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Shedding Silent Tears for women whose lives are shattered by violence

Violence against women and girls with a disability is a hidden epidemic in Australia, with more than 70% percent of women with disability have been victims of violent sexual encounters at some time in their lives. A new exhibition, Silent Tears, spotlights the stories behind the devastating statistics of violence endured by women and girls with disability in Australia.

Internationally renowned human rights photographer Belinda Mason unveiled Silent Tears exhibition at the prestigious Ballarat International Foto Biennale, in the same week as a Senate Inquiry report Domestic Violence in Australia recognised the systemic failings and shortcomings.

The month-long exhibition bears witness to the human faces of the statistics featured in the Report, and more broadly from national advocacy groups for gender based violence:

  • Women with disability are 40% more likely to be victims of domestic violence than women without disability;
  • 20% of women with disability report a history of unwanted sex compared to 8.2% of women without disability;
  • Rates of sexual victimisation of women with disability range from four to ten times higher than for other women;
  • 90% of Australian women with an intellectual disability have been subjected to sexual abuse; and
  • One woman in three has experienced physical violence, since the age of 15.

Silent Tears was chosen by the Biennale organisers for its powerful and provocative insight into the impact of gender violence and discrimination on women with disability. Using saturated water to symbolise the streams of tears that survivors have silently endured, it features 12 Australian women’s haunting stories of disability and violence.

Silent Tears is the result of three artist’s exploration of 12 women’s stories using a variety of photographic techniques and multi-media. Led by Mason, and supported by artists Dieter Kiernan (video) and Margherita Coppolino (documentary photography), audiences are immersed in the participant’s experiences to stimulate a deeper understanding of the diversity of violence, discrimination and survival.

“The power of Silent Tears lies in the hands of those who participate in it. Without stories there is silence. Without stories told, we are voiceless. Without our stories heard, we are invisible. It is even harder when the stories are hard to hear and impossible to imagine,” said Belinda Mason.

Some of Silent Tears’ participants have acquired a disability as a consequence of violence – brain injury, psychological trauma and PTSD. The exhibition tells a powerful and compelling story of physical, emotional, economic, and cultural violence, as well as forced sterilisation, psychological trauma, neglect, as well as violence within institutions and at the hands of family members.

“Photography has a well-regarded role for bringing the plight of silent victims into focus, providing a powerful opportunity for understanding and action. Bearing witness to the realities of these twelve women’s lives should be uncomfortable and challenging for audiences,” said Ms Mason.

An expanded version of the exhibition, including international female participants from more than 15 countries, will be exhibited at the United Nations in Geneva in March 2016 with the support of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disability.

Silent Tears is proudly supported by the Women with Disabilities Australia, People with Disability, Australia Council and

This story and its attachments include depictions and graphic accounts of violence towards women. If you require support please contact 1800 737 732 to access counselling delivered by qualified, experienced professionals 24-hours a day, seven days a week, from the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service