Campaign against Victoria gag law silencing families of deceased sexual assault victims
Eileen Culleton campaigned alongside the #LetUsSpeak campaign to successfully amend the proposed Victorian gag law, the Justice Legislation Amendment (Supporting Victims and Other Matters) Bill 2020 which planned to take away the rights of families of deceased sexual assault victims from publicly identifying their loved ones.
Eileen fought for victim families, their loved ones, the media and advocates to maintain their right to publish the names of murdered rape victims. This right includes publishing on social media.
Eileen argued that murdered rape victims names need to be spoken and the stories of the crimes need to be told. For humanity, for justice and for community protection.
Fighting alongside the #Let Us Speak Campaign
Eileen campaigned alongside the #Let Us Speak campaign to fight the Justice Legislation Amendment (Supporting Victims and Other Matters) Bill 2020 clause to gag family members of deceased sexual assault victims.
Eileen first heard about the Bill through an opinion article by #Let Her Speak/#Let Us Speak Campaign Director Nina Funnell on news.com.au on the 26th October, the day before her murdered sister Anne-Marie Culleton’s birthday.
Eileen sent a letter the following day to the Attorney General Jill Hennessy (who has since resigned), pleading with her to remove the gag clause. She also forwarded her letter to the Shadow Attorney General Edward O’Donohue (also since resigned) whose office suggested she contact #Let Her Speak/#Let Us Speak Campaign Director Nina Funnell who was fighting the bill. Eileen contacted Nina Funnell to offer her support for the #Let Us Speak campaign and they campaigned together through social media and the media.
Ms Funnell assisted Eileen with getting media coverage which included Victoria ABC TV news, radio news and online and the NT News (print and online). Nina also arranged for herself and Eileen to appear together on Triple J Hack radio program.
Below are key elements of Eileen’s campaign efforts.
Letter to the Attorney General
Prior to the bill being debated in the Legislative Assembly, Eileen wrote to Attorney-General Jill Hennessy, to no response. It was her sister Anne-Marie Culleton’s birthday. She was devastated to have to fight this campaign on her birthday. She also tweeted the letter.
Nina Funnell also tweeted the letter which Eileen had forwarded to her.
Below is a transcript of the letter to the Attorney General:
27 October 2020
Hon. Jill Hennessy, Attorney-General
Re: Justice Legislation Amendment Bill 2020 – urgent plea to amend wording to allow victim families, media and the public to freely publish the names of deceased victims of sexual assault
My name is Eileen Culleton. I am the sister of murder victim Anne-Marie Culleton who was raped and murdered in 1988 by Jonathan Bakewell who broke down her locked door in the middle of the night to attack her in her bed while she was sleeping.
I am horrified by the proposed Justice Legislation Amendment Bill 2020 which will make it a crime to publish the name of any deceased sexual assault victim from Victoria.
This would gag victim family members like myself from speaking about my sister’s rape and murder. This is a gross violation of victims civil rights and dignity.
Even though I do not reside in Victoria, this bill impacts my current fight for law reform in this country. I made a submission to the NSW Review into Sentencing for Murder and Manslaughter calling for life sentencing for the crime of rape and murder, in which I referenced trial sentencing remarks and media reports related to Victoria rape and murder victims Jill Meagher, Eurydice Dixon and Aiia Maasarwe.
It is critical for all members of the public to be able to reference sexual homicide crimes when advocating for justice or for law reform.
There are also many other serious detrimental impacts of this bill including:
Preventing justice from being done – It is critical that justice must not only be done but be seen to be done. This requires the victim family, the media and the general public being able to freely speak about trials, sentences and appeals.
Preventing the victim family from publicly opposing parole – victim family members should have the right to publicly oppose parole applications by their loved one’s rapist murderer.
Preventing grieving and honouring the victim – victim families should have the right to grieve publicly if they so choose. They should have the right to speak to the media to honour their loved one whom they have lost so brutally. They should have the right to setup social media memorial pages for their loved one. They should have the right to setup public crowdfunding pages to seek help with funeral expenses.
Please do not silence families of rape and murder victims. We have been through enough. Please do not take away our voice.
Please urgently amend this bill to allow victim families, the media and the public to freely publish the names of deceased victims of sexual assault.
Address and contact details supplied in email
Eileen’s media campaign included coverage by Victoria ABC TV news, radio news and online, the NT News (print and online) and Triple J Hack radio program (appearing with #LetUsSpeak Campaign Director Nina Funnell).
Open letter to Labor
Eileen wrote a second letter, an open letter to Victoria Labor which she shared on Twitter after the first day of debate of the bill in the Lower House. Unfortunately her pleas fell on deaf ears.
The Shadow Attorney General Edward O’Donohue shared her tweet with the letter
Upper House Debate
Eileen campaigned again in the leadup to and during the debate in the Upper House
Eileen also called for people to sign the #LetUsSpeak letter
Eileen wrote a letter to the Upper House MPs which she also tweeted. Eileen also telephoned many of them.
Eileen joined Nina Funnell in live tweeting during the Parliament debate and also retweeting Ms Funnell’s tweets
The Upper House voted to insert a sunset clause for the legislation to enable a consultation on the issue the following year. Eileen was furious because it meant continued trauma for families of murdered rape victims like her sister Anne-Marie Culleton, Jill Meagher and Aiia Maasarwe, having to fight again to overturn the law.
Eileen spoke on ABC Radio Melbourne to express her disappointment and lack of confidence in the government.
The Shadow Attorney General Edward O’Donohue thanked Eileen for her advocasy
Consultation submissions and participation
First Written Submission
Eileen made a written submission on 29 January 2021 in response to the Victoria Consultation Paper on the legislative changes. Eileen made a comprehensive 27 page submission covering key issues including justice, discrimination against women, community safety, sexual violence against women, victim’s rights, victim trauma and the important role of the media in supporting these issues.
Read the submission here:
Eileen participated in a meeting on 23 June 2021 with the government consultation team to discuss further proposed legislative changes in response to submissions to the Consultation Paper.
Eileen then made a further submission in response to proposed revised legislation which was to be presented to parliament. This submission was 55 pages (read below).
In September 2021 the Victorian government passed new laws to allow families of deceased sexual assault victims to publicly identify their loved ones.
However the government introduced a new Victim Privacy Order which would enable one person to be able to gag the entire family. Speaking to the ABC ( see link to article below), Eileen said while she was relieved the gag order had been removed, she was unhappy about the new privacy order.
“I am horrified that they are introducing a new privacy order which will allow one person, a friend or family member, to have the power to erase the murdered rape victim from history and also gag the entire family from speaking their name,” she said.
Eileen said family members who wanted to ensure their privacy could simply refuse to speak to the media. If they didn’t want their name associated with the murdered rape victim, they could change their own name instead, at a fraction of the cost of applying for a victim privacy order to suppress the murdered rape victim’s name.
The Victim Privacy Order law will be subject to a review in two years.