Victim silencing law fails to pass Victorian parliament

Victim silencing law fails to pass Victorian parliament

A controversial law that inadvertently silenced survivors of sexual assault will return to Victoria's lower house of parliament.

While the draft bill will restore survivors' right to speak about their own experiences, under their own names, without having to seek a court order, difficulties remain for the families of deceased victims.

In Tuesday evening's debate in the upper house, amendments were sought from the state opposition and crossbenchers - essentially, the law will change for living survivors, but will remain the same for the families of deceased survivors .

This means those families would have to apply for a court order to name their relatives, and tell their story in the media.

Intended to stop harmful details about assaults being aired in the press, there are fears the potential legal costs would stop people from speaking out at all.

A sunset clause was kept to ensure the law would change before September next year.

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The law was changed "urgently" to allow survivors to speak out, state Attorney-General Jill Hennessy said on Wednesday morning, after the bill failed to pass the upper house.

"We don't think a court process is the most conducive place to solve these matters, and that's the work we've now got to do before September to see if we can find a better way, where there are disputes with these matters, to be resolved," she told media on Wednesday.

"There was a great urgency around changing the law for victims to be able to not be required to get court permission in respect of living victims, that's what families told us, but we've still got work to do when it comes to deceased families, and we're very committed to doing that."

In a media release, Hinch Justice Party upper house MPs Stuart Grimley and Tara Maxwell said it was an "impossible position".

"We've asked the Government to separate the elements relating to the gag on deceased victims' families to allow for further consultation and a more straightforward process," Mr Grimley said.

"It's very clear from our consultation over the proposed 'gag law' that sexual assault victims and their families are feeling that the Bill completely disrespects the rights, memories and legacies of rape and murder victims," Ms Maxwell added.

Advocate and founder of Let Us Speak, Nina Funnell, said more work needed to be done to ensure families and advocates can speak out.

"From the outset, our primary goal has been to restore agency, dignity and voice to living sexual assault survivors, while also ensuring grieving relatives of deceased victims are not in any way silenced against their wishes," she said.

"They'll begin a process of trying to retrofit family consent and approval, but that gives families a fighting chance to say how much more complex these issues really are.

"We should never have had to fight for the right to say our own stories, but I'm heartened that democracy worked, and that parties from all different stripes could stand together against what was a profoundly insulting piece of legislation."

The debate will now return to the lower house - Wendouree MP Juliana Addison said in a statement she was pleased the reforms so far will enable survivors to speak without a court order.

"For many families this debate has brought a great deal of fear - and we can understand the difficult position that families and members were placed in with the increased focus on the existing laws that prohibited reporting," she said.

"The Government will continue to work with local victim survivors and their families to ensure future reforms continue to empower and protect the rights of all victims and their families."

For support:

  • Call CASA on 5441 0430 for support during business hours
  • Call Sexual Assault Crisis Line 1800 806 292 at all other times.
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