Victims' groups are welcoming a proposal by the Victorian government to repeal laws which currently prevent complainants in sexual assault cases from using their real names when speaking out about their experiences, even after an offender has been convicted.
In recent days, the Victorian Government has committed to doing away with these laws by the end of 2020, with the state's Attorney-General Jill Hennessy announcing that reforms would be fast-tracked to allow sexual assault victims to speak out.
Ms Hennessy's announcement has been seen as a victory by the #LetUsSpeak movement, which has been advocating for a change in the law. The has already successfully campaigned to repeal similar victim gag-laws in both Tasmania and the Northern Territory. Those changes occurred earlier in 2020, helping to persuade Victoria to follow.
The 'gag' order, which was enacted by way of amendments to the Judicial Proceedings Reports Act in early 2020, and is currently in force, makes it a crime for sexual assault victims to tell their own personal stories under their real names.
After an offender has been convicted is generally considered the safest time to speak to the media, without fear of being hit with a defamation suit, or jeopardising any upcoming trials. It is also usually the time that victims are able to get closure and begin a new chapter in their lives. For some, this involves telling their personal story.
For many victims, telling their own story in their own words and under their real names can be an important part of reclaiming their lives.
But undercurrent Victorian laws, victims face up to four months in prison and fines in excess of $3,000 if they speak out using their real names.. Media outlets also face potential prosecution and fines of over $8000.
The only way for an impacted person to overcome this 'gag order' is to apply for a court order to lift the restriction, at their own expense, which some estimates suggest can cost in excess of $10,000, without any guarantee of success.
Ms Hennessy says the laws were never intended to inhibit 'willing victim-survivors being able to speak out and share their stories', but were to help protect privacy and avoid exposure to additional distress.
However, the government now acknowledges that the law has had unintended consequences. Ms Hennessy has made clear that the rights of victims are "at the heart of reforms", and undertaken to commence receiving input from affected groups over the next month.
And while this is welcome news for victims, many have questioned why the law was enacted in the first place, particularly in light of the Royal Commission into Child Sex Abuse, and more recently #MeToo, both of which have exposed the very real emotional damage and suffering victims cope with.
Many say that going through the process of making a complaint can be daunting in itself, and that the experience of a trial can be re-traumatising.
Victims' groups are interested in reducing this trauma and assisting victims to heal. They say that preventing victims from speaking out can disempower them, as well as trivialise their experiences.
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