Three unremarkable buildings in Launceston, Burnie and Devonport are the setting of a workplace fighting to give voice to the voiceless.
Sexual assault survivor support organisation Laurel House has been providing support for victim-survivors in Tasmania since 1986.
Empowering victim-survivors of sexual assault has been their only goal for over 30 years and now, amid a national movement championing the voices of those survivors, the organisation feels like it can help bring about a seismic shift in societal attitudes.
"Through Brittany Higgins and through Grace Tame, particularly for Tasmania, people have been given a voice," Laurel House acting team manager Suzanne Hart said.
Being Tasmanian we feel connected to her. People will ring through [to the support line] and actually use her name.Suzanne Hart, Laurel House acting team manager
Ms Hart said alongside the voices of Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins was the encouragement for victim-survivors that came from the Me Too movement.
"One of the big catalysts has been MeToo. That was incredibly important and continues to be incredibly important and I don't think our voices would have been as strong today if that hadn't happened," she said.
The combined forces of powerful women on a national and international stage voicing their fight and struggles as victim-survivors of sexual assault has brought about a shift in the social paradigm.
Coupled with an observed increase in historic sexual assaults reported for the first time in the wake of the Tasmanian government's Commission of Inquiry into the Tasmanian Government's Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Institutional Settings, never a day goes by where everyone at Laurel House is not reminded of the importance of their work.
From that shift, Laurel House has experienced an increase in victim-survivors letting their voices be heard through the service.
The Laurel House counsellors see on average four clients a day, and across each centre over the past couple of months, an average of 50 clients had received some form of counselling.
An increase in sexual assault service users has been widely reported in the wake of Grace Tame's triumphant National Press Club address and while her triumph has been celebrated the reality of its reverberative effect is stark.
Ms Hart said in 2021 there had been a spike in forensic medical examinations - those which are carried out after a sexual assault.
Though the forensic examination is a reminder of the injustice of sexual assault, an increase may actually reflect the empowerment of victim-survivors drawing a line in the sand after an assault.
New Laurel House chief executive Kathryn Fordyce said the underlying empowerment coming from Ms Tame and Ms Higgins was vital.
"What's really powerful about what Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins have done is really wholly and squarely said 'it's not my fault, it's the perpetrator's fault' and people can stand up and say, 'I've been sexually assaulted and I'm a survivor and there is no shame in that experience'," she said.
Ms Fordyce had recently joined Laurel House after a background across a number of allied health fields - specifically speech pathology.
The timing of her appointment, with an increasing need for the Laurel House service, is compounded by her effervescence and apparent drive to maintain the solid foundations laid over the past 30 years and consolidated more recently.
My philosophy very much in my life is about resting equality and ensuring everybody has a voice.Kathryn Fordyce, Laurel House chief executive
"In the years that I've worked there has been an increasing voice for people with disability ... and what's been really empowering to see is the increasing voice of victim-survivors within the [sexual assault] field and an increasing focus on people with lived experience, their voice being heard and influencing the service."
While speech pathology on face value may seem a world away from the sensitivities of sexual assault, there is an earnest poetic comparison between the two.
"I'm a speech pathologist by trade and with that lens of ensuring people have the skills they need to advocate for their own rights and to have their voices heard has always underpinned [my career]," Ms Fordyce said.
"Whether that's sitting down and running a speech therapy session that supports someone to do that, or it's at a more systemic level in terms of making sure people that don't have a voice do have a voice, that drives everything I do."
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Ms Fordyce's effervescence no doubt maintains a feeling of excitement about the importance of the service in the corridors of Laurel House.
For all of Ms Fordyce's resolution, Ms Hart maintains a certainty and likeminded determination in her own role.
Disability Project officer Kim Atkins resembles something of a caring and selfless friend who has had enough but finds a way to channel her energy into something constructive.
Her empathy, like that of Ms Fordyce and Ms Hart is met with a steely resolve.
Despite the national conversation about sexual assault that continues to build momentum, Ms Atkins is firm about Laurel House being a building block towards that conversation.
And rather than the service capitalising on the movement, she said it was one of the pillars that held it up and is enabling it to grow.
"[The national conversation] is about recognition for what Laurel House has been doing rather than something new or being buoyed by something new," Ms Atkins said.
It's almost a relief or affirmation that these are real issues where real progress can be made.Kim Atkins, Laurel House Disability Project officer
"We just need the whole community to get behind victim-survivors and get behind Laurel House ... and recognise [sexual assault] for what it is and say, 'we're with you on this'."
For Ms Atkins, and Laurel House, the affirmation that victim-survivors of sexual assault are important and should be encouraged to share their story is integral to everything they do.
The service is in place to support those people to find their voice and feel safe to share it and work through all the struggles that come with it.
While a working day at Laurel House might start at nine in the morning and involve education or counselling across Devonport, Burnie, Launceston, Scottsdale, George Town, Beaconsfield, or whatever area is in need, the role of the organisation extends far beyond the confines of a traditional nine-to-five work setting.
Evidenced by the passion and fortitude Ms Fordyce, Hart and Atkins express through their roles, the team at Laurel House resting victims-survivors of sexual assault on their shoulders and supporting them towards finding their own voices be it like Grace Tame or within themselves to work towards empowerment.
- 24/7 Support Hotline Statewide: 1800 697 877
- Northern Tasmania: (03) 6334 2740
- North West Tasmania: (03) 6431 9711
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