Deaf and blind to children suffering
By MEL MARTIN
AS frightening as they may be, the results of a new study on people's attitudes towards child abuse did not surprise Andrew Deen.
"Child abuse is the biggest social problem in Australia, bar none," the president of the Coffs Harbour branch of Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA) said.
"But it's like the rotten fruit at the bottom of the bowl that no one wants to touch. People just don't want to know about it.
"And as long as it stays that way, children will continue to suffer."
The Australian Childhood Foundation report, Out of Sight Out of Mind, found that child abuse was of less concern to Australians than the rising cost of petrol and problems with public transport.
It also discovered that despite research showing children rarely lie about being abused, a third of us would not believe a child telling us so, and 20 per cent of us would not know what to do if we did.
And that, according to Mr Deen, is because it's an issue we don't want to think about.
"The report found that half of people can't bear to look at pictures of children who have been abused or neglected," Mr Deen said.
"They can't stand to think about it, so they don't.
"Most people would want to protect an abused child, but they have no idea of the extent of the problem."
Yet, according to the report, over the past five years the number of reports of child abuse and neglect has more than doubled in Australia.
In 2004-05, there were almost 700 new reports of child abuse per day ? that's one every two minutes and more than 252,000 over the year.
Mr Deen says BACA Coffs Harbour fully support the report's recommendation that the Federal Government develop a national child abuse prevention strategy with $50 million for a public education campaign.
"It's not enough, but it's a good start. Because unless a public education campaign brings the issue to the top of people's minds, then abuse will continue and will remain unreported," Mr Deen said.
The co-author of the report and chief executive officer of the Australian Childhood Foundation, Dr Joe Tucci, said $50 million would equate to spending less than $20 per reported case of child abuse.
"This is a small investment to make in comparison to the compelling evidence about the enormous financial, social and psychological costs of child abuse for children, families and the community as a whole," Dr Tucci said.
"Unless there is a clear understanding in the community of the nature, extent and impact of child abuse, we are fighting an uphill battle to prevent the trauma, abuse and violence experienced by hundreds of thousands of children around the country."
But the Federal Government has no plans to follow the recommendations, putting the onus on state and territory governments.
"The Australian Government is encouraging consistency between the states and territories on child protection," Families and Community Services Minister Mal Brough said.
"Children's services are run by the states and territories and I am looking forward to working with them on this issue."