Australian of the Year and sexual assault survivor Grace Tame brought down the house with her raw and impassioned speech on Monday night.
The 26-year-old, who was raped by her 58-year-old teacher when she was a schoolgirl, was prevented from speaking out about her experience for years due to an archaic gag law in Tasmania.
In 2019, she won a legal case to be able to publicly self-identify as a rape survivor with the help of News Corp’s #LetHerSpeak campaign, paving the way for the overhaul of oppressive victim gag laws across the country.
Her powerful speech at Monday night’s awards ceremony resonated with Australians everywhere, who praised the campaigner as “extraordinary” and a “legend” who would make the most of her role.
“All survivors of child sexual abuse, this is for us,” said Ms Tame, after thanking her friends, family and fellow nominees at the opening of her speech.
“So powerful,” tweeted Elizabeth Broderick, Chair-Rapporteur of the United Nation Working Group on Discrimination Against Women and Girls and former Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner. She said Ms Tame was a “brilliant choice” and her win was testament to the Let Her Speak campaign led by Nina Funnell.
Ms Funnell said: “What a huge moment this is for Grace, but also for all survivors of sexual assault in the community.”
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Lucy Turnbull was also among those who congratulated Ms Tame, writing: “Speak out on behalf of the thousands and thousands of victims of abuse who could not. You changed the system! Good for you.”
Journalist Jane Caro said Ms Tame being named Australian of the Year “gives me hope”, while former lawyer, journalist and author Georgie Dent tweeted: “What an extraordinary woman. A survivor. A heroic advocate. Never heard an Australian Of The Year deliver an acceptance speech as raw, as emotive as heartbreakingly powerful as Grace Tame.”
Ms Tame bravely detailed her horrific abuse as a child, and the appalling public response from not only her abuser but the legal system that would not allow her to speak.
“I lost my virginity to a paedophile. I was 15, anorexic. He was 58. He was my teacher. For months he groomed me and then abused me almost every day: Before school, after school, in my uniform, on the floor. I didn’t know who I was.”
“Publicly, he described his crimes as ‘awesome’ and ‘enviable’. Publicly, I was silenced by law. Not any more. Australia, we’ve come a long way but there is still more work to do in a lot of areas.
“Child sexual abuse and cultures that enable it still exist. Grooming and its lasting impacts are not widely understood. Predators manipulate all of us — family, friends, colleagues, strangers in every class, culture and community. They thrive when we fight amongst ourselves and weaponise all of our vulnerabilities.
“Trauma does not discriminate, nor does it end when the abuse itself does. First Nations people, people with disabilities, the LGBTQI community and other marginalised groups face even greater barriers to justice. Every voice matters.”
Her words resonated deeply with watching Australians, who called her “brilliant” and her speech “something else”, comparing her to 2015 winner and domestic violence survivor Rosie Batty.
“Congratulations Grace Tame. This outstanding young woman will do great things as Australian of the Year,” tweeted Christine Milne, former Greens leader and Tasmanian senator.
“Huge congratulations to Grace Tame,” said Jess Greene, President of Laurel House, the Sexual Assault Counselling and Support Service in the North and North West of Tasmania. “I thank Grace for her advocacy, courage and persistence for change.”
Ms Tame, one of four women to win, and the Tasmanian Australian of the Year in the 61-year history of the award, outlined her plans to change the future.
“Just as the impacts of evil are borne by all of us, so too are solutions born of all of us.
“I was abused by a male teacher. But one of the first people I told was also a male teacher. And he believed me,” she said.
“This year and beyond my focus is on empowering survivors and education as a primary means of prevention. It starts with conversation. We’re all welcome at this table. “Communication breeds understanding and understanding is the foundation of progress. Lived experience informs structural and social change. When we share we heal.
“Yes, discussion of child sexual abuse is uncomfortable. But nothing is more uncomfortable than the abuse itself so let us redirect this discomfort to where it belongs — at the feet of the perpetrators of these crimes.
“Together we can redefine what it means to be a survivor. Together, we can end child sexual abuse. Survivors be proud, our voices are changing history.
“Eleven years ago, I was in hospital, anorexic with atrophied muscles. I struggled to walk. Last year, I won a marathon.
“We do transform as individuals, and we do transform as a community. When I first reported I was shamed and ridiculed by some, but now my truth is helping to reconnect us.
“I know who I am. I’m a survivor. A proud Tasmanian.
“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, in a growing chorus that will not be silenced. Let’s make some noise, Australia.”
Dr Marguerite Evans-Galea called Ms Tame an “outstanding recipient”.
“A powerful, compelling and heart-wrenching acceptance speech by #AustralianOfTheYear, Grace Tame. A survivor of child sexual assault, survivors’ advocate and change agent,” she wrote.
Media commentators and author Mike Carlton tweeted: “Surprising choice. Great choice. What a woman.”
Studio 10 co-host Angela Bishop said Ms Tame was an “extraordinary young woman who has achieved something often considered impossible: to force a manifestly unfair law to be changed.”
Podcast host Natasha Mitchell called her a “strong, resilient woman”.
“What a powerful, inspiring, gut wrenching speech,” tweeted Victorian Senator Sarah Henderson.
Health service leader Sandra Gates tweeted: “It is impossible to measure how important this is for survivors of sexual assault. As Grace says, ‘There is no shame in being a survivor’”.
And journalist Sherele Moody tweeted at Margaret Court “this is what a real hero looks like. Grace Tame is the legend Australia needs right now. She is a true Warrior – Grace by name, Grace by nature and attitude!”
Australian TV veteran Kerry O’Brien had accepted an appointment as an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) but changed his mind due to the “deeply insensitive and divisive decision” to award the tennis legend.
He wrote a letter reversing his decision on Saturday to the office of the Governor-General, David Hurley.