Silencing survivors is never the right thing to do. Here’s why.


Laws in different Australian states and territories have changed to protect victims of sexual assault from prosecution if they speak out, but some jurisdictions still punish survivors.

It’s normal for us to express the sentiment of ‘ignorance is bliss’ when it comes to challenging social issues, like sexual assault victims seeking out support.

By choosing to remain unaware of these issues, people attempt to justify trusting the institutions meant to protect us.

But if we remain ignorant we are silencing victims by our negative reactions causing a series of emotional and long-term impact.

Once we replicate negative views toward sexual assault victims speaking out about their struggles, we are unknowingly increasing levels of anxiety, fears and enabling future attacks on women.

Through silencing victims there is an imperfect justice system, also described as the justice gap, where victims are emotionally traumatised from internally struggling with their experience of ongoing sexual abuse.

A book sitting on top of a wooden table
There are still Australian jurisdictions where victims can be prosecuted for speaking out. Photo: BY-SA 2.0)

By silencing victims of sexual assault, trauma ensues and leads to victims experiencing, anger, hypervigilance, emotional constriction, feelings of guilt and anxiety.

By silencing victims of sexual assault from speaking out, we promote these long-term negative effects on victims.

By choosing to silence victims, we are enforcing rights of sexual predators to shield their names and offences under law and codes, which should not apply to a society based on transparency.

By choosing to silence victims, sexual offenders escape shame for their offences, while victims remained bound by negative views from the public.

Unless sexual assault victims can speak, offenders will be considered remorseful, and victims will feel at fault.

Sexual assault survivor Grace Tame is an advocate for speaking up about persistent sexual abuse and its impacts on victims.

She struggled with being silenced about the persistent sexual abuse she suffered, believing it was her fault and carrying the emotional burden of not being able to share her story.

She’s acknowledged that she is still conditioned by the law and government to be shamed in believing that sexual assault is her fault, illustrating why individuals are still hesitant to speak up.

But with persistence, Ms Tame urged sexual abuse survivors to speak up and speak out, re-generating a new wave of the feminist movement, and encouraging people to share their story.

Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement, alongside Ms Tame, spread the word that sexual abuse survivors should not have to re-experience pain just to raise awareness.

The #LetHerSpeak campaign was introduced in November 2018, to abolish sexual assault victim gag-laws in Tasmania, Northern Territory and most recently, Victoria.

The #LetHerSpeak campaign advocates for the rights and freedoms of the victims and not the offenders, so that the victims’ stories will be heard and they can freely take to whatever platform they wish to speak about their experiences.

This way, victims and survivors can be free to self-identify in the media if they are over 18, with the capacity to consent and consent to be named in writing.

Ms Tame is at the forefront of the #LetHerSpeak campaign, alongside fellow survivor and founder of #LetHerSpeak Nina Funnel, promoting advocacy for changes to the law around victims speaking up about their battle with persistent sexual abuse.

Gag-laws have punished these victims and put them at risk of prosecution, banning victims from speaking out on social media about their battle, and limiting laws around persistent sexual assault from being changed.

Ms Tame actively advocated for law reforms on sexual abuse and victim impact, as well as advocacy for gag-laws to be abolished, and to allow victims to speak up about their emotional impacts and relieve their trauma.

The implementation of gag-laws refuses victims the right to speak out, even after their offender has been found guilty.

With today’s movements, women have expressed their struggle with sexual assault through various platforms, and have been a voice for others who have gone through the same.

The use of social media to campaign for sexual assault victims to speak out is powerful.

Modern culture has come a long way, and the need to hear from victims, aids in acknowledging and supporting them, as victims have now become activists for sexual assault.

Social media has paved the way for victims of sexual assault to be heard and has since driven the latest wave of activism on the issue.

Social media has pushed movements which reject silencing women who have experienced sexual assault.

Social media use has generated awareness around sexual assault cases and their victims, and has shed light on shifting societal norms, attitudes and knowledge of sexual assault in society.

In addition, social media has shifted focus onto sexual assault victims, giving them a platform to be a voice for their own story, as well as help others speak out against sexual violence freely.

When we stop silencing victims of sexual assault and ongoing child sexual abuse, they help change the culture that enables it.

Ms Funnel uses social media to advocate for the freeing of women’s voices and encouraging individuals to speak out.

She posted an article on social media warning of the dangers of actively reducing and stopping women’s stories of sexual abuse from being bought under the spotlight.

These dangers include silencing victims, imposing negative views of victims of ongoing child sexual abuse and sexual assault, and aggravating the risks of mental health struggles and allowing cultures of sexual assault to continue.

The #MeToo Movement and #LetHerSpeak Movement were launched as a result of social media activism on behalf of sexual assault victims, allowing them to freely express their struggles and their stories.

Silencing victims is not the answer, as by silencing victims, society encourages a negative perception to be placed on victims and assuming that they are out for click bait, while predators remain protected.

Silencing sexual assault victims increases severe trauma in the individuals who have battled with ongoing child sexual assault and abuse; it keeps gag-laws in place that prevent women from having a voice and being heard.

By silencing victims of ongoing child sexual abuse and sexual assault, we are doing more harm than good.

Together, let’s stop silencing victims and let them speak.

Victoria Damos is a Master of Strategic Communication student at La Trobe University