The Victorian government has announced a review of laws preventing sexual assault survivors from speaking publicly about their experience, hours after a campaign to have them repealed was launched.

Changes to the state’s Judicial Proceedings Reports Act introduced in February made it an offence for sexual assault survivors to publish their stories under their real identities in cases where proceedings were pending or a conviction had been recorded, unless they obtained a court order.

Published in SBS

Survivor advocates say the laws, which carry fines and potential jail time if broken, effectively silence victims and prevent them from carrying out advocacy work.

Journalist and sexual assault survivor Nina Funnell launched the #LetUsSpeak campaign on Wednesday morning, calling for the laws to be amended to allow survivors to waive their right to anonymity if they choose to share their story publicly.

Similar laws in Tasmania and the Northern Territory were scrapped earlier this year following a separate #LetHerSpeak campaign, also spearheaded by Funnell.

“[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 wrote on the campaign’s GoFundMe 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.”

Within hours of the #LetUsSpeak campaign’s launch, it had raised more than $20,000 to financially support three survivors as they seek court orders allowing them to go public with their story.

On Wednesday afternoon, Victorian Attorney-General Jill Hennessy said she had asked the Department of Justice and Community Safety to look at whether further changes to the laws were needed.

“I acknowledge the strength and resilience of victims who come forward and tell their stories – it is an incredibly brave and difficult thing to do,” she said on Twitter.

Ms Hennessy said the changes in February were brought in because survivors previously didn’t have a clear way to navigate court bans designed to protect their identities.

“I remain concerned about the barriers, both cultural and legal, that continue to exist for victims of sexual assault,” she said.

By Maani Truu
Published in SBS
28 August 2020