Survivor advocate Grace Tame named Australian of the Year

Survivor advocate Grace Tame delivered an emotional speech after being named Australian of the Year for 2021. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
Survivor advocate Grace Tame delivered an emotional speech after being named Australian of the Year for 2021. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Grace Tame, the 26-year-old woman who fought to repeal a law that silenced Tasmanian sexual assault survivors, has been named the 2021 Australian of the Year.

Ms Tame, the first Tasmanian to earn the title and a survivor of sexual assault herself, delivered a powerful speech onstage at the National Arboretum as she accepted her award.

"I lost my virginity to a paedophile, I was 15, anorexic. He was 58, he was my teacher," she said.

"Publicly, he described his crimes as 'awesome' and 'enviable'. Publicly, I was silenced by law.

"I remember him towering over me, blocking the door. I remember him saying, 'Don't tell anybody'. I remember him saying, 'don't make a sound.'

"Well, hear me now, using my voice, amongst a growing chorus of voices that will not be silenced."

Australian of the Year Grace Tame with Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Australian of the Year Grace Tame with Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

As a 15-year-old, Ms Tame was groomed and sexually assaulted for six months by her 58-year-old maths teacher Nicolaas Bester.

Mr Bester was sentenced to two years and 10 months jail in 2011 for his abuse of Ms Tame, but was released on parole after serving 19 months.

Under section 194K of the Tasmanian Evidence Act 2001, victims of sexual assault were previously unable to speak about their experience - despite perpetrators and media being free to do so.

Following her involvement in the #LetHerSpeak campaign, section 194K was amended in April 2020.

After his release, Mr Bester bragged about his abuse of Ms Tame on social media.

Following a four-month stint in jail for the creation of child exploitation material, the convicted paedophile continued to speak publicly about his crimes, portraying himself as a man who had had his life unfairly stripped away from him.

Well, hear me now, using my voice, amongst a growing chorus of voices that will not be silenced.

2021 Australian of the Year Grace Tame

Bettina Arndt interviewed Mr Bester in a video titled "Feminists persecute disgraced teacher" on her YouTube channel.

Enraged by the interview, Ms Tame had a desire to speak out about her experiences and set the record straight, but discovered she was legally unable to do so.

Following a two-year battle at the Tasmanian Supreme Court, and after $10,000 in legal fees, Ms Tame was granted an exemption from the law.

Once she was allowed to publicly self-identify as a rape survivor, she took on the challenge to allow all survivors in Tasmania to own their stories.

Ms Tame received assistance from the #LetHerSpeak campaign, created by journalist and sexual-assault survivor advocate Nina Funnel in partnership with Marque Lawyers and End Rape On Campus Australia, to advocate for the repeal of the law.

Grace Tame, centre, arrives at the Australian of the Year Awards at the National Arboretum on Monday evening. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Grace Tame, centre, arrives at the Australian of the Year Awards at the National Arboretum on Monday evening. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

The #LetHerSpeak campaign gained international recognition during the height of the #MeToo movement.

Ms Tame has provided crucial insight to Australian and international law-enforcement agencies about the experiences of sexual abuse survivors and the effects of child grooming.

She has spoken publicly about the ongoing effects of sexual abuse on survivors and her struggles with anorexia, drug abuse and self-harm.

"One step at a time. That's all you can do. Because some days I just want to fall in a heap," she said in 2019.

After being named Tasmanian Australian of the Year, Ms Tame said in October that she wanted to fight the stigma that surrounded sexual assault victims.

"There's no shame in surviving. The shame sits at the feet of predators, of perpetrators of these crimes," she said.

Grace Tame (right) onstage with fellow award winners. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Grace Tame (right) onstage with fellow award winners. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

National Australia Day Council chair Danielle Roche said Ms Tame and fellow 2021 Australian of the Year Award recipients epitomised the Australian values of respect, tolerance, equality of opportunity and compassion.

"They are strong, determined women who are dedicated to breaking down barriers and advocating for people's rights - particularly the rights of women and children," she said.

"Because of them, others get a fair go."

As she accepted the Australian of the Year award at the National Arboretum on Monday night, Ms Tame - after a brief reference to the classic Australian film The Castle ("Straight to the pool room") - said she wished to share the award with all survivors of sexual assault.

"To all survivors of child sexual abuse, this is for us," she said.

This story Survivor advocate Grace Tame named Australian of the Year first appeared on The Canberra Times.

Comments