Victorian sexual assault survivors could be jailed for up to four months or face fines exceeding $3000 for telling their stories using their real names.
The Judicial Proceedings Reports Act was changed in February, prohibiting victims from identifying themselves publicly if their attacker has been found guilty.
The new law applies retrospectively, meaning victims who have lawfully spoken out previously are now censored from speaking out publicly. Media outlets who defy the law can also be prosecuted and face fines of up to $8,000.
The only way for victims to identify themselves and tell their stories is to obtain a court order - which is not only time consuming, but would cost more than $10,000 in legal fees.
Dr Rachael Burgin, lecturer in the Swinburne Law School, described the change in the law as a 'major victory' for convicted paedophiles and rapists.
She said thousands of survivors will now find they cannot tell their stories.
Not only can victim's no longer use their real names, they cannot provide any identifying features such as photos in publications such as memoirs and autobiographies unless they get a court order.
'There is no way that I would just have $10,000 sitting around to pay to do this. (I’d) be taking money away from (my) family,' Maggie*, an adult survivor of child rape told news.com.au.
Sexual assault survivors are now fighting for their right to share their stories, with the #LetUsSpeak campaign launched on Wednesday. The campaign, which is a collaboration between Rape and Sexual Assault Research and Advocacy (RASARA), Marque Lawyers, End Rape On Campus Australia, and news.com.au is calling on the government to reform the law.
Melbourne mother Maggie, 44, was raped from age eight by her father, who also sexually abused her older step sister Kate*.
When Maggie was 17, he was arrested and charged with rape and gross indecency as well as multiple counts of bestiality, after Kate reported her abuse to police.
In May 1997, four days before the trial was set to begin, he shot Kate dead at work after tracking her down using a private investigator.
He was sent to prison the following year, after pleading guilty to murder in exchange for the sexual offences being dropped.
With his parole eligibility date looming, Maggie decided to come forward, resulting in her father receiving a nine-year jail sentence for multiple counts of incest and rape against her.
However, in March this year, the Supreme Court of Appeal slashed his sentence for the crimes against Maggie and ruled he could serve them concurrently with his murder sentence, leaving him eligible for parole in June 2022.
'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,' Maggie said.
Maggie contacted Australian media outlets to draw attention to the lenient sentences given to paedophilles, only to learn of the new law that makes it a crime for the media to publish her name, or her fathers, as it could indirectly identify her.
'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,' Maggie said.
Victorian Attorney-General, Jill Hennessy has written to Maggie and other members of the #LetUsSpeak campaign to say she is 'very sorry' to hear of their experiences.
She has requested the Department of Justice and Community Safety look into the cases.
A GoFundMe page has been set up to cover the court costs of survivors battling to overturn the gag law.
Similar gag laws were overturned in the Northern Territory and Tasmania earlier this year as a result of #LetUsSpeak campaign.
However, they differed to the Victorian legislation as they were out-dated pre-existing policies.
*Names changed for legal reasons.
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