At 15-years-old, Grace Tame was insidiously groomed, stalked and sexually assaulted by her 58-year-old maths teacher. He thought she’d be silent, but hadn’t counted on Grace’s resilience, her sense of justice, her fighting spirit. At 16 Grace found the courage to report Nicolaas Bester to the police, after which he was convicted and imprisoned. At 22, she campaigned against an archaic law that allowed her abuser to speak publicly while she was forbidden from using her name to tell her story. Grace has helped to change laws, spread understanding, and has given strength and hope to other survivors of abuse. Now, at 26, she is Australian of the Year. “Well, hear me now,” she said as she received her award, “using my voice amongst a growing chorus of voices that will not be silenced.”
What was life like, growing up in suburban Tasmania?
As a kid, I was full of love, life and energy. I was an active kid. I played sport – soccer, I loved to run, to hang out with my cousins and friends, and spend time outdoors. I was a tomboy, always climbing trees and falling out of them. Most of my friends were boys. I was the only girl on the soccer team. I was very enthusiastic. I loved school, I loved to have a laugh. I threw myself at everything and gave 110 per cent.
How did life change when you went to high school?
I’d never given much thought to image or size or anything like that. Then I went to an all-girls’ school and it was a different environment, different values. Unfortunately, there’s a lot more focus for women on how they look and I’d never previously given much thought to that. I’d always just been this happy-go-lucky, goofy kid …
Then, at around the age of 13 or 14, I began dealing with the traumatic memory of being molested as a six-year-old by an older child. And that’s when I started to struggle with anorexia. I was hospitalised for about six weeks in April 2009. That’s when things started to really slip and become difficult for myself and my family.
Were there things that made you more vulnerable to abuse?
My parents separated when I was about two and they both remarried. They’ve been with their respective partners for as long as I can remember. Despite the fact my parents were separated, I always knew I was loved, but both my parents were very occupied. And because I split my time between the two houses, I didn’t have a sure-fire concept of stability and consistency … This was nobody’s fault. The only person to blame for the abuse is the abuser. But that instability lent itself to being utilised by the abuser, who was able to destabilise it even further.
Sexual abuse is characterised, not just by physical abuse or violence, but by incredibly meticulous, calculated psychological manipulation. That is so important and we don’t talk about that enough. Abusers identify victims whose circumstances make it easier for them to get away with the abuse. They’re looking for people who are vulnerable, who don’t have stable circumstances; lonely, isolated people.
He wasn’t counting on someone who would grow up to be such a powerhouse, was he?
No. He got me at a weak point but he underestimated my resilience.
Can you talk us through the process of grooming?
Of course. It’s important that we understand this as a community so we can work towards preventing abuse.
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