Vic sex assault survivors secure changes

Benita Kolovos, Roger Vaughan and Callum Godde
·2-min read

Families of deceased victims of sexual assault will not be prosecuted for speaking about their loved ones after a deal was struck in Victoria's parliament.

The state opposition and crossbench MPs negotiated changes to the Judicial Proceedings Reports Act in parliament's upper house late on Tuesday, after a lengthy and emotional debate.

Changes to the law will allow living victims of sexual assault or rape to tell their story without a court order.

However, they will need to give written permission to the media to name them and the offence committed against them.

Previously it was illegal for victims to speak out publicly without a court order, though it was rarely prosecuted.

A controversial provision of the bill, which would have criminalised the naming of dead victims unless their families obtained a court order, has been put off until September 2021.

Premier Daniel Andrews apologised to victims and their families, after many complained about a lack of consultation during the process.

"It's always important to listen to the voices of those who know and understand these issues best and that's victims who carry the burden of grief every single day," he told reporters outside parliament on Wednesday.

"I want to apologise for any stress, any sense of trauma, that may have come from this process.

"These changes have been made, they'll be ratified by the lower house and we'll continue to talk to victims and most importantly will continue to listen to them."

The amended bill returned to the parliament's lower house and was passed on Wednesday evening. It will now go to Victoria's governor for royal assent.

There was no repeat of the premier's apology during the debate, upsetting some victim advocates.

"We are waiting for an apology," sexual assault survivor Ashleigh Rae Cooper tweeted.

"An acknowledgement of the pain, confusion, trauma, and criminalisation we have experienced at the hands of Jill Hennessy and the Labor party as a whole - especially during these debates."

Opposition Leader Michael O'Brien said the government had got the issue "horribly wrong".

"We shouldn't even be having this debate - for a premier who likes to champion his agenda in relation to women, to try and gag victims of sexual assault is just appalling," he said.

Victorian Greens justice spokesman Tim Read, who helped broker the compromise, said the amendments followed a "very important and difficult debate".

"These amendments will ensure that the existing law relating to deceased victims of sexual assault will remain in place until the state government has had the opportunity to fully consult with the families of victims and develop a more appropriate framework for these difficult situations," he said.