Latest News

Victorian Government Announces Urgent ‘Gag Law’ Reform After Sexual Assault Survivors Speak Out

The #LetUsSpeak campaign has driven the authorities to review the legislation protecting convicted sex offenders

Update 31/08/2020: On Friday, August 28, the Victorian Government announced that they are going to introduce amendments before the end of 2020 to “urgently” undo the ‘Gag Law’ that legally banned sexual assault survivors from speaking out using their real names in cases with a convicted offender if they didn’t obtain a court order first.

Jill Hennessy, the state’s attorney general, announced that the reform would be “fast-tracked” to “streamline processes for victim-survivors who wish to speak out.”

“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,” she said.

“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.”

Original 26/08/2020: The state of Victoria has passed a new law that legally bans all sexual assault survivors from speaking out using their real names in cases where the offender has been found guilty – meaning tens of thousands of survivors have lost the legal rights to share their stories. The ‘Gag Law’ also limits survivors advocating for change, and in turn, protects convicted paedophiles and rapists. 

The new changes to the Judicial Proceedings Reports Act, which were quietly introduced in February, apply regardless of whether the victim consents to be named, while also silencing many survivors who have lawfully been able to tell their stories in public in the past. Those found guilty of breaking these new laws could face jail time, and fines in excess of $8,000. 

Now, the only way for a survivor to speak out in public is to take the matter to court and obtain a court order – a process which survivors would have to take on themselves.

Creator of the #LetHerSpeak campaign, Nina Funnell, has since started a GoFundMe to fund court orders allowing three survivors to legally share their stories under their own names. 

“The Ballarat survivors, victims of clergy abuse, and other public survivor advocates are among those who have lost the right to speak and could now face contempt of court if they continue their campaigns or media work,” Funnell says via the fundraising page. “As a result of the new laws, these survivors and others are now being forced to return to court at their own expense and inconvenience, to obtain court orders to speak publicly about their cases. This can and is costing survivors thousands of dollars.” 

The Let Her Speak campaign was founded by Funnell – a survivor of sexual assault and journalist – in 2018, to overturn similar sexual assault victim gag-laws in Tasmania and the Northern Territory. 

Those laws were preventing survivors from “courageously sharing their stories,” as Funnell says, and the campaign lead to landmark reforms being introduced in both states, allowing survivors to legally speak out. 

The new campaign, #LetUsSpeakVictoria, is insisting the Victorian Government amend these new laws and allow all survivors of sexual assault and abuse the option to waive their right to anonymity – if they choose – and speak out about their experiences. 

Funnell brings to light three stories of sexual assault survivors, under names that are not their own.

The first, Maggie, who was raped and abused by her father from the age of eight. He later murdered Maggie’s step-sister, which is when she revealed to police that she, too, had been molested. He has since been found guilty of both sexual assault and murder but may soon have the opportunity for parole. According to Funnell, Maggie wants to speak out to warn the community, while also honouring her sister’s memory. Something she could be both jailed and fined for. 

A second woman, Melissa, a rape survivor and disability advocate was raped by her carer. She wants a court order so she can continue her advocacy work – under her real name. 

The third survivor, a male, was sexually abused by Australia’s most notorious paedophile, Gerald Risdale. While he has spoken out in the past, he is now prevented from continuing his advocacy work that is crucial to helping other survivors. Funnell shares this survivor has also been working on a book, which would not be permitted to go ahead without a court order. 

“There is power in survivors sharing their stories in their own names – it shifts shame and it shifts blame from the survivor to the offender,” Funnell says. “And it empowers others to come forward. 

“Together, let’s fight to give all Victorian survivors their voices back.” 

Donate Here

Related stories