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Listen, Believe, Report.

Today is White Balloon Day.  As the 15th White Balloon Day campaign held during child protection week annually, this day is about recognition, awareness and support for victims of child sexual assault.

When Braveheart’s Founder and Executive Director Hetty Johnston spoke at the White Balloon lunch, she outlined some alarming statistics:

  • One in 5 Australian children will be sexually assaulted before their 18th Birthday
  • 59,000 children are sexually assaulted in Australia each year
  • The average age at victimisation is 6 and a half years
  • The average age at disclosure is 9 years
  • Only 1% of offenders end up in jail in spite of tireless efforts of the Police.
  • Only 2.8% of offenders aren’t known to the children they abuse

Therefore, in more than 97% of cases the offender is known to the child and is a relative or a trusted friend.   Brave hearts is determined to take this taboo subject and continue to bring it out into the open in order to stop child sexual abuse in our society.  This is a mammoth task, particularly when leading research by organisations such as the Australian Childhood Foundation, NAPCAN and Bravehearts consistently demonstrates that significant numbers of adults in our society are unwilling to hear what children say, dismiss their disclosures and at times feel unable to support them.

Whilst Bravehearts continues in their unwavering commitment to children who’ve been sexually abused, how can we as a country get really serious about this issue?

I’m reminded of the comments of Dr Cindy Blackstock, the Executive Director of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada that given we’ve sent the army into the Northern Territory to deal with child sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities, then by these standards it is NATO we need to combat the problem in mainstream Australia.  Whilst she wasn’t suggesting such a tactic she certainly highlighted the brevity of the problem.

As Hetty Johnston so aptly stated, child sexual abuse affects everyone in our country.  The alarming statistics mean that no one is immune and few escape its impact.  These are our children, our grandchildren, the kids in our children’s class at school, our nieces and nephews.  The same can be said for perpetrators.  Braveheart’s by Hetty’s admission is not a fluffy organisation, because in every situation there is a bad guy.

Standing up to perpetrators is a significant challenge for our communities.  Whilst so often we want to give people the benefit of the doubt, handing children over to people about whom there is any doubt is potentially placing children at risk.  In Bravehearts recent study almost 50% of parents stated that they believed the perpetrator had offended previously but thought they wouldn’t do it again.  However, the reality is offenders continue to perpetrate until they are held to account.

I recently stumbled across an interview with Alice Miller. What really struck me overall from her article were her statements about the insurmountable costs of deception in impeding healing post abuse.  Alice Miller outlines that the complexity of child abuse is that our society condones it, accepts it and explains it away.

Alice Miller reminds us of one key ingredient:  Truth.  If we tell our children and our clients the truth, and most significantly hear their truth we offer a solid platform.  It isn’t always easy for any of us to stand up for the truth in a complex society and service system that often vilifies the victim and struggles holding the perpetrators to account.  However, collectively we need to stand up and keep saying it like it is.  Hopefully then we can support our children in being safe or at the very least assist their recovery by hearing them when they make disclosures of abuse.

Current research and statistics demonstrate that we still have far to go in paying attention to child sexual abuse.  White balloon day is a significant opportunity for us all to remember the importance of educating our children about safety and hearing them when they speak out.

Lorraine Dupree – Policy and Research Manager – PeakCare

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