- Amendments in Victoria’s Judicial Proceedings Reports Act now prohibits sexual assault victims from publicly identifying themselves.
- Survivors who will breech this new law can be imprisoned or fined more than $3,000.
- The amended law is retrospective, meaning those who have lawfully spoken out in the past are also now ‘gagged’ and can also be prosecuted.
- It is described as a ‘major victory’ for convicted paedophiles and rapists, as their victims have been ‘muzzled’ and forbidden to disclose their real identities.
On February 7, the Victoria State Government ‘quietly’ amended The Judicial Proceedings Reports Act. Sexual assault victims—whose attackers have been convicted for the crime—are now stripped of their right to disclose their true identities in public.
Violators could be sentenced to a maximum of four months in prison or pay a fine of more than $3,000. Similarly, media outlets can be prosecuted and fined up to $8,000.
The law prohibits the victims from using their real names and telling their stories in a book, newspaper, magazine or other written publication, a television or radio broadcast, a “public exhibition,” or through electronic communication, CNN reported.
This new change in the law also applies to victims who have lawfully shared their traumatic experiences in past.
Dr Rachael Burgin, a lecturer in the Swinburne Law School, described the amendment as a ‘major victory‘ for convicted paedophiles and rapists. Nina Funnel, a campaigner who launched #LetUsSpeak for the survivors, also commented that this is “a huge blow for survivors who no longer have the legal right to speak out.”
The legislation resulted from the series of changes the Victorian government is making to resolve another problem with the law, according to the Daily Mail.
Compared to other states in Australia, adults in Victoria will not be able to automatically waive their right to anonimity.
Now the victims are required to obtain a court order to reclaim this right. Not only is this time-consuming but the legal fees alone could cost them over $10,000.
*Maggie (not her real name), an adult survivor of child rape told news.com.au, “There is no way that I would just have ten thousand dollars sitting around to pay to do this. (I’d) be taking money away from (my) family.”
“You shouldn’t have to fight for just wanting to tell your story. I have already spent enough time in the courts,” she said.
Maggie, a 44-year-old mother to three children, was only eight years old when her father started raping her. At age 12, she attempted to commit suicide.
Five years later, her older step-sister, *Kate (also not her real name) told the police that Maggie’s father had been sexually abusing her since she was nine. The police charged him with rape and gross indecency, as well as multiple counts of bestiality after forcing Kate to engage in sadistic sexual acts with the family dog, according to news.com.au.
Terrified, Kate went into hiding. However, in May 1997, her father hired a private investigator to track her down. Four days before the trial, he drove to Kate’s work and shot her in broad daylight. The first bullet hit her cheek while the second two shots, fired point blank, hit her temple, leading to her death.
He pleaded guilty to Kate’s murder but in exchange, the sexual offenses against him were dropped.
Two decades later, Maggie decided to come forward after learning that her father is already eligible for parole. Consequently, her father was sentenced to nine more years in prison for multiple counts of rape and incest.
But in March this year, the Supreme Court of appeal slashed his sentence for the crimes against Maggie. They ruled that he could serve the remainder of that sentence concurrently with his existing murder sentence. Therefore, he could be released as early as June 2022.
“There were no sexual assault convictions recorded against him back in the ‘90s, and that meant that if he was paroled he wouldn’t have to register as sex offender or be monitored as one,” said Maggie.
Maggie contacted Sherele Moody, a journalist, hoping to alert the public by identifying her father and to emphasize the lenient sentences given to paedophiles.
Unfortunately, Maggie was a month too late; the new ‘gag law’ has been introduced, making it a crime for the media to name her or her father, as people can indirectly identify her through him.
“I’m now a mother of three beautiful children and I wouldn’t want him out in any community. I’m not just scared for my children. I’m scared for all children. I also have to be the voice for my sister too. She never got justice for the sexual abuse she experienced either.”
“This law protects the criminal, not the victim,” she said. “I feel like all I’ve done is put a huge target on my back for when he gets out. This hasn’t made me or my children any safer. It hasn’t made the community safer. All this has done is benefit him and shield him from the media,” said Maggie.
“My sister was murdered for trying to tell her story and now I’m stopped from telling mine. He has all the power again. It has to change.”
Victorian Attorney General Jill Hennessey wrote to the #LetUsSpeak campaign and told them she is ‘very sorry’ to hear about the victims’ experiences.
“I have asked the Department of Justice and Community Safety to urgently look into these cases and consider how future reform could remedy any unintended barriers (to speaking out).
“Without the voices of survivors, we are missing an essential part of the story. I will always listen to survivors and do what I can to improve their experience of the justice system,” she said.
The #LetUsSpeak campaign, in collaboration with Rape and Sexual Assault Research and Advocacy (RASARA), Marque Lawyers, End Rape On Campus Australia, and news.com.au, set up a GoFundMe to cover court costs of survivors fighting to overturn the new law.
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