Sexual assault survivors are pleading with the Victorian government for a last-minute re-write on a proposed law that could make it illegal for their names to be published after death.
The changes to the Judicial Proceedings Reports Act would criminalise the naming of dead rape victims in the state, with victims’ families needing to obtain a court order.
The legislation is set to be debated in the upper house on Tuesday after passing through the legislative assembly almost two weeks ago.
The state opposition plans to again move amendments to retain the legal status quo, whereby the families of dead sexual assault victims can speak publicly as per a County Court ruling last week.
“By inserting these new provisions in the legislation, the government is going to gag the families of the deceased sexual assault victims for the first time in Victoria,” shadow attorney-general Edward O’Donohue told reporters on Monday.
“There is no rational justification for this. It is a mistake.”
Ashleigh Rae Cooper had to go to court to tell her story after being sexually assaulted by a man she first met at age 13.
“I now have the right to my voice,” she said.
“But that’s not guaranteed when I die, whether that be next week or 50 years from now.
“My story could be erased if this law passes, while the perpetrator can go about his life as if nothing had happened.”
The legislation seeks to address laws enacted in February that prevent living sexual assault survivors from speaking publicly and using their real names without a court order.
Ms Cooper said Attorney-General Jill Hennessy had not properly consulted with victims.
“They failed to ask any questions about death and I am so hurt and angry that they continue to repeat the same mistakes that they made with this initial law,” she said.
She had a message for Premier Daniel Andrews and Ms Hennessy: “Please stop. You need to take a few steps back and listen to us.”
“We’re talking about the mass erasure of survivors’ voices across this entire state. That’s thousands of stories gone.”
Ms Hennessy has previously suggested views varied among victim’s families, with some not wanting such details made public.
Victoria’s Director of Public Prosecutions Kerri Judd QC and the Law Institute of Victoria have both publicly backed the revamped legislation as a mechanism to protect the anonymity of dead victims.
Ms Hennessy has flagged further reforms – potentially minimising or removing the need for a court-based approval process – will be pursued next year after consultation with families.
However, the opposition wants the Victorian government to first engage with the grieving relatives of sexual assault victims before proceeding with the changes.
“This is such an easy fix,” Mr O’Donohue said.
“This is not about political point-scoring. This is not about one-upmanship. This is about getting it right for victims and their families.”
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