The Victorian Government has committed to changing sexual assault victim gag laws by the end of the year following an exclusive #LetUsSpeak campaign by News.com.au and the Herald Sun which sparked an outpouring of public support.
On Friday Victoria’s Attorney-General Jill Hennessy said reforms would be fast-tracked to allow victims and survivors of sexual assault to speak out.
It means the majority of victims will no longer need court orders to be able to tell their stories provided they have given informed consent to being identified.
The legal amendments will be made in close consultation with victims and survivors of assault after a series of round-tables to be held next month.
“The government has been aware of the concerns since at least April, so it’s great that the issues are now being addressed.
“Survivors who want to self-identify in media should not be gagged against their wishes as doing so only exacerbates trauma, while shutting down important voices which play a critical role in educating the public”.
“The #LetUsSpeak campaign has been inundated with support this week and we are looking forward to participating in consultations next month with government. Including survivor voices in any law reform process on an issue which affects survivors, is critical.
Victoria’s Attorney-General Jill Hennessy said “I have immense respect for victim-survivors who have the courage to speak out about their experiences and advocate for positive change. We hear you and we will take action.”
“These laws provide an important protection to maintain the privacy of sexual offence victims and help ensure they are not exposed to additional distress – they were never intended to inhibit willing victim-survivors being able to speak out and share their stories.”
“The voices of victim-survivors are a powerful and important part of the justice system. Their expertise will be invaluable as we make these urgent changes.”
The legal changes come after a campaign launched this week by News.com.au, End Rape on Campus Australia, Marque Lawyers and Rape and Sexual Assault Research and Advocacy.
It received huge public support after launching on Wednesday with more than $50,000 donated to a dedicated GoFundMe which will be used to seek five court orders to allow victims to speak out.
It comes after changes to the Judicial Proceedings Reports Act made in February stripped tens of thousands of sexual assault survivors in Victoria of their legal right to tell their stories using their real names.
It effectively meant those who had suffered from sexual assault with offenders found guilty, were banned from speaking out about it using their real identity.
Any sexual assault victim found breaking the law could face up to four months jail and fines in excess of $3000. Media outlets could also face potential prosecution and fines of over $8000.
The only way for a survivor to reclaim the right to self-identify in public, is to take the matter to court and obtain a court order a process which could cost each victim in excess $10,000.
Under the changes announced Friday, the Victorian government said it would ensure the rights of victims and survivors remain “at the heart of reforms” with a series of roundtables over the next month to seek their input.
Contempt of court laws will also be reviewed.