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Grace Tame’s Campaign Just Got the Legal Definition of Sexual Abuse Changed in the ACT

grace tame sexual assault law change act

Five down, three to go. The campaign to change the legal description of sexual abuse in Australia, fronted by Grace Tame, has just claimed another victory as the ACT becomes the latest state to update its legal terms.

The amendment to the Crimes Act, passed on August 3 in the Australian capital, came into effect today, changing the language in the offence of a “Sexual relationship with child or young person under special care”. The crime is now referred to as “Persistent sexual abuse of child or young person under special care”.

The problem with the former is that a “relationship” does not capture the true nature of the crime and implies the cooperation of the victim in the act. It’s something Tame has spent years campaigning on after her own abuser was convicted of “maintaining a sexual relationship with a child” in Tasmania.

In her speech at the National Press Club earlier this year, Tame took the opportunity to highlight the importance of language surrounding abuse and the inconsistencies in Australian law.

“The former charge implies consent, while the latter reflects the gravity and the truth of an unlawful, criminal act committed against an innocent child victim,” she said.

“Still today, perpetrators of abuse find safety in outdated, inconsistent legislation which both protects them and perpetuates social ignorance.

“Piece by piece we must correct the narrative and take control away from abusers who have for so long sought solace in our systems and institutions that shield them from the full extent of what they have done.”

ACT Attorney General, Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury, took up the call and introduced legislation in his state back in February. Six months later and Tame’s vision has become a legal reality.

Rattenbury explained at the time that he was introducing the amendment because of Tame’s, and others, tireless campaigning on the issue, which has gained huge public support over the last two years.

Speaking to the ABC, Rattenbury noted that: “When presented with victim-survivors’ stories such as these, we have a responsibility to act, which is why we have brought forward this reform at the first opportunity.

“This is simply persistent sexual abuse of a child. That is how the offence should be named, and I think having a clearer name gives power back to the victim-survivors.”

Tame shared her delight at the change on Twitter, saying that “This one’s for all survivors. It’s not your fault, nor your shame”.

However, when addressing the ACT bill in her speech at the National Press Club, she argued that this step is just one in a whole host of changes that need to be made across all states and territories.

“Whilst I commend the ACT on overhauling these laws, we need to ensure that every state and territory adopts the best practice model of not only the charge itself, but the complete wording of the legislation,” she said.

“Tasmania, New South Wales, Victoria, and Western Australia have all adopted the wording of persistent sexual abuse, but Victoria and Western Australia are the only two jurisdictions in which the word relationship does not appear anywhere in the body of the legislation. We still have so much work to do.

“It’s all well and good to change hearts and minds with our conversations, but without structural change we will continue to be at the mercy of systems that override them.”

Currently, Queensland, South Australia, and the Northern Territory all use the word “relationship” in relation to child sexual abuse. The Grace Tame Foundation has made these states the targets of their advocacy efforts and, if this latest advance is anything to go by, we could well see a nationally consistent legal definition soon.

Related: Grace Tame, Brittany Higgins and More Call for an End to Injustice and Inequality

RelatedDon’t Get Lost In the Weeds: Grace Tame’s Legitimate Rage, and Our Government’s Ableism

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