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(AUSTRALIA) The Judicial Proceedings Report: Amendment Bill 2021: The Victorian government is moving to scrap laws that left families of deceased sexual assault victims at risk of prosecution for speaking publicly about the crimes against their loved ones #AceNewsDesk report

#AceNewsReport – Aug.04: The laws were strongly criticised by victims’ families, including relatives of murdered Melbourne woman Jill Meagher, when they were introduced in 2020.

#AceDailyNews says that the government moves to protect families who want to speak about dead sexual assault victims and the legislation meant families would need to go to court, at their own cost, to seek the right to talk about publicly about dead sexual offence victims.

Jill Meagher’s mother Edith McKeon last year called the laws “wrong” and said in a Facebook post that she was “fuming that they haven’t even contacted any of the family”………..An attempt to introduce the laws as a temporary measure last November were rejected by the Victorian parliament: The government has been trying to balance the rights of family members to speak publicly after the death of a sexual assault victim, with the wishes of family members who do not want to be identified.

The Judicial Proceedings Reports: Amendment Bill 2021: To be introduced in Parliament today, would remove the need for a court order before family members can speak publicly about the deaths of sexual assault victims.

It would also give family members, partners, or close friends the right to apply for a victim protection order (VPO) to protect their identity and privacy.

Victoria’s Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes said the scheme would be reviewed after two years.

“Every time we speak up against sexual assault, it becomes easier for others to speak about it too,” she said.

“It’s important that our justice system supports this to happen while respecting the wishes of those who want to remain private.”

Opposition accuses the government of rushing through legislation

Shadow Attorney-General Edward O’Donohue said the government was rushing the bill through parliament without properly consulting advocates and experts.

“Yes we need these reforms, but we must get them right, we’ve seen the terrible consequences of getting it wrong, and the pain it caused to so many families of deceased sexual assault victims who have suffered so much,” he said.

“The Andrews Government should consult, listen, and engage with other political parties, with experts, and the broader community to make sure they get this right.”

Laws that prevented survivors of sexual assault from speaking legally about offences against them after the conviction of a perpetrator were overturned last year after pressure from the Let Her Speak campaign.

Advocate Grace Tame was named Australian of the Year for her work in pushing for similar laws in Tasmania to be overturned.

New protections welcomed by advocates

A woman with wavy dark hair holds a serious and focused gaze towards the camera.
Victim advocate Chrissie Foster said the laws introduced last year should never have happened.(ABC News: Gemma Hall)

The new bill has been welcomed by advocates for sexual assault victims, including the tireless Chrissie Foster.

Her two daughters Emma and Katie were both sexually abused by a priest, and the trauma led to substance abuse. At 15, Katie was left with permanent brain damage after being hit by a car, and Emma later suffered a fatal overdose of prescription medication. 

Ms Foster says the first draft of the laws, that would have required her to apply for a court order to use her daughters’ names and experiences publicly “should never have happened”.

“It’s a freedom that we have, and have had. And suddenly, almost overnight, it was removed it was taken away, and suddenly we had to get a court order which takes time and money and effort.

“I thought if this happened 25 years ago when I first stepped into this issue, I wouldn’t have done that,” she said.

“What keeps paedophilia alive and other sexual assault is the secrecy surrounding it, and to then silence victims about what’s happened to them is just crazy.

“To just remain silent sort of equates to allowing the perpetrator to get away with it.” 

Ms Foster says the new VPO scheme is also a good move.

“I think there needs to be some avenue that people can go through if they don’t want to talk about it. Most people don’t want to talk about it. I don’t blame people. I’m not saying everyone should. So yes, something like that should be there but now it’s in the proper balance,” she said.

Ms Foster said it was a relief that the Victorian Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes seemed committed to these reforms when the pair met a few weeks ago.

Legislation not yet ‘watertight’ 

The creator of advocacy group Let Us Speak, Nina Funnell, welcomed the move by the state government, but said there could still be loopholes in the legislation.

“One issue that might come up is when you have multiple families with competing ideas about whether or not they should be able to name their deceased loved one, and that could potentially rip families apart” she said.

Ms Funnell is also concerned that the wording of the bill leaves open the possibility that families affected by an unrelated crime could seek suppression orders that would prevent families from speaking about deceased loved ones.

“We know that in 2020, Victoria granted more suppression orders than all of the other states and jurisdictions combined.”

She wants the Victorian Upper House to consider amendments to the bill “so that we don’t end up kicking the can down the road and discovering that we’ve got more problems down the track.”

#AceNewsDesk report ……Published: Aug.04: 2021:

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