Sexual assault survivor Grace Tame slams 'cover-up culture' in powerful speech

Australian of the Year and sexual assault survivor, Grace Tame, has delivered a heartfelt speech calling for reform in both policy and education to establish a national legal definition of consent, and tackle the scourge of child sexual assault.

Speaking at the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday, she recalled her difficult history of being raped by a school teacher, and urged the Australian public and media to delicately listen to the story of survivors, calling for change in how society addresses the confronting issue.

In a powerful speech which drew tears from journalists in the room, Ms Tame slammed the "cover-up culture" that exists in industries and institutions that embolden perpetrators.

"It is so important for our nation, the whole world in fact, to listen to survivors' stories. Whilst they're disturbing to hear, the reality of what goes on behind closed doors is more so. And the more details we omit for fear of disturbance, the more we soften these crimes," she said.

Grace Tame at the National Press Club. Source: ABC
Grace Tame brought journalists to tears with her powerful speech. Source: ABC

Ms Tame is an outspoken advocate for survivors of sexual assault, particularly those who were abused in institutional settings.

Her press club speech came just hours before a cabinet minister in the Morrison government is expected to front the media to address a historical rape allegation levelled against him from 1988 by a woman who passed away last year.

Although she could not speak on the allegations, Ms Tame said she was not surprised to hear stories of powerful men being accused of such crimes.

"It's not surprising me to me at all. Cover-up culture, the abuse of power, is not unique to Parliament," she said.

"So it's not necessarily these individual cases. It's the issue itself that is going to keep inspiring me to do this work. I was doing this work before it dominated the national stage... It is heightened right now, because it's happening in the centre of our country, in Parliament," she said.

Photos of Ms Tame appearing on stage with Prime Minister Scott Morrison during the recent Australian Day ceremony were cited by Brittany Higgins as cementing her resolve to come forward with claims that she was sexually assaulted in Parliament House by a Liberal staffer.

When asked about Mr Morrison's much criticised response to those accusations, Ms Tame took pointed aim at the Australian leader.

"It shouldn't take having children to have a conscience," she said, before pausing.

"And, actually, on top of that, having children doesn't guarantee a conscience."

'My mission': Tame calls for three fundamental changes

The 2021 Australian of the year used her speech Wednesday to deliver “three messages” which she says will help Australia tackle the issue of child sexual assault.

The first was directed to the government and policymakers, outlining the need for national reform on the matter.

She called for better education for young people to spot and understand the signs of grooming, as well as stricter penalties and harsher legislative language “to address these heinous crimes so they are no longer enabled to be perpetrated.”

Secondly, she addressed “the wonderful people of Australia” saying those is society need to be ready to have difficult conversations about the issue.

“We need to be open, to embrace the conversation, new information, and take guidance from our experiences so we can inform change. So we can heal and prevent this happening to future generations,” she implored.

On her third point, she addressed her fellow survivors.

"It is our time. We need to take this opportunity. We need to be bold and courageous. Recognise that we have a platform on which I stand with you in solidarity and support," she said.

"Share your truth. It is your power."

Ms Tame was awarded Australian of the Year honours for her advocacy work with survivors of sexual assault. Source: AAP
Ms Tame was awarded Australian of the Year honours for her advocacy work with survivors of sexual assault. Source: AAP

She also said more is needed to support survivors of child sexual abuse.

"It has become clear that there is the potential to do so much more to support survivors of child sexual abuse to thrive in life, beyond their trauma. And more so, to end child sexual abuse," she said.

"It is my mission to do so. And it begins right now. As a fortunate nation, we have a particular obligation to protect our most vulnerable."

Moment in time lauded as potential 'turning point'

Ms Tame was lauded for her "powerful" speech, with some suggesting it could mark a turning point as the government publicly grapples with the issue of sexual misconduct in its own ranks.

"Such a powerful speech by Australian of the Year, Grace Tame. Chills, tears and a standing ovation," said Ten New's political reporter Tegan George.

Others also praised the 26-year-old for her poise and courageous advocacy.

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