#LetHerSpeak: Sexual Assault and Tasmania’s Gag Laws

Article by Linden Peacock

Content warning: this article discusses rape, sexual assault and child abuse. 

In the years since social activist Tarana Burke first used the phrase “Me Too,” the #MeToo movement has empowered people across the world to publicly share their experiences of sexual assault and harassment. However, in two Australian jurisdictions, survivors of sexual assault are prohibited from sharing their stories under their real names.

This was an issue that Grace Tame encountered in 2017 when she approached journalist and activist Nina Funnell to go public with her story. 7 years earlier, at the age of 15, Grace had been groomed and raped by her teacher, Nicolaas Bester. Although Bester, who had been found guilty and sentenced to two years and six months’ jail time, can and has spoken out as he pleases, Grace was warned that she was only able to do so anonymously.

Under Tasmanian law, the anonymity of sexual assault survivors is protected under s 194K of the Evidence Act 2001, which stipulates that a person can only publish something that identifies a victim of sexual crimes with a court order. Courts can only make such orders if they deem the publication to be in the public interest, and publication without a court order is punishable as a contempt of court; in 2012, a Tasmanian newspaper was fined $20 000 newspaper when it published the name of a rape survivor with their consent.1

It is acknowledged by the Tasmania Law Reform Institute that the objective of the law is to ultimately protect survivors of assault, as fear of publicity and the prevalence of stigma are factors in many cases.2  Funnell, who first launched the #LetHerSpeak campaign in November 2018, writes that despite these intentions, “it is deeply disempowering and entirely unjust for sexual assault survivors to be told they are not entitled to use their own name to tell their own story. Relegating survivors to the shadows through anonymity also reinforces stigma and shame.”3

After two years a $10 000 legal bill, Grace has recently become the fourth person in Tasmania to win the right to share her story. “Getting my voice back has been so important for me,” she says.4 However, despite this personal victory, she states that “the law is still in place and other survivors still can’t speak. The fight is far from over. But having come this far I will stop at nothing.”5

Grace continues to work with Funnell to enact law reforms in both Tasmania and the Northern Territory, where gag-laws are still in effect. In April 2019, Tasmania’s Attorney-General, Elise Archer, agreed that the Government will review section 194K to determine if appropriate changes need to be made.

If you have experienced sexual assault, help and support is available. There are a number of services available, which you can find out more about here.