The urgent need to repeal an unjust law
Recent changes to Victoria’s Judicial Reporting make it illegal for victim/survivor of sexual abuse to identify themselves.
Our Founder and Chair Professor S Caroline Taylor AM is a respected international advocate for all those affected by sexual violence.
Below is a copy of her recent article posted on LinkedIn, calling for this unjust legislation to be repealed, whilst maintaining her right, and that of others, to speak publicly.
I am writing this post knowing that in doing so I am breaking the law and potentially facing charges and possible imprisonment. But I hope you will read this post as it comes from me the adult, Professor Caroline Taylor AM, but is driven from the wounded, still healing child that lives within.
Many of my LinkedIn colleagues and followers likely know that I am a woman who experienced horrendous, long-term childhood sexual, physical and psychological abuse at the hands of my father. My disclosure led to my pets being murdered and my entire family disowning me. Overnight I was a social orphan and made homeless. This ensued a history of very little access to education, no family supports, homelessness and deep trauma, I had a determination to live and to rebuild, although I did not know at that time how I could, or would do this.
Police would eventually charge my father with more than 100 offences. I endured a traumatic legal trial. He was convicted and imprisoned. I set about rebuilding a life and my desire for learning took me to university where I excelled to complete a PhD on a full scholarship. That PhD went on to receive a national award. I devoted my learning to the area of child abuse. It was difficult but I knew too much to walk away. Through all this I kept my private trauma private.
I began to advocate for children and adult victim/survivors of childhood sexual abuse and for legal reform. Still I did not reveal my background publicly. I did this work because I did not want other childhood victims to endure what I did. I was advocating at a time when such advocacy was not popular.
In 2004 the publisher of my second book asked if I would openly write about my experience of sexual abuse in the forward of the book. I was very reluctant because I was aware of the stigma surrounding sexual abuse in the family and was also intensely private about my experience. I also knew that to write about it, however briefly, would likely cost me more than any potential benefit. My publishers were good people and they believed that because of my professional profile and commitment, identifying myself would help so many others. And so I did reveal something of my own experience and journey in the introduction of that book. And it did help so many others and an independent government study verified that in its findings.
Revealing my identity and my experience was difficult at the time. There was no public advocate identifying their experiences of intrafamilial sexual abuse with a burgeoning professional profile agitating in this field as I was. For a time I experienced the stigma and stereotyping often attached to such victims. I have experienced discrimination and cheap shots aimed to cut me down by those who were now armed with such information about my early life. Speaking out, especially about this kind of abuse, is a brave thing to do and I had no peer at this time and often felt very alone as I endured both bricks and bouquets. Speaking publicly for me was not cathartic. After all, media have little interest in this kind of abuse and it remains still a taboo area of child abuse across every spectrum of society and government. It was an immensely hard thing to do and I did so more out of a feeling of duty to protect and support victim/survivors and drive evidence-based change and reform. However finding my voice was empowering and I do not regret that first step in identifying myself publicly.
It was finding my voice that gave me the courage to established my long held wish for a unique charity ‘Children of Phoenix’ that helps those affected by childhood sexual abuse to achieve their educational goals. It was in finding my voice that others spoke to me and in turn stepped into the light of their voice and revelled that the shadows of offender-enforced silence no longer held them hostage.
I advocate for every survivor and know that the hard-won privilege of obtaining a platform from which to speak entails a moral responsibility to ensure that platform advances everyone. I am driven by a determination to ensure a better criminal justice system and public education to enable victim/survivors to face a more just and respectful world.
Why am I writing such a personal post? On February 7 2020 the Victorian Government in Australia amended the Judicial Proceedings Act 1958 (Vic) which now makes it an offence for a person who has ever been sexually victimised to identify themselves publicly. The changes are retrospective. As such, it is a chargeable offence for me to ever speak or write publicly of my sexual abuse for which the offender was convicted and went to gaol.
I found my voice as a victim to speak out all those years ago when I told police. I found my voice years ago when I spoke publicly and then each time I speak as an advocate with the valid authority of lived experience. And I applaud the courage of so many other victim/survivor advocates who claim their right to speak and to advocate.
In professional settings I have touched on my personal background to sit alongside my awarded research and awarded peer-reviewed publications. Research, praxis and the valid authority of lived experience are capable of being a potent mix for education, awareness and reform. This is one example of the power of speaking to experiences that must be heard and understood.
This new legislation reflects the selfsame power of an offender – the threat that to speak and to identify oneself as a ‘victim’ of sexual abuse will be met with harsh punitive measures. It represents symbolically the same type of threats used against millions of children by offenders. Speak and you will be punished. Enforced silence slowly kills the wounded heart and reinforces the stigma that our identity of being sexually victimised makes us dirty and something to be ashamed of…….it is the othering of ourselves as an object that must not ever be heard.
To speak one’s truth and to speak of one’s experience is a most basic human right of dignity and self-integrity. I defame no-one when I speak about what a convicted offender did to me. As I went through my legal trial which was acknowledged at state and federal level at the time for its ferocity and length, I spoke my truth without attachment to the outcome. And when I reluctantly revealed my identity it was in the hope to benefit others. But I realise too that when we speak our truth we hold up a lantern that not only lights the path for others, it lights it for us too; and thus greater levels of healing can occur.
Speaking is a radical act to shatter silences that must be broken. I will not have my voice and my experience appropriated to create a political or social or legal vacuum.
My voice and words shall not be extinguished or muted. I shall not remove details of my story that exist on my charity website nor be made to feel ashamed for having claimed my right to publicly speak all those years ago and to do so as part of my ongoing advocacy. I realise that I am now breaking the law simply by reaffirming that I am a woman who has experienced sexual abuse that deeply excoriated and traumatised my being and sense of identity. I have journeyed to help my heart and soul find peace and have been helped by many good people.
I will not be silenced and I will not allow an unjust law to silence others. I will not live in silence or in fear of an unjust law. I shall continue to speak because it is a necessary rebuke to an unjust law that must be repealed immediately. And I say all of this in the realisation that this post leaves me open now to be charged and to face court where the penalty is a fine and/or imprisonment.
I ask all of you who read this – please let me speak and demand this unjust law be corrected by being abolished. It is only by the voices of survivors that we have come this far in advancing the endemic and wicked issue of childhood sexual abuse and other crimes of sexual violence.