Trigger Warning: This article contains references to child sexual abuse and family violence

Harrison James was 12 years old when he discovered the impact of character references. He listened to people protecting his abusive father in the courtroom. Little did he know character references are also used in cases of child sexual abuse. 

James’ mother was rushed to hospital after she was “really badly abused” by his father, and taken to court by police. 

“I remember hearing all the people that came forward and protected my dad with character references and he got off,” James said.

“I thought that surely can’t be happening in child sexual abuse cases [too]. And I found it was.”

In May, James and fellow survivor advocate Jarad Grice launched the #YourReferenceAintRelevant campaign to reform what they say are “outdated practices” and irrelevant laws that protect abusers.

#YourReferenceAintRelevant calls on the NSW Government to remove the last 21 words of section 21A (5A) of the Sentencing Procedure Act 1999 (NSW). This act enables convicted perpetrators of child sexual abuse to provide character references within the courtroom to reduce their sentences. 

“The vision is a future where survivors are no longer suppressed in the courtroom and perpetrators can no longer hide behind the guise of ‘good character’,” James said.

“Our purpose is to create a safer environment for survivors, where their stories are validated and justice prevails.”

Greens MP Abigail Boyd tabled the petition in the NSW parliament on August 22.

James added: “Getting involved is crucial to our mission.

“Join us in demanding reforms, amplifying survivors’ voices, and contributing to a safer world for our children.” 

History of abuse

James’ childhood was brutal. His father was physically abusive and normalised violence within their household.

That abuse created a “distorted lens” on his understanding of love, which he said made him more “susceptible” to being sexually abused later on by his stepmother. 

“Stepping inside my home meant entering a world where screams, hits, and insults were the soundtrack”, he said. 

James’ parents divorced when he was 10, after which he lived with his mother and younger siblings. 

“I remember my dad would just so angrily turn up to the house,” James said. “I remember we we’re trying to watch TV with the curtains closed to avoid my dad and we would hear my dad like hitting the glass on the other side.”

James didn’t see his father again until he was starting at an all-boys high school when he was 13.

Without his grandfather being around, James longed for a “male figure” to look up to. He reconnected with his father and said “it seemed like he changed and it was a positive thing”. 

“The relationship was so good that I decided to move in with him,” James said.


Harrison James is standing in front of a white background with a distraught facial expression. He is holding a sign with the words #YourReferenceAintRelevant written in bold.

Harrison James says character references are irrelevant for convicted perpetrators of child sexual abuse.


Survivor story

In March 2022, James posted a video on Instagram titled ‘My Sexual Assault Story’. In the video, James said that he is an adult survivor of child sexual abuse. After he moved in with his father who had already re-married, James said he was groomed and sexually molested by his stepmother from ages 13-16.

 Screenshot of an Instagram video posted by Harrison James.

Harrison James opens up about his survivor story on Instagram.


“I lost my virginity to a pedophile,” he said.

In the video, James said he was 15 years old when his stepmother fell pregnant with his daughter. He said he was a kid becoming a father and he was freaking out.

“I wanted to be the father to my little girl that my father wasn’t to me,” James said.

“So I continued to be quiet and not come out with anything to protect my daughter for many years after pretending that she was my sister.”

When James was 19, his stepmother fled the country with his daughter. He said that after his stepmother fled, she emailed his father falsely accusing James of “rape” to throw his dad’s focus off of them leaving the country and onto James. 

After that, James said he went to stay with his real mother and that’s when he disclosed his story for the first time. When James was 20, he checked himself into a mental health facility. After he was released, he gave himself a year to begin his healing journey. 

Black and white image of Harrison James smiling into the distance wearing a white shirt with the words I BELIEVE YOU printed in black.

Harrison James is using his story to enact change and empower survivors of child sexual abuse.


‘The good parts’

James said despite his turbulent life he drew strength from positive role models and good experiences.

When growing up, he found himself drawn to the art of filmmaking and animation. 

“I remember loving going to a movie theatre, and I would come home and draw all the characters,” he said. 

As a child, James dreamt of pursuing a career as an actor or comedian. He always felt attracted to the entertainment field and speaking in front of an audience. 

“I wanted to do many things growing up. I think at one point I wanted to be a rapper,” he said.

Amongst these dreams and passions, James also found comfort in the support of his extended family.

He said his aunties and grandparents made the good parts of his childhood. 

James was seven when he gave a eulogy at his grandfather’s funeral, a man he described as his ‘hero’.

James said the church was gathered with loved ones and “people wrapped around the corner wanting to get a glimpse of this guy’s funeral”.

He said his grandfather was a beautiful man who was gentle, kind and sensitive but also strong, brave and courageous. He impacted the lives of so many people and inspired James to want to do the same. 

“I remember thinking this guy’s left like a legacy that will live beyond him,” James said.

“Every time I think of him, I just think God I hope I can be half the man that he was.”

He added: “My healing journey has been a process of reclaiming my power and transforming my pain into purpose.

“Through advocacy and connecting with fellow survivors via survivor-led initiatives, I’ve found the courage to redefine my narrative and connect with others who’ve faced similar experiences, I’ve found strength in my vulnerability.

“The way forward involves advocacy, creating awareness, and enacting meaningful change to ensure that survivors’ voices are heard and justice is served.”


What can you do?

  • Support survivor-led initiatives
  • Write to your local and federal MPs demanding change 
  • Follow Harrison James’ social media pages and share posts online
  • Engage in conversations with friends and colleagues

If you or someone you know is experiencing sexual or family violence contact

  • National Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence Counselling Service 24-hour helpline 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732
  • Family Violence Crisis and Support Service on 1800 608 122
  • Bravehearts – Sexual Assault Support for Children on 1800 BRAVE 1

Main image supplied by  Harrison James.