#LetHerSpeak: Laws that silence survivors of assault need to change

#LetHerSpeak: Laws that silence survivors of assault need to change

Jane Doe* was 15 when she was groomed and repeatedly sexually molested by her 58-year-old high school maths teacher.

At 16, she reported the abuse to her school and then the police before proceeding through the criminal justice system. The teacher plead 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 she was aged 22, Doe wanted to tell her story publicly and she reached out to survivor advocate and journalist Nina Funnell to help her do that.

As they went to print with a story revealing her full name and her whole story, the lawyers stepped in and stopped them.

Jane cannot be identified in the media because of a law in Tasmania that prevents any journalist from revealing 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.

“As a journalist, the Tasmanian law shocked and surprised me,” Funnell says. “But as a sexual assault survivor, it appalled and infuriated me.”

Funnell says being able to write her own story and put her name on it was empowering.

“There is tremendous power in survivors owning their own stories without fear or stigma,” Funnell says. “Speaking out about my assault was not just cathartic, it was also an important part of my healing, and a decade on, I have no regrets.”

In part Jane Doe wants to be able to tell her own story to help inform the public about the invisible process of grooming.

“Not nearly enough is known about the typical personality profiles of predators, how they operate, nor the processes by which they carefully select, condition and manipulate their victims, as well as their victims’ friends and family members,” she said. “It can take the better part of a lifetime for survivors to make sense of their personal experiences. It wasn’t until almost seven years after coming forward that I thought to learn more about the various calculated stages of grooming.”

Changing this law, that exists in the Northern Territory as well as Tasmania, formed the basis of the #LetHerSpeak campaign Funnell has designed with Marque Lawyers and End Rape on Campus Australia.

The goal is to have the laws changed so that any survivor who wishes to be named can waive their right to anonymity without them or the publication which names them facing a penalty.

“It is incredibly disempowering for survivors who want to reclaim ownership of their narrative, to be told that they have no right to speak out about their own abuse,” Funnell says. “This law protects perpetrators, not victims”.

Under existing law, survivors can appeal for a special exemption by the Supreme Court in Tasmania so they can speak but it can cost in excess of $10,000 and there is no guarantee it will be granted.

“This law is wrong,” Doe said. “While well intentioned, it doesn’t protect survivors from media exploitation. Rather it shields perpetrators from having to face up to the public consequences of their own actions.”

Doe’s perpetrator has used the media to peddle his own message while she can’t.

The #LetHerSpeak campaign only launched on Friday but it’s already attracted high profile and global support.

Fourteen prominent Australian survivors of sexual assault including Tara Moss, Bri Lee, Saxon Mullins, Jenny Aitchison, Steve Fisher, Jane Caro, Jannika Jacky, Joanna Williams, Codie Bell and Freya Willis have joined together to demand this reform.

Hollywood actress Alyssa Milano has added her support to the campaign and spoke to 60 Minutes about this case in a segment that aired on Sunday.

The petition has been shared widely and Jane Doe has told News Corporation that the response has been overwhelming.

“It gives me immense hope that we will be able to affect change on a larger scale. I keep thinking of all the boys and girls out there who don’t have the same resources and how honoured I am to be fighting this fight for them so that one day they do,” she said. “A lot of people have been fighting for this behind the scenes for a very long time [to help me speak out and tell my story].”

To add your name to the petition, click here.

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