A recent law making it illegal for sexual assault survivors to speak publicly without first getting a court order will be “urgently” reviewed by the Victorian government, the state’s attorney general has announced.
Under Victorian law, there was never a specific prohibition preventing victims from speaking out after a conviction. But in seeking to provide an avenue for victims to have clearance from the court, changes to the Judicial Proceedings Reports Act introduced a requirement for victims to seek permission from the court before going public.
The law came into effect in February and now applies if charges are pending or if there has been a conviction – and is retrospective.
People face fines of up to $3,304 or four months in jail or both if they do not go through the court process to get the gag order lifted.
The Victorian attorney general, Jill Hennessy, said on Wednesday the legislation was designed to reduce barriers preventing people from speaking.
She has now asked the Department of Justice and Community Safety to “urgently” review the changes to see if they are working.
“I remain concerned about the barriers, both cultural and legal, that continue to exist for victims of sexual assault,” she said.
I am aware of the concerns raised by victims and advocacy groups regarding the effect of these reforms and have asked the Department of Justice and Community Safety to urgently look at whether further changes are needed to ensure they are effective.
— JillHennessyMP (@JillHennessyMP) August 26, 2020
Survivors have felt silenced by the law.
“It makes me enraged. It’s so regressive and so disempowering,” one said. “As a society, we’re working towards empowering victims and this just takes us in the opposite direction.
“The choice of whether [victims] tell their story at any point of that [court] process should be completely in their hands.”
The woman said she expected to meet with Hennessy in the coming days to push for changes.
“I’m sure [this] is the opposite of what they intended,” the survivor said.
The #LetUsSpeak Victoria campaign was launched on Wednesday by journalist Nina Funnell, who successfully campaigned with victim-survivors in the Northern Territory and Tasmania to have similar gag laws amended.
Australian Associated Press contributed to this report