Victoria to 'urgently' fix law that stops sexual assault survivors speaking out

<span>Photograph: Scott Barbour/AAP</span>
Photograph: Scott Barbour/AAP

Victoria will introduce amendments before the end of 2020 to “urgently” fix legislation that is preventing sexual assault survivors from speaking publicly without first getting a court order.

The state’s attorney general, Jill Hennessy, announced on Friday that legislation would be “fast-tracked” to ensure the majority of victims would not require a court order to speak out if they have given informed consent to being identified.

A law change that came into effect in February introduced a requirement for victims to seek permission from the court before going public, if charges were pending or if there had been a conviction. It applied retrospectively.

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.

Related: Australian women in their late teens more likely to be victims of sexual assault

Victims said they were being silenced by the new law, and the group LetUsSpeak said the law would prevent victims of clergy abuse, and the Ballarat survivors, from speaking out.

Hennessy said the previous law change was meant to maintain the privacy of sexual offence victims and was never meant to stop them from speaking out.

“The voices of victim-survivors are a powerful and important part of the justice system,” the attorney general said in a statement. “Their expertise will be invaluable as we make these urgent changes. I have immense respect for victim-survivors who have the courage to speak out about their experiences and advocate for positive change. We hear you and we will take action.”

The Victorian government is planning to consult with survivor groups on amendments to the legislation, which will be introduced into parliament before the end of the year.

Nina Funnell, the journalist who created the LetUsSpeak campaign, said on Friday the news was welcomed.

“Survivors who want to self-identify in media should not be gagged against their wishes as doing so only exacerbates trauma, while shutting down important voices which play a critical role in educating the public,” she said.

“The #LetUsSpeak campaign has been inundated with support this week and we are looking forward to participating in consultations next month with government.

“Including survivor voices in any law reform process on an issue which affects survivors is critical.”