opinion

Dear Grace Tame: From one survivor to another, thank you.

Hear me now. Using my voice amongst a growing chorus of voices that will not be silenced.

I wonder if Grace Tame knew the magnitude of these words when she spoke them this time last year during her Australian of the Year acceptance speech. I wonder if she knew how these words would change lives. 

How they would save lives.

Watch: Grace Tame at the National Press Club. Post continues below.


Video via ABC News

Grace was the recipient of the 2021 Australian of the Year Award for her advocacy of childhood sexual abuse victims; specifically for her work alongside Nina Funnell and sixteen other survivors to create the #LetHerSpeak campaign, which sought to repeal unjust gag laws and resulted in four law changes across three jurisdictions.

Through this, Grace gained the right to publicly self-identify as a rape survivor. 

She gained the right to publicly tell her story. And after years of being forced to exist in silence, Grace gained the right to use her voice — not only reclaiming her own power but overturning the powerlessness of all survivors in Australia.

Grace's speech that night encompassed the characteristics we would come to witness more throughout her tenure — courage, bravery, forthrightness, tenacity; vulnerability. 

She spoke about what society has historically deemed unspeakable. Words that were undoubtedly uncomfortable — if not confronting — for many.

Yet she spoke them with the conviction and determination of a woman who the system had failed, but who would no longer be held back from demanding law reform in our society to prevent other survivors from having to experience the same trauma which had been inflicted upon her as a victim of childhood sexual abuse.

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Like many other Australians, I applauded her speech. Like many other survivors, I wept. I too, have been failed by the system. I too, have been prevented from naming the man who raped me throughout my childhood but instead must live with the knowledge that he roams free — an innocent man in the eyes of the law — while I have suffered the impact and effects of this trauma every day of my life since. 

As Grace so aptly said in her speech, "Trauma does not discriminate, nor does it end when the abuse itself does." I have lived much of my life with the isolation, the powerlessness, the self-blame, the disconnection, the self-destruction, the lack of confidence, and the shame of which Grace has spoken out about in her ongoing endeavour to raise awareness of childhood sexual abuse and its immeasurable repercussions.

I have lived in silence; unable to share my story yet too ashamed to speak even if I could. Because like many victims of childhood sexual abuse, the function of our perpetrators has been exactly this — to shame us into silence — to make us question, doubt and fear our own truth. 

This is part of the grooming process, and why Grace has aspired to create education and normalise conversation around grooming, knowing this is where perpetrators are able to thrive most — through the silence of their victims and through the disempowerment that comes with suppressing their voice.

For too long, this has been a collective silence. We have not been taught how to speak about sexual abuse and assault. 

We have not existed within a system that advocates for the victim, nor provides enough validation or support to allow victims of these crimes to feel confident in speaking out and telling our stories. 

Yet we have seen Grace use her platform as Australian of the Year to break through this silence, and continue to work tirelessly to raise awareness of childhood sexual abuse and its effects.

Listen to Grace Tame on Mamamia's interview podcast, No Filter. Post continues below.


One of her most powerful and memorable examples of this was her address to the National Press Club in March last year, where she candidly spoke of the exploitation she had suffered at the hands of her perpetrator, reminding us that, "When we share, we heal, reconnect, and grow. Both as individuals and as a united strengthened collective. History, lived experience, the whole truth, unsanitised, and unedited, is our greatest learning resource. It is what informs social and structural change."

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It was also during this speech we witnessed Grace's infamous burn in response to Scott Morrison's handling of parliamentary rape allegations put forward by Brittany Higgins: "It shouldn't take having children to have a conscience, and actually, on top of that, having children doesn't guarantee a conscience," as she went on to call out cover-up culture and the abuse of power in both in parliament and beyond.

Throughout the year, Grace has continued to hold both the Prime Minister and the Australian Government accountable for their lack of action and mishandling of survivor's stories, such as this comment tweeted during the Women's Safety Summit in September, "Scott has just finished his opening keynote address at the Women’s Safety Summit in which he appropriated private disclosures from survivors to leverage his own image. Gee, I bet it felt good to get that out."

The three key areas of advocacy Grace has focused on during her time as Australian of the Year have been normalising the conversation around the lived experience of childhood sexual abuse survivors, expanding our understanding of the crime of sexual abuse through both formal and informal education, and working to provide a consistent national framework to support survivors and their loved ones.

The linguistics around sexual abuse, especially, have been paramount to Grace's mission, as witnessed in her relentless lobbying to have the crime committed by her perpetrator changed from its previous wording of, "maintaining a sexual relationship with a person under the age of 17" to "the persistent sexual abuse of a child" to reflect the reality and severity of the crime.

Beyond this, Grace has put into action The Harmony Campaign through the recently established Grace Tame Foundation, which will focus on education around grooming, and campaigning for consistent wording of state laws and definitions concerning consent and sexual abuse in order to remove the ambiguity and inconsistency around current legislation. 

For the past 12 months, Grace has been forced to continuously speak of her trauma, re-live her trauma, and watch as the media has sensationalised her trauma across nation-wide platforms with little regard for her wellbeing.

Being Australian of the Year has undoubtedly proven challenging, demanding, and at times, triggering, as she made reference to yesterday in her highly-anticipated address to the National Press Club, saying, "After a year of being revictimised, commodified, objectified, sensationalised, delegitimised, misquoted, gaslit and thrown under the bus by the biased mainstream media, I would just like to take this opportunity to thank you for reminding me I really have nothing to lose."

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She goes on to display her fearless tenacity in challenging the Australian Government, "I would rather go down as a disappointment to an institution than sell out as a pandering, political puppet to the corrupt forces that coercively control it," proving again she remains a force of resilience, strength, courage and composure; proving again she is a worthy recipient of the Australian of the Year Award.

Grace has become one of Australia's most compelling voices for change; a role model, an inspiration — an aspiration for survivors who until now, have lived in fear of sharing their stories. 

Tirelessly, she continues to advocate for the future she wants, for herself and all other survivors: "an end to the darkness; an end to sexual violence, safety, equity, respect — a better future for all of us."

I don't believe we can ever truly know the magnitude of our words; how far and wide the ripple effect will carry them. 

What I do know is hearing Grace's words this time last year showed me I am not a lone survivor but part of a collective; part of that growing chorus of voices who will not be silenced. Voices who will make history. Voices who will change history. 

Part of the next generation of survivors whose voices will be heard loud and clear as we expose corruption, restore justice and reclaim our power.

So if those of us with a voice don't use it to fight for what is right — don't fight for those without a voice — then what hope is there?

On average, it takes 23.9 years for survivors of child sexual abuse to speak about their experiences. 

May the courage of Grace Tame be the end of this statistic. May the legacy she leaves as the 2021 Australian of the Year continue to be the force of change for survivors of childhood sexual abuse in this country for generations to come. 

May we continue to see Grace "making change, making history and above all else, making noise," and in doing so, witness those who live in silence finding the courage to make their own noise. 

Grace Tame, from one survivor to another — thank you.

Feature Image: Getty