Australian of the Year Grace Tame has spoken about the powerful motto that helped her overcome her trauma and become an advocate for others.
Speaking on the 2021 return of Q&A tonight, Ms Tame explained the meaning behind her trademark tattoos, one of which bears the message, “Eat my fear”.
“I guess, it’s sort of about acknowledging, you know, fears and negativity that’s naturally out there in the world. But being prepared to swallow that and doing things anyway despite that and actually converting that negative energy into positivity that can fuel you throughout your life,” Ms Tame said.
The 26-year-old sexual assault survivor also spoke about her fight against Tasmania’s notorious “gag laws” – which she helped overturn – which previously prevented all survivors of sexual offence matters from self-identifying in the media, even with their consent.
“When I found out about that … myself and an incredible journalist were working on using my case as kind of a way to shed light on the issues of child grooming and the lasting impacts of child sexual abuse,” she said.
“And right before we were about to share the articles that we had been working on, we discovered there was this law that made it illegal to do so for survivors.
“And I saw that as another example of a structure in our society that further disempowered victims and gave more power to the predators.
“Because predators have a tendency to manipulate the narrative. That manipulation characterises a lot of the psychological manipulation of these crimes. And it just … didn’t seem right.”
Ms Tame said silencing victims compounded their trauma.
“It’s so important that we can speak because victims are silenced, the abuse itself is characterised by degradation, disempowerment and feeling like you have no voice, you have no say, and saying no doesn’t matter, it falls on deaf ears, because abusers, they don’t care,” she said.
RELATED: Grace Tame’s speech in full
Ms Tame was also asked by a member of the audience about the tools survivors need to move forward, and she said the most crucial this was “to continue the conversation”.
“That’s where it starts. It starts with opening up and connecting with each other. It’s as simple as that. And I think where I get stumped sometimes when I’m asked these questions is these are not explosive revelations, these are commonsense ideas,” she said.
“We need to be there for each other. It’s OK to not know how to respond. These are very serious heavy issues. And they’re very uncomfortable. But I always try to remind people that bystanders or people who are listening to a survivor who is disclosing, that there is nothing more uncomfortable than the abuse itself.
“And it is a great privilege to listen to a disclosure because … it is so hard to tell the story … So it’s about encouraging each other to create these safe conditions, these welcoming conditions in society, where people do feel like it’s OK, and it’s not shameful to talk about the things that they’ve been through. We’re all human beings. Did we forget that?”
Ms Tame also responded to a powerful anecdote about asking for help from NSW RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons, telling the audience “there’s great strength in vulnerability, and admitting weakness at the right times.”
That struck a chord with Australians. with Twitter erupting with praise for her message.
‘CHANGE THE DATE’
Ms Tame was also asked for her opinion on the debate over whether to change the date of Australia Day, and she said in her view, it all came down to “common sense”.
“Honestly, though, my opinion on this shouldn’t really matter. I think this debate should be dominated by Indigenous Australians,” she said.
“It’s an important symbol. It costs us nothing to change the date. It costs us nothing. We can still celebrate Australia. We can celebrate Australia every day. I know I do.
“But to change the date would mean so much to our First Nations people, and I think that’s the least that we could do, to change the date.”
WHO IS GRACE TAME?
Grace Tame, a Tasmanian sexual assault survivor and advocate, was named 2021 Australian of the Year last month.
The 26-year-old was 15 when she was raped by her 58-year-old teacher, and she rose to prominence via News Corp’s #LetHerSpeak campaign which, in 2019, took her legal case to be able to publicly self-identify as a rape survivor to the Supreme Court of Tasmania, and won.
The campaign was created by Nina Funnell in partnership with Marque Lawyers, End Rape on Campus Australia and News Corp.
At the time, it was against the law for many sexual assault survivors in Tasmania to speak out under their own names due to an archaic victim gag law. The legal victory then helped pave the way for the campaign to overhaul oppressive victim gag laws across the country, and another 16 sexual assault survivors have received legal assistance via the campaign support since.
Over the years, the Hobart resident has spoken out about child sexual abuse, trauma impacts, and the warning signs of grooming, and she is the first Tasmanian to win the Australian of the Year honour in the awards’ 61-year history.
RELATED: Story that took two years to tell
As she accepted her award at a ceremony last month, Ms Tame said it was “for all survivors of child sexual abuse” and that she would now focus on “education as a means of prevention”.
“Discussion of child sexual abuse is uncomfortable. But nothing is as uncomfortable as abuse itself,” she said.
“I lost my virginity to a paedophile. I was 15, anorexic. He was 58, my teacher. For months he groomed me, then abused me every day: Before school, after school, in my uniform, on the floor. I didn’t know who I was.
“Publicly, he described his crimes as ‘awesome’. Publicly, I was silenced by law. Let Her Speak helped give me a voice. Campaign creator – Nina Funnell, campaign partners, the 16 other brave campaign survivors: thank you.
“Together, we can redefine what it means to be a survivor. Together, we can end child sexual abuse. Survivors, be proud. Our stories are changing history.”