Grace Tame: Tasmanian survivor of sexual assault wins the right to tell her story

Tame and journalist Nina Funnell started the #LetHerSpeak campaign aimed at overturning gag clauses in Tasmania and Northern Territory law.

The woman who sparked a legal review of Tasmania’s sexual assault gag laws has finally won a supreme court exemption to tell her harrowing story of being groomed by a school teacher.

At the age of 15, Grace Tame was repeatedly sexually abused by her 58-year-old maths teacher, Nicolaas Bester, who was convicted and served time in jail for molesting her.

Her name is Grace Tame. She is Jane Doe.

Today, for the first time, she can tell her story publicly. #LetHerSpeak

— End Rape on Campus Australia (@EROCAustralia) August 11, 2019

Over the years Bester has been able to speak about the saga but until now Tame has been known by the pseudonym Jane Doe.

Under Tasmania’s Evidence Act, survivors of sexual abuse are prohibited from being named and telling their story. In 2012 a Tasmanian newspaper published the name of a rape victim, with her consent, and was fined $20,000.

Bester was interviewed by the sex writer Bettina Arndt last year in an online video in which he lamented losing his job, home and status in the community. Years earlier he had bragged on social media about his sexual relationship with his former student, characterising it as “awesome”.

“The majority of men in Australia envy me,” he wrote. “I was 59, she was 15 going on 25. It was awesome.”

After Nicolaas Bester was released from jail, he took part in an interview with sex therapist Bettina Arndt, portraying himself as the victim. It was posted online for everyone to see including Jane Doe who was traumatised all over again, still silenced by Tasmanian law #60Mins

— 60 Minutes Australia (@60Mins) November 11, 2018

Two years ago, Tame teamed up with Nina Funnell, a freelance journalist and sexual assault survivor who began the #LetHerSpeak campaign in partnership with Marque Lawyers and End Rape On Campus Australia. The campaign was aimed at overturning the gag clauses in Tasmanian and Northern Territory law.

On Monday Tame, 24, became the first female survivor to be named after obtaining a court exemption to speak about her experience.

“He used various tactics to groom me, and that included isolating me from all my family and my friends and making it so that he was the sole source of comfort and that I was dependent on him entirely emotionally,” Tame told the ABC.

Funnell said the process of applying for a court order exemption was time-consuming, expensive and re-traumatising for survivors. The legal bill covered by the campaign and its supporters was about $10,000.

“The victim has to make a case to a judge that their story is in the public interest,” Funnell told Guardian Australia. “They’re made to feel quite powerless throughout the process.”

Thousands of people have signed a petition calling for law reform.

Funnell met Tame in person last week for the first time. “I printed off the petition of 5,000 signatures to remind her: here are 5,000 people in your corner,” Funnell said.

Some of the signatories were former peers who had mocked and bullied Tame at school because they lacked the maturity to understand the power imbalance between a much older teacher and a schoolgirl suffering anorexia, Funnell said.

Tame had been called a “home wrecker” and “slut” at the time the abuse became public, she said.

“They’ve obviously gone on a journey too and come full circle and realised the seriousness of the offending that occurred, and that victims are entitled to be treated with respect and support,” Funnell said.

Tasmania’s attorney general, Elise Archer, is reviewing the law and considering submissions after releasing a discussion paper.

“My assault happened in 2007 in NSW and within weeks I went public,” Funnell said. “That was important to me, in terms of taking ownership back.”

The Queensland author of Eggshell Skull, Bri Lee, has said changing the law in Tasmania and the NT would help women “draw courage from one another’s survival”.

Funnell has been working with two other survivors in Tasmania and one in the NT to win court orders to speak out, and raising money to support legal action.

One of the Tasmanian women had been gang-raped 25 years ago and forced to dig her own grave afterwards, Funnell said.

*This article was amended on 28 January, 2021, to clarify payment of the legal costs for the court exemption as well as to that the #letherspeak campaign was started by Nina Funnell in partnership with Marque Lawyers and End Rape On Campus Australia.


Lisa Martin

The GuardianTramp

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