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Grace Tame Calls Out Australia’s Consent Laws: “With Such ambiguity, You Can’t Develop A Proper Understanding”

The Australian of the Year sat down with marie claire editor Nicky Briger for International Women’s Day.

Grace Tame has galvanised Australia.

Since being awarded Australian of the Year in January, Tame has thrust the issue of child sexual abuse and sexual assault into the national spotlight, prompting other young women to come forward and share their stories. From Brittany Higgins to Chanel Contos, those stories are disrupting institutions – parliament and schools, respectively – and forcing people to confront the culture of silence and sexism in Australia.

Appearing at marie claire’s International Women’s Day breakfast presented by Coach, Tame raised the issue of Australia’s problematic approach to defining consent as imperative to changing the culture. Namely, she called out the fact that each state and territory currently has a different consent law. “The fact that there are eight different definitions of consent is the problem,” she told marie claire editor Nicky Briger. “It’s consent, which is an absolute concept; You can’t be a little bit pregnant, as we know, you can’t be a little bit dead and you can’t be a little bit consenting. Right? It’s either yes or no.

“It’s the sheer inconsistency that’s produced from having eight different definitions, it’s not that one is necessarily better than the other, it’s that there are eight of them and when you have such ambiguity around a concept, you can’t actually develop a proper understanding and then you can’t take it seriously.” 

Nicky Briger and Grace Tame

Over two years, Tame worked with the #LetHerSpeak campaign to challenge Tasmania’s archaic gag laws which prevented victim-survivors of sexual assault from talking openly about their experiences. Through and through, she’s been candid with her own story of being abused as a child by her school teacher. Through her campaiging, she’s stressed the importance of survivors being given space to tell their stories on their terms. “Survivors have unique insights that are born from lived experiences, we need those lived experience stories to inform structural change,” she told the crowd. “It’s all well and good to have conversations, but unless we change things at the institutional level, these corrupt cultures will continue.”

However, this vulnerability hasn’t always come easy, with the advocate revealing that she’s been triggered by interviews in recent weeks. “I’ve been on stage, live on national television and – not because of the fault of any individual, just because of a general lack of understanding around this issue – this host just put me right back into a trauma state,” Tame recalled. “I couldn’t see, and I could feel my sentences being chopped up. I was trying to articulate my feelings and I was going around in a loop. I just wanted to hide.”

She said it was instances like this that make clear the importance of understanding the very human toll of these movements. “These are people’s lives and it is hard because I have been recognised for telling my story, I have made this choice and I’m very grateful for the platform, but we need to be really careful about how we go about this topic.”

Tanya Plibersek, Bruna Papandrea, Jess Mauboy, Grace Tame and Jess Hill

While Grace has emerged as a true agent of change, she remained modest: “I don’t think of myself as an instigator of a revolution. I’m a representative of a community of survivors who have been stigmatised for far too long and I’m just proud to be a part of that community.”

She encouraged everyone to embrace their potential to lead. “People are sometimes deterred from action, or doubt the value of their contribution in change,” she said. “But I like to think of it as a domino, because there’s a whole set of dominos waiting to be pushed over. Just be that one domino. Your tiny little contribution has enormous catalytic potential.”

Talking about the events of the past few weeks – specifically Linda Reynolds calling Brittany Higgins a “lying cow” and the revelation that Defence Chief Angus Campbell told cadets not to make themselves “pretty to potential predators” – Tame said she wasn’t surprised.

“These are unfortunate examples of cultures that enable predators,” she said.  “It’s not the fault of any individual, we need to address this culture and change the way we talk about these things, change the way we talk about human beings.”

Despite this, she remains optimistic about the future and is dogged in her commitment to the cause: “I don’t have any plans of stopping anytime soon. I won’t stop until child sexual abuse and sexual assault is eradicated.”

The marie claire International Women’s Day breakfast was presented by Coach, supported by Fred and Napoleon Perdis.

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