CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A 26-year-old woman who pushed for legal changes so she could speak out about being a survivor of sexual abuse has been named Australian of the Year for her advocacy work on behalf of abuse survivors.
Grace Tame was presented with the award at a ceremony in Canberra on Monday.
Tame became the first woman in Tasmania state to win the right to publicly name herself as a sexual abuse survivor, allowing her to speak about the abuse she went through as a 15-year-old at the hands of a math teacher.
Prior to her legal victory, Tame was barred from speaking publicly about the crimes in which she was a victim, while her abuser — who was jailed — was legally able to tell his story. Such laws were often designed to protect victims of assault by keeping their identities secret but didn’t account for those who wanted to speak out.
Tame said she was dedicating the award to all survivors of child sexual abuse.
“This is for us,” she said.
After advocacy from Tame and Nina Funnell, who started the campaign #Let Her Speak, Tasmania’s laws preventing survivors from speaking out were overturned.
“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,'” Tame said.
“Well hear me now — using my voice against a growing chorus of voices that will not be silenced.”
Tame said she wants a greater focus on education and prevention of child sexual assault. She said grooming and psychological manipulation by abusers is a big problem.
“They thrive when we fight amongst ourselves and weaponize all our vulnerabilities,” Tame said. “This year and beyond, my focus is on empowering survivors and education as a primary means of prevention.”
Other top awards went to three other women.
Aboriginal elder Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann was named Senior Australian of the Year. The 73-year-old activist, educator and artist became Northern Territory state’s first qualified Aboriginal teacher in 1975.
Kenyan refugee Rosemary Kariuki was named Australia’s Local Hero for her work helping female migrants combat loneliness and the unknown as they settle into their new communities.
And the title of Young Australian of the Year went to Adelaide student and social entrepreneur Isobel Marshall, who co-founded a menstrual product company TABOO in high school, with the goal of reducing stigma around periods and helping women access products.