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Speech: Persistent Sexual Abuse of a Child (Grace Tame)

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: I rise today on behalf of the Greens to confirm our support for this bill, which should come as no surprise because the Greens were working on a similar bill. While it is not a complex change, it will be important to reflect the reality of what is happening in these situations; that is, actually, it is the persistent sexual abuse of a child. I first must acknowledge Grace Tame and her extraordinary work in pushing for reform. Her speeches to the National Press Club highlighted this issue, and her experiences gave many people an insight into the importance of such a change.

Our choice of words matters. Our language matters. Our words have meaning, not only to the people directly affected by them but also to how society views these criminal acts and the victim survivors of them. Child victim survivors of sexual abuse are groomed, they are manipulated. Part of that grooming for many victims includes platitudes, includes gifts, or simply making that child feel special.

What can result is that the child feels that they do have a choice. A child can feel as though they have been chosen to continue to see their abuser. While the reality of the situation is fundamentally different, a child sexual assault survivor remembers those feelings. Their feelings replay alongside the trauma, leading that survivor victim to feel that their actions contributed to the abuse they suffered. I want to be clear: they did not.

Calling what had happened, rather than a relationship, even an unlawful one, is necessary. Calling this abuse a relationship compounds the pain. Nina Funnell, a journalist and survivor advocate, who founded the #LetHerSpeak campaign, has said that the 'sinister' language of a relationship exacerbates the trauma of victim survivors, painting them as an active participant in a mutual romance. This is backed by research that shows us that, in some cases, courts have interpreted the crime of an unlawful sexual relationship by comparing it to an ordinary sexual relationship between mutually consenting adults.

At no point in time is what is happening here a relationship. A relationship is about choice, a relationship is consent, a relationship is reciprocal. Our language matters. It matters for survivor victims, it matters for those who face the daunting prospect of confronting their abuser in court, and it matters for those victim survivors who cannot do that. The notion of a relationship has absolutely no place in this law. The use of the term perpetuates an idea that unlawful sexual acts with a child are a result of a bond between two people, an equal bond. It is patently clear that this is not the case. You have an adult in, perhaps, a position of power, assaulting a child, a victim survivor, and a child who irrespective of their actions was never in a position of power or control.

The offence is absolutely abhorrent and allows offenders to be described in a way that allows the very real harm of their abuse to be minimised through the word 'relationship' and this must end. Renaming the offence in our legislation is a move towards national consistency in that language that is used to describe child sex offences. To be clear, the elements of the offence will not be changed by this amendment and 'engaging in a relationship' will remain an element of the offence as recommended by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

However, the offence will now accurately be named in a way that reflects its inherent abuse. The law as it currently stands highlights a perception of choice, a concept that the word 'relationship' implies. We must consider what message this kind of language sends to our community. Language does matter. We cannot give these victim survivors their childhoods back; we can give them respect and dignity.

South Australia should not be left behind on this issue. I say this for victim survivors, I say this for young people who are abused: our language carries meaning, a profound meaning for some, and 'relationship' does imply consent. We should aim for a nationally consistent approach to our language on this issue, and I note that other states have already moved to make this change.

I thank Cassandra Alvey and Sian Davies of my office for their work, both of whom have put considerable time into this issue with the preparation of a private member's bill that the Greens are pleased we did not need to bring before this house. We also note the work previously of the Hon. Connie Bonaros and welcome that collaboration with the Attorney-General and thank him for his leadership on this issue. With that, I commend the bill.

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