In under two years she had gone from “feeling trapped and silenced” after her sexual assault, to putting her trauma into words, then sharing it live with the nation; it was a whirlwind journey that left little space for healing and plenty of room for her to be retraumatised.
“I thought I was strong enough and that I was resilient enough, but maybe I can't do it. Maybe it's too much,” she recalls thinking.
But it was the desire to reclaim her own voice, her art and create a cultural moment for other survivors that drove her forward as she stepped out on to the stage to perform the song live last month.
And when the final notes of “Little Fires” played and Jonze broke down in tears on stage, something incredible happened; the audience stood up and cheered her name in a deafening standing ovation.
Meanwhile on Twitter and Instagram, fans and people who had never heard of Jaguar Jonze were spreading footage of the live performance like the very fires Jonze sings about. The cultural moment she had hoped for was happening.
It was a moment of “empathy, compassion, understanding and intimacy” for Jonze, and above all else, one of solidarity with her and other survivors of sexual assault.
It was also proof that her voice – though it had been silenced before – was ringing out loud and clear across Australian communities and echoing through the very foundations of this country’s music industry.
It’s something Jonze has been working towards for years now as an outspoken advocate for accountability around sexual abuse and harassment in the music industry, not only because of her own assault, but because of the thousands of other stories like hers.
“I've been suffering this trauma and abuse for a long time. But it's only now in the last two, three years that I'm advocating for change because I'm finding strength and power in my own platform, artistry and voice,” she explains.
Though being a public advocate can be deeply emotionally and mentally taxing, Jonze says it’s made her feel less alone knowing that so many people look to her as an example and an inspiration.
“I have had so much outreach and connection that it makes me feel like what I'm doing is not only for myself, but for others too,” Jonze says, adding that public representation is so important when it comes to complex social issues.
A queer Taiwanese-Australian born in Japan, she represents an intersection of womanhood, race and sexuality that isn’t often seen in public conversations about issues like sexual assault, despite the fact that these issues disproportionately affect people from marginalised groups.
But Jonze says “it’s sad that it's put on survivors to create this change and to raise awareness. We need [to hear] that lived experience to understand what has been happening [in the industry], but then we actually need incredible leadership to take that precious story … and to do something with it.”
She calls for stronger leadership on issues like sexual abuse and harassment in Australia, both to take the pressure off public survivors and to implement genuine, lasting change.
But that’s easier said than done in the local music industry, which is an already fragmented environment built on decades-old power structures that allow - and in some cases even encourage - harassment and misuse of power.
WATCH: Chanel Contos shares her story on The Project. Story continues after video.
With no overarching watchdogs or governing bodies that can implement industry-wide policies, the onus is on individuals in the Australian music space to make change happen.
Jonze's efforts helped get a long-awaited review into the Australian music industry's culture of discrimination and sexual harassment off the ground, but the investigation still needs people to come forward with their stories and experiences.
While it’s a step in the right direction, there’s still a long road ahead of Jonze and so many other advocates and survivors working for change.
“It's really hard to try and implement change … this is just the first step in raising awareness and being open to having conversations, then coming together as an industry to reform,” she says, adding that the years it took to get here have left her “fatigued, exhausted and retraumatised”.
When so much of your advocacy and art is built on the foundations of one of the most traumatic experiences of your life, it can feel impossible to genuinely heal and process every time the wound of your sexual assault is reopened – and in the public eye, no less.
Confessing that she “didn’t have healthy boundaries” when she first took her place as a public advocate, Jonze says she’s had to learn how to take care of herself, even when that means stepping back from the causes she’s so passionate about for a moment.
“I always give to others before I give to myself. And I think it's really important when you embark on that journey of advocacy … that you don't forget to give back to yourself. Self-care is so important in advocacy,” she says.
Jonze urges other young people to take care of themselves when they wade into the waters of political and social causes, something thousands of her fans have done since first hearing “Little Fires”.
The song will likely be part of her setlist when she heads out on tour later this year and Jonze hopes that performing to the people who mean the most to her – her fans – will help her continue on her journey of reclaiming her voice.
Many of the young women in the crowds when she performs will also be survivors of sexual harassment or assault; a 2018 study showed that 72 per cent of Australians have experienced sexual harassment.
For them, Jonze has this message: “[I’m] singing on behalf of many people like me, or who have not yet started their healing journey... it is possible to move beyond the grief and the trauma and to claim back the power. I just hope that in this song, they can find that power for themselves.”
She sounds determined and powerful, but confesses the reality of having a crowd sing “Little Fires” back to her on tour this year may well make her “crumble” all over again. But healing isn’t linear, and for Jonze the power of knowing how many other ‘little fires’ she’s inspired makes it all worth it.
Tickets for the Bunny Mode Australian tour are on sale now.
If you or someone you know has been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, help is always available. Call 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit their website.
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