news

At 15, Grace Tame's teacher groomed and raped her. Until now, she couldn't tell her story.

Warning: This article deals with rape and sexual assault and may be triggering for survivors of abuse.

In 2010, then-15-year-old Grace Tame was raped by her teacher. She’s been fighting to tell her story for two years, bound by law to remain anonymous.

Tonight on ABC’s 7.30, the 24-year-old was finally able to tell her story. One that her perpetrator, Nicolaas Ockert Bester, has been twisting for years.

Nine years ago, Bester played the role of supportive teacher to Grace during a vulnerable time. Grace was being treated for an eating disorder, which she opened up about during her one-on-one chats with the seemingly sympathetic 58-year-old.

She trusted him and began to confide in him. In turn, he gave her a key to his office, a place where she could retreat if she ever felt overwhelmed in the schoolyard.

They talked about her family. Her friends. Her insecurities.

But this wasn’t a concerned teacher reaching out to a vulnerable student. This was Bester grooming a teenager, and the beginning of several instances of sexual abuse that haunted the now 24-year-old through her formative years.

Bester repeatedly raped Grace at school. He’d rape her moments before the morning bell rang and she’d be forced to sit in his class as though nothing had happened.

Grace reported Bester’s crimes the following year, and when police arrested him, he was found with 28 images of child pornography on his computer.

He pleaded guilty to “maintaining a relationship with a young person” and possession of child exploitation material, and was convicted and sentenced to two years and 10 months in jail, but was released on parole after serving 19 months.

But the court hearing itself was another source of torture for Grace.

The case was widely covered in the headlines. Some which suggested it was a teacher-student affair. That Grace – though underage – had willingly participated.

“I couldn’t believe that they’d put that on television and in the newspapers — that it was an affair,” Grace’s mother Penny Plaschke said on 7.30 tonight.

“When a perpetrator is 58 and a victim is 15, that’s not an affair, that’s a clear imbalance of power and it’s a clear case of sexual abuse.

“I’ve seen the scars on my daughter’s body from self-harming. That is not a relationship.”

Nicolaas Ockert Bester. Image: ABC.
ADVERTISEMENT

Grace, who later decided she wanted to speak publicly about her abuse for her healing process and to inspire others to report, was bound by an archaic law which meant she couldn't go public.

Currently, under Section 194K of the Evidence Act, it is illegal for publications in Tasmania and the Northern Territory to name sexual assault survivors, even with the survivor’s full consent. When a Tasmanian publication did so in 2012, it was fined $20,000.

While Grace couldn't tell her story, her perpetrator was able to say whatever he liked to whoever he liked. And that he did.

This meant that for years Grace would see his name flash up in news stories about her case, but she never saw her story being told.

In 2017, Bester spoke to commentator and sex therapist Bettina Arndt about how his crimes had affected his life.

“I lost everything, I lost my home, I’d been married for 37 years, I lost my marriage I lost my children, I lost my job, I lost my status in the community, I lost absolutely everything,” he told Arndt in the YouTube video.

This was when Grace decided it was her time to speak out. To fight at all costs to change the law and take back control over the narrative.

She contacted anti-sexual assault advocate and journalist, Nina Funnell, for help. Together, they started a campaign to change the law, known as #LetHerSpeak.

As a sexual assault survivor herself, Nina thought the idea of not having control over your own story is horrific.

ADVERTISEMENT

“For me being able to tell my story under my real name was a way in which I could fight the stigma and reclaim a sense of control,” she told Mamamia.

“What is healing is being able to reclaim a sense of power and control, so to be told by the courts 'You can't tell your own story, we're the ones who get to decide that' is so insulting.”

Their campaign went global, with celebrities and leaders of the #MeToo movement, including Alyssa Milano and John Cleese, throwing their support behind the cause.

Now, after two years battling the Tasmanian legal system, Grace Tame has finally won the right to reveal her name and, most importantly, to tell her story.

She is the first woman in Tasmania to be granted the exemption to speak publicly in the Supreme Court of Tasmania, and tonight, she made her first national media appearance on ABC's 7.30. 

And as Grace - the real victim here - finally discusses her painful past, it's clear it has been far from an easy road to recovery.

“It’s taken me a while. The first five, six, seven years were really tough. I’ve abused drugs. I’ve self-harmed,” she told 7.30's Lorna Knowles.

“But what’s gotten me through is the sense of family that I value and love. And exercise. Self care. Looking after myself and eating well. I do a lot of yoga teaching and I run.

“One step at a time. That’s all you can do. Because some days I just want to fall in a heap."

But falling in a heap isn't an option for Grace. The 24-year-old is determined to see the law scrapped in Tasmania and the Northern Territory. There's still work to do.

“I won’t stop until the law is changed,” she said.

“It’s so important for people to own their own story, their own narrative and to take back control of who they are. And it’s so important that survivors know that it’s not their fault and to have the support of the community and the support of the law.”

To help Nina and Grace in their fight to change Section 194K of Tasmania's Evidence Act, visit the GoFundMe page.

Grace Tame's interview on the ABC's 7.30 is available for streaming on ABC iView.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

00:00 / ???