IT would be easy for Grace Tame to view her recognition as Australian of the Year as vindication of her struggle to right a wrong, but that’s not how she sees it.
Grace, a sexual assault survivor who was silenced by an archaic gag law that prevented her speaking out against her abuser, is now a persuasive advocate for destigmatising victims’ experience of sexual assault.
“This isn’t an award that celebrates me,” Grace told “CityNews”.
“By normalising the act of speaking out we are freeing victims from shame and dismantling victim blaming attitudes.
“This is a movement, a paradigm shift that is far bigger than me, it always has and always will be.”
The nation’s introduction to Grace Tame came when she gave an emotional and powerful speech after being named as the 2021 Australian of the Year in January.
“I remember him saying, ‘Don’t make a sound’. Well, hear me now, using my voice amongst a chorus of voices that will not be silenced,” Grace said, opening up about her abuse at the Australia Day awards ceremony.
The 26-year-old’s journey of abuse, fighting the legal system to earn her right to share her story and becoming a voice for many child-abuse survivors made her a meritorious recipient of the Australia Day honour.
Now Canberrans will have the chance to listen to Grace’s inspiring story as part of an International Women’s Day (IWD) event on March 5, hosted by UN Women Australia.
Grace was a 15-year-old schoolgirl battling anorexia when her high school maths teacher Nicolaas Bester raped her on the classroom floor at St Michael’s Collegiate School in Hobart.
Under section 194K of the Tasmanian Evidence Act 2001, she was unable to speak about her experience – despite Bester being able to.
Following her involvement in the #LetHerSpeak campaign Grace helped lead the fight to overturn the law, and won.
Now, she is using her voice to make a difference for others – and encouraging other sexual-assault victims to do the same.
“It’s not your fault, you are not alone, your truth is your power, it’s not your shame it’s your power,” Grace said.
Unafraid to tackle “heavy” topics, the 26-year-old said she wants to use her new-found platform to highlight the risks and damage of grooming as well as other forms of psychological control and abuse that perpetrators commit.
“We need to get straight to it, we need to go into schools at the primary and high school level and start having these uncomfortable discussions,” she said.
“We need to understand a lot more about grooming and the psychological manipulation that characterises, not only prolonged abuse of children but domestic violence as well.”
She is also determined to use the next year advocating changes to legal reforms, on things such as the definition of consent.
“There’s still a lot of legislation nationwide that enables predators in its structure,” Grace said.
“We have got eight different jurisdictions between the states and territories and therefore we have eight different definitions of consent, and when you have that kind of inconsistency it inherently undermines the collective understanding of the issue and undermines our ability to take it seriously.
“So a priority is looking at a standardised uniformed approach, at a federal level, to sexual assault.”
Grace, who will appear via video link from Sydney, will join a line-up of live speakers for the International Women’s Day event in Canberra, including Michelle Deshong, CEO of the Australian Indigenous Governance Institute and Julie-Ann Guivarra, Australia’s Ambassador for Gender Equality.
Like Grace, these women are using their profile to help others find their voice and speak out against injustice.
“It’s important we allow every voice the opportunity to be heard because every voice has the power to teach us something different,” Grace said.
“With your knowledge from your unique lived experience you can change the world.”
Beyond her abuse case there’s a lot to be learned about this girl who is starting many pivotal conversations across the country.
A marathon runner and yoga teacher, Grace is also a successful artist, with a surprising link to “Monty Python” and “Fawlty Towers” star John Cleese.
“Not long after I reported what had happened to me at school, I felt broken and depressed,” Grace said.
“I didn’t have the strength to get out of bed so I watched ‘Monty Python’ DVDs on repeat because I associated them with positive memories and laughter and that’s what I needed.
“I would sit and draw whilst I watched those movies and I remember one day mum said to me: ‘Maybe one day you’ll draw for one of the Pythons’.”
In an ironic twist of fate, Grace’s mother’s remark was spot on.
Some years later after finishing school, Grace moved to America, graduating from Santa Barbara City College with a degree in theatre arts and liberal arts. During her stint in the US she met John Cleese’s daughter Camilla, a successful comedian in her own right.
“Camilla asked me to do an illustration of her dad for American Father’s Day, I did and he loved it so I ended up touring with John for part of his ‘Holy Grail’ tour and my sketches became some of the most successful merchandise he sold on tour.
“It’s amazing how life can turn around… it’s worth believing in yourself and sticking to your truth because organically, without forcing it, magic can happen.”
Grace Tame’s best advice for anyone confronting a personal challenge or severe setback is to “trust” in yourself and not to give up hope.
“Trauma never goes away but through sharing your truth you can transcend the darkness and find yourself in a space where the light overwhelms the dark.”
Tickets for the IWD event, National Convention Centre are at unwomen.org.au