SURVIVORS of sexual abuse in the Jewish community were left feeling “shame” and “re-traumatised” following changes to Victoria’s Judicial Proceedings Reports Act that silences victims from speaking out.
Quietly enacted in February, the amendments have made it an offence to publish the identity of sexual assault victims – regardless of their consent – in all cases where the offender has been found guilty, and where charges have been laid and proceedings are still pending. The only exemption is if the victim applies for and is granted a court order. Should the new laws be broken, individuals found guilty face up to four months in jail and fines.
As a result of the amendments, alleged sexual abuse victims Dassi Erlich, Elly Sapper and Nicole Meyer were left no other option than to seek a court order. They appeared before the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court via online on Wednesday when their application was approved, granting them permission to publicly speak their truth once more.
“Our choice to speak has been restored! It was an instrumental decision that will set a precedent and hopefully pave the way for other survivors to own and share their story,” said Erlich.
Our choice to speak has been restored!
Judge Metclaf heard us. We have our voice back!
An instrumental decision that will set a precedent & hopefully pave the way for other survivors to own & share their story
There should not be any burden on a survivor other than their choice
— Dassi Erlich #bringleiferback (@dassi_erlich) September 2, 2020
The three sisters were allegedly abused by their former principal at the Adass Israel School, Malka Leifer. On September 21, a decision will be handed down on whether Leifer will be extradited from Israel to face 74 charges of child sexual abuse.
Speaking on the amendments, Erlich said: “It sends a message of shame to victims who choose to tell their story. The government does not have the right to choose how and when victims tell their story.”
Echoing Erlich’s sentiments, child sexual abuse survivor Dassi Herszberg said that on hearing the news, she “initially took on those feelings of shame again. It was absolutely triggering and re-traumatising in a way that I reverted back to that child.”
“I then felt incensed by the injustice, and was staggered by the incompetency of politicians in allowing this to pass.
“We’re being asked to ‘apply’ to speak – on something that happened to us? It’s such an insult, and so patronising.”
Erlich shared that she received phone calls from Premier Daniel Andrews and Attorney-General Jill Hennessy last week. By Friday, Hennessy announced that urgent reforms will be fast-tracked in parliament this year, meaning the majority of victims won’t require a court order to tell their stories if they have given informed consent to being identified.
Caulfield MP David Southwick called the legislative change “deeply concerning”, charging “the State Government’s failure to act, despite being fully aware of these issues for months, is simply unacceptable”.