A sexual assault survivor, who was unable to be identified, speaks to Felicity Ripper at Cotton Tree. Picture: Patrick Woods.
A sexual assault survivor, who was unable to be identified, speaks to Felicity Ripper at Cotton Tree. Picture: Patrick Woods.

Why I won’t stop talking about sexual assault

One of my last stories with the Sunshine Coast Daily was one I deemed the most important.

I shared the experience of a young woman who was sexually assaulted and faced further heartache when the man responsible left court without a conviction recorded.

She found it daunting approaching police years after the assault, as many survivors do, and reliving the night repeatedly so police could investigate and prosecute.

But Ashley, whose real name we could not publish, felt it was all or nothing and she was ready to go on the record, rallying for stronger penalties and convictions by default.

Despite her desire for her real name and photo to be used, Section 6 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1978 states any report published concerning an examination of witnesses or trial must not publish information that would lead to the identification of a complainant.

I think the Queensland gag laws do sexual assault survivors a disservice in this way because over the past few weeks, as we’ve heard from Brittany Higgins and Grace Tame, more Australian women have felt safe to speak up about their own experiences.

They’ve started a national conversation and in the past few weeks I’ve heard from co-workers, family and friends who finally felt like it was time to share their pain.

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A heartbreaking revelation returning to my home region to cover courts has been discovering the number of sex offenders who walk among us.

And the cases that make it to court on a weekly basis are just the ones in which the survivors gathered the strength to tell police.

Ashley spent four years contemplating disclosing her assault and when she felt the court let her down, she thought she could at least tell her story.

The system is expected to protect survivors but the gag laws which stripped Ashley of her identity was another way in which she felt silenced.

Assaults deprive survivors of so many choices.

So they should at least choose whether or not their identities are published in court reports, with written consent.

Who knows, maybe a local face and name would encourage others to report their assaults to police.

While I move to the Courier-Mail next week and leave court reporting behind me, for now, I hope to find other ways to give a voice back to those who feel silenced.

I’ve been told my reports at the Daily were sometimes uncomfortable to read so imagine how uncomfortable they were for survivors to experience.

We need to continue the discussion so sexual assault survivors feel comfortable doing so too and justice is served.

Thank you for trusting me with your story Ashley and thank you for rallying for penalties aimed at protecting our sisters.


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