In November last year, along with many other media outlets, we told the horrific story of Grace Tame. But we couldn’t use her name. We had to call her Jane Doe.
Now, almost two years after she decided to share her story, and nine years after she was repeatedly sexually abused by her 58-year-old high school maths teacher in Tasmania, her identity can be revealed.
Her name is Grace Tame and she is now 24.
— Nina Funnell (@ninafunnell) August 12, 2019
The abuse and grooming started when she was 15 and suffering from anorexia, depression and bullying. When she was 16 she reported the abuse to her school and then the police before proceeding through the criminal justice system.
Nicolaas Ockert Bester pleaded guilty and went to jail for the crime. He also later re-offended by producing child exploitation material and went back to jail.
In 2017, when Grace was aged 22, Tame decided she wanted to tell her story publicly and she reached out to survivor advocate and journalist Nina Funnell to help her do that.
“When I first met her in 2017 Grace was at a point in her life where everyone else could comment on her case but her,” Funnell told Women’s Agenda. “Journalists had written things, her perpetrator had been giving interviews and she was afforded no right of reply. She couldn’t speak.”
— Our Watch (@OurWatchAus) August 12, 2019
But Grace didn’t just want to speak up to reclaim some agency.
“She wanted to take what was a very traumatic set of experiences and use it to help educate others on the warning signs around grooming so she can help prevent sexual abuse from happening,” Funnell says. “In her case there were red flags that people around her in the school hadn’t been able to accurately interpret and report.”
Before they went to print with a story revealing Grace’s full name and story, lawyers stepped in and stopped them.
In Tasmania journalists are unable to reveal the identity of a sexual assault survivor, even with the survivor’s full consent. To do so is to be in contempt of court and a Tasmanian newspaper received a $20,000 fine in 2012 for doing that even with the survivor’s full consent.
— Lorna Knowles (@knowleslornak) August 11, 2019
Tame, with the support of Marque Lawyers and End Rape on Campus Australia (EROC), decided to pursue the only legal avenue to tell her story: apply for an exemption in the form of a court order from the Supreme Court.
After recognising what an ‘extraordinarily intricate, difficult and expensive’ process that was Tame and Funnell decided to simultaneously campaign for the laws to be changed.
“I said to Grace, ‘even if we get the order what about the next victim? And the next? And the next?’,” Funnell says. “It would mean every single time going through a process like that which is ridiculous.”
Instead of applying for a court order for each survivor wanting to speak, something that absolutely isn’t financially viable for many Australians, they decided to try and get the law itself changed.
It was the genesis for the #LetHerSpeak campaign which launched in November of 2018 and gained the support of high profile survivors including Tara Moss, Bri Lee and Saxon Mullins.
“To hear from survivors in other jurisdictions about why telling their own stories with their own names had been important to them was an important part of the #LetHerSpeak campaign,” Funnell says. “What I heard very clearly is that it should absolutely be the survivor’s decision as to if and when they go public.”
It was also clear that the process of going public has benefits for survivor themselves – in that they can reclaim ownership of what happened – but it also has broader benefits.
“It can give other survivors in society the courage and confidence to get help or to contemplate reporting,” Funnell says. “Survivors can’t be what they can’t see and when you see a survivor like Grace, who defies the stigma and is confident and courageous, it reassures others that speaking out is ok.”
An archaic law in Tasmania, which silences victims of sexual assault, meant that Grace Tame was the only person who could not talk about her own ordeal. Now she has won the right to speak for herself. #abc730 @knowleslornak #LetHerSpeak https://t.co/WdS7EpfBQI
— abc730 (@abc730) August 12, 2019
After recently successfully obtaining the court order Grace Tame was free to tell her story. She spoke on ABC’s 730 program on Monday night and Funnell wrote a long report for News.com.au detailing the horrendous details of the abuse Tame suffered.
The Tasmanian Attorney-General has indicated they will seek to reform the law this year which Funnell says is a good outcome.
“We are hoping for reform that brings the law in Tasmania into alignment with other Australian jurisdictions where it is the victim not the state that decides if and when a victim can speak.”
A powerful story in @themercurycomau and @newscomauHQ that's expected to lead to law reform in Tasmania, allowing sexual abuse survivors to tell their stories. Reporter @ninafunnell recounts how Grace Tame became the first woman to have won the right to publicly identify herself. pic.twitter.com/AHQy1pBFhE
— Michael Miller (@michaelmillerau) August 12, 2019
Reforming the laws in the Northern Territory is the next goal.
“EROC and Marque are currently working with a rape survivor from the NT to obtain a court order,” Funnel says. “The perpetrator is in jail but any reporter who identifies the survivor can face up to six months in jail.”
— End Rape on Campus Australia (@EROCAustralia) August 12, 2019
Funnell and Marque are also currently working with another survivor from Tasmania who waited 25 years to share her story. They are running a GoFundMe page to fundraise to fund the legal application.
“In every case so far that EROC is aware of where a victim has received a court order, the media has had to play some role in providing financial support because victims are unable to afford it themselves,” Funnell says. “That can lead to some indebtedness.”
It is unconscionable that whether or not a survivor of a sexual offence is able to publicly tell their story can turn on either their financial resources or their capacity to attract funding from media or outside sources.