Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Judicial comments show ignorance about child sexual abuse

Judicial comments show ignorance about child sexual abuse
By Vivien Resofsky 

Courier Mail - December 19, 2007

THE community is outraged at what it perceives to be the inadequate judgments of those in authority with responsibility for protecting children.

But often public outrage wears off all too quickly and the ordeal of children goes on.

Comments by County Court Judge Michael Kelly that children "simply get over it' and a perpetrator and victim "both acquired illicit pleasure" from "experimental lust" have been met with horror and disbelief.

They come after Queensland Judge Sarah Bradley's conclusion that a 10-year-old rape victim "probably agreed to have sex."

It points to the underlying problem about child sexual abuse and why academic research indicates a staggering one in three Australian girls and one in six Australian boys are abused.

If those figures amaze you, it is based on research which has been explained by the Australian centre for Sexual Assault and resembles US studies.

What the judicial comments clearly reveal is a basic ignorance about child sexual abuse.

The fact these people don't appear to comprehend the enormity of the problem indicates the need for wide public education and a change in attitudes.

Judge Kelly and Judge Bradley do not understand that child sexual abuse is not just a "bad experience".

Can you imagine the impact on a child who is repeatedly assaulted by the same person, a person they know and trust?

Yet because they are so confused, scared or so shamed by this person they do not tell anyone. Sometimes the abuse continues over years and the child carries their imagined shame alone in silence.

The silence of victims and ignorance of adults whose role should be to protect children are the allies of sexual abusers.

That's why child sexual abuse should be a public health issue, with a focus on education to change attitudes.

Adults should be given the knowledge about child behaviour which helps them recognise and react responsibly to possible child sexual abuse.

Yet there were no suitable "packaged prevention programs" available in Australia.

Child sexual abuse is a problem in every country and every community. Some, however, are moving in new directions.

Good programs are available from the US which assist development of preventative and protective behaviours.

Despite the facts, we have yet to sustain a movement to prevent abuse.

That's because it doesn't fit into its own category but is often addressed at the periphery of other issues such as domestic violence and sexual assault of all ages.

Government agencies have not accepted the fact child sexual abuse can be prevented through more active action. The solution to the underlying problem is the need for further education, for a mandated reporter in schools who is legally responsible to report abuse.

The epidemic of child sexual abuse cannot be countered when we have not given it the necessary focus, planning, and funding to reduce the damage. To simply bundle it together with other societal maladies camouflages the extent of the problem, as well as its potential remedies.

We need a revolution in child sexual abuse thinking that moves away from old and tired approaches and embraces a new way of reaching adults. By continuing with existing strategies that have failed to address and prevent child sexual abuse, state and federal governments are doing our children no favours.

Vivien Resofsky is a prevention trainer and founder of Prevent Child Abuse Australia.

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