Content warning: this article discusses sexual assault.
Last year Alyssa Milano sparked a resurgence in the hashtag #MeToo (originally created by activist Tarana Burke in 2006) encouraging people to talk openly about sexual assault and harassment. Since then, millions of people have come forward with their own experiences, not just in Hollywood, but all over the world. Women everywhere are taking to social media, online publications and newspapers, reclaiming their own stories. Well, nearly everywhere.
The Australian law currently states that, in Tasmania and the Northern Territory, no person is allowed to reveal the identity of a sexual assault survivor, even with the survivor’s full consent. That means that if someone wants to share their personal #MeToo story publicly, they are unable to do so if they live in Tasmania or NT. Any publication which breaches this law and names the victim can be prosecuted and fined. In 2012, a Tasmanian publication was successfully prosecuted and fined $20,000 after publishing the name of a rape survivor, with the survivor’s full consent.
This law recently sparked controversy when a Hobart woman, assaulted by her 58-year-old teacher when she was 15, decided to tell her story last year at age 22. Jane Doe* reached out to survivor advocate and journalist Nina Funnell to help her, but before they could publish Doe’s account the lawyers stepped in and stopped them.
The law was well-intentioned, originally aiming to shield victims from the stigma of sexual assault, and prevent journalists from exploiting victims. But Jane Doe says the law simply silenced victims, taking away their right to be heard.
Jane Doe’s abuser went to jail for the crime, but has spoken to the media several times about the impact his offending had on his life. Doe has never had the chance to tell her side of the story.
But that’s all about to change. Last week Nina Funnell collaborated with End Rape On Campus Australia and Marque Lawyers to launch the campaign #LetHerSpeak. Funnell created a petition on Megaphone urging Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman & Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner to amend the laws. Before even reaching their goal of 5000 signatures, Attorney-General Elise Archer has announced this morning that they will be reviewing the law in Tasmania.
Activists all around Australia, and the globe, are getting behind this worthwhile campaign including Tara Moss, Bri Lee, Saxon Mullins, Jane Caro, Van Badham and Joanna Williams. Even Alyssa Milano and comedian John Cleese have jumped on board. Here are some of the voices contributing to the campaign:
“Journalists, commentators, and even my perpetrator have all been able to publicly discuss my case. I’m the only one who is not allowed to. It’s not just illogical, it’s cruel. I shouldn’t be forced to stay hidden in the shadows. The shame sits with him, not me.”
“By silencing Jane Doe – and other survivors – the courts are keeping the stigma and silence around sexual assault in tact”.
“Gagging survivors, even for the most well-meaning purposes is hugely problematic and sends a message that they have no agency, no control over their own stories and their own lives, just as they had no choice in what was done to them.”
“Speaking out took away the fear of how people would find out and it put the decision in my hands. It was a part of taking ownership of my story.”
“I think the more people are able to share their stories, the more normalised the discussion becomes. Because then we might get to the point in society where we not only acknowledge how unfortunately common these crimes are, but how it is possible to survive and even thrive afterwards.”
This law silences survivors. It’s about time that the system started supporting the rights and choices of victims, instead of protecting perpetrators. If there’s one thing that the past year has taught us, it’s how powerful, healing and mobilising sharing stories can be – both for survivors and for the people supporting them. This campaign has demonstrated how powerful a united group of people can be in creating change.
You too can be part of that change. Sign the petition here and share your own #LetHerSpeak post to help encourage the Northern Territory to follow in Tasmania’s footsteps. Victims and survivors in every territory and state deserve to have their voices heard.
Maddy regularly writes for Rosie, and is passionate about music, history, art and gender equality.