Australian of the Year and sexual abuse survivor Grace Tame has hit out at Scott Morrison with a powerful six-word response to his handling of parliament’s sexual assault crisis.
The prime minister vowed to tackle women’s safety in parliament last month – saying he had discussed former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins’ alleged rape by a male colleague with his wife Jenny.
He said Jenny had asked him ‘what would you want to happen if it were our girls?’
Ms Tame, 26, though on Wednesday said it shouldn’t take Mr Morrison having children for him to empathise with sexual assault victims.
‘Having children doesn’t guarantee a conscience,’ she said following a speech at the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday.
Ms Tame was sexually assaulted by a high school teacher when she was just 15-years-old.
She also criticised Mr Morrison’s comments in 2019 – when he said he wanted women to have the confidence ‘that if they tell their stories they’ll be believed’.
‘Do you think those words ring true now in the way he handled that?’ she was asked by a reporter.
‘Clearly not,’ she responded.
The first Tasmanian to ever be named Australian of the Year, Ms Tame has become a key voice on social issues – including calling for a change to the Australia Day date.
During Wednesday’s appearance at the National Press Club, the 26-year-old said she had a ‘mission’ to end child sex abuse.
She said a three-step approach would help accomplish her goal.
‘Number one, how we invite, listen, and accept the conversation and lived experience of child sexual abuse survivors,’ she said.
Australian of the Year Grace Tame with Prime Minister Scott Morrison on January 25. On Wednesday, she hit out at the prime minister’s handling of parliament’s sexual assault crisis
‘Number two, what we do to expand our understanding of this heinous crime, in particular, the grooming process, through both formal and informal education.
‘Number three, how we provide a consistent national framework that supports survivors and their loved ones, not just in their recovery, but also to disempower and deter predators from action.’
Ms Tame was awarded the Australian of the Year honour at a ceremony in Canberra on January 25.
Ms Tame speaks at the National Press Club on Wednesday. She was named Australian of the Year last month for her advocacy work for sexual assault survivors
She took that opportunity to make a more light-hearted joke at the prime minister’s expense .
Her boyfriend Max Heerey posted a video on his Instagram showing Ms Tame walking up behind Prime Minister Morrison, with the caption: ‘Creeping up like climate change’.
The Instagram story – which Ms Tame also later shared to her own page – included an emoji of a Santa sack full of coal, and the word ‘aloha’ – in reference to Mr Morrison’s controversial trip to Hawaii last year at a time when bushfires raged across Australia.
Ms Tame was bullied and vulnerable with no self-esteem when she confided in maths teacher Nicolaas Bester, 58, at the elite St Michael’s Collegiate School in Hobart.
The 26-year-old told the National Press Club on Wednesday she had a ‘mission’ to end child sex abuse
Prime Minister Scott Morrison presents the 2021 Australian of the Year winner Grace Tame with her award at the National Arboretum in Canberra
In an emotional acceptance speech last month, the newly-named Australian of the Year detailed her remarkable fight for justice against her high school teacher.
She told him about when an older child had forced her into a cupboard and told her to undress before molesting her.
Bester saw an opportunity to pounce.
‘He then introduced the actual sexual abuse by recreating that scene that I had described to him of my childhood trauma,’ she recalled.
Ms Tame and her boyfriend Max Heerey pose for a photo overlooking Wineglass Bay, on Tasmania’s east coast
The glamorous couple pose for a photo during their night of celebrations
The predator locked Ms Tame in a cupboard and molested her.
From there, Bester groomed the youngster by exposing her to films which glorified relationships between young women and older men.
‘Discussion of child sexual abuse is uncomfortable. But nothing is as uncomfortable as abuse itself,’ she said.
‘I lost my virginity to a paedophile. I was 15, anorexic. He was 58, my teacher.
‘For months he groomed me, then abused me every day: Before school, after school, in my uniform, on the floor. I didn’t know who I was.’
An emotional Ms Tame said her win is for ‘all survivors of child sexual abuse’ as she vowed to use her position for change
Wanting to speak out about her ordeal but blocked by the law, Ms Tame became the first woman in Tasmania to win the right to publicly name herself as a rape survivor.
Prior to her legal victory, Ms Tame was barred from speaking publicly about what she had experienced – despite her jailed abuser being able to openly tell his story, had he wanted.
Ms Tame decided to get a tattoo when she was 19 to represent her survival. It reads: ‘Eat my fear’.
GRACE TAME’S INSPIRING WORDS AFTER BEING NAMED AUSTRALIAN OF THE YEAR…
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 anymore. Australia, we’ve come a long way but there’s 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 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 greater barriers to justice.
Every voice matters. Solutions are borne 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.
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 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 ran a marathon. We do transform as individuals and as a community.
When I was first reported I was shamed and ridiculed by shame.
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, amongst a growing chorus of voices that will not be silenced!
Let’s make some noise, Australia!