with Brittany Higgins and some of the conversations we have heard, and it’s given women permission to speak about some of their experiences,” she said.
“Anecdotally, we’ve also seen quite a lot of older women calling through.
“And while they’ve been relieved and grateful that these conversations have been starting to happen … there’s a sense of grief that they were unable to tell their stories of sexual harassment and sexual assault historically.”
Ms Page also said that the conversation could be triggering for some women due to their experiences.
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