Over the years, there have been thousands of trailblazing women changing the face of Australia and paving the way for those who came after them. Right now, we’re watching history firsthand as one of those very women stands in front of the nation and demands change.
After being groomed and raped by her high school teacher aged 15, 26-year-old Grace Tame began campaigning for laws to be changed in Tasmania, which prevented sexual assault survivors from speaking publicly about their experiences despite media outlets and perpetrators being able to.
Tame’s case was a catalyst for the #LetHerSpeak campaign in Tasmania, which was created by journalist and sexual assault survivor Nina Funnell, after she realised that despite Tame’s permission, there was no way to publish her story. The campaign – which also sought to overturn a similar gag clause in the Northern Territory – applied for the court order on Tame’s behalf and in 2020, the law was finally changed.
In January 2021, Tame won Australian of the Year for her efforts. In her acceptance speech, an emotional Tame told the crowd, “When we share, we heal.”
“Yes, discussion of child sexual abuse is uncomfortable but nothing is more uncomfortable than the abuse itself. Let us redirect this discomfort to where it belongs – at the feet of perpetrators of these crimes. Together, we can redefine what it means to be a survivor. Together, we can end child sexual abuse. Survivors, be proud, our voices are changing history.”
Tame’s bravery is already making a huge impact on survivors. Notably, Brittany Higgens, who recently came forward with allegations of being sexually assaulted in 2017 at Parliament House, where she worked at the time, said she did so because of Tame.
Higgens’ allegations had a domino effect, prompting multiple women to come forward with similar stories of workplace harassment and assault in Australian parliament and for Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who was widely criticised for his handling of the allegation, to launch an internal investigation.
In an address to the National Press Club on Tuesday, Tame said Australia urgently needs a national definition of consent, as well as clear and consistent legislation that is capable of “address[ing] these heinous crimes so they are no longer enabled to be perpetrated.”
“Since I was announced as Australian of the Year just over a month ago, hundreds of fellow child sexual abuse survivors have reached out to me to tell their stories, to cry with me. Stories they thought they would take with them to the grave, out of shame for being subjected to something that was not their fault. Stories of a kind of suffering they had previously never been able to explain. Stories of grooming,” she said.
“I am one of the luckiest ones, who survived, who was believed, who was surrounded by love. And what this shows me is that despite this problem still existing, and despite a personal history of trauma that is that is still ongoing, it is possible to heal, to thrive, and live a wonderful life. It is my mission and my duty as a survivor and as a survivor with a voice to continue working towards eradicating child sexual abuse. I won’t stop until it does.”
If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual assault, please call the 1800 Respect national helpline at 1800 737 732, or visit their website. You can also call Lifeline at 131 114 or Beyond Blue at 1300 224 636.