The shame of child abuse

By MEL MARTIN

WITH increasing numbers of reported child abuse cases across Australia, the Department of Community Services last year increased caseworker numbers in regional offices, including the Coffs Harbour office.

Now a landmark three-day police summit is under way in Sydney to find more ways to tackle the issue.

Senior police from Australia, US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) officers, child sexual assault investigators and survivors of child abuse, are attending the conference, where the FBI will discuss American strategies, including a national database of child abuse cases.

"It's a case of how we as police work together in care and support for the victims, many of whom don't have a voice," NSW Police Commissioner Ken Moroney said.

"Everyone of these kids deserves to live without fear, they deserve to be protetected."

Each year, 33,000 cases of child abuse are reported to police across Australia, almost half of those in NSW.

And that's just those reported to police.

In NSW, reports to the Department of Community Services (DoCS) increased by 13 per cent over the 2004-05 financial year to 210,000 reports, compared to 185,000 the previous year.

The DoCS Helpline now handles 4000 reports each week, and Australian Bureau of Statistics figures indicate child abuse reports have increased by five per cent per year over the past five years.

Including unreported cases, the national child abuse prevention agency, National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect Foundation (NAPCAN), estimates upwards of 550,000 children are being abused or neglected.

NAPCAN executive officer Adam Blakester says the number of children abused has doubled in the past decade, and 96 per cent know their abuser.

While it is difficult to determine whether this reflected a rising incidence of abuse or an increase in number of people reporting it, DoCS northern regional director Denis Myers said it was a combination of factors.

"Increasing pressures on families, substance abuse by parents and carers, greater community awareness of child abuse and neglect, and the expansion of mandatory reporting in 2000 have all contributed to this increase," he said.

Commissioner Moroney said latest figures showing that one child is reported sexually or physically abused every 15 minutes across Australia and every 35 minutes in NSW, with the majority being verified, were appalling and reflected the tragic reality of an issue needing greater commitment.

"Police in NSW charge at least one person every day over some form of physical or sexual child abuse," he said.

The summit aims to enhance police prevention policies, including a national approach to research and the collection of data, and investigation.

Also discussed, will be community education programs to improve community and police interaction to increase reporting.

"Until police in all States approach this issue with uniform guidelines, we cannot effectively measure the success of our child abuse prevention programs," Mr Moroney said.

The summit will also examine internet child exploitation, family violence, cultural issues, victim support, and evidentiary issues such as the interviewing of child victims.

Mr Blakester said too many resources were focused on helping victims and their families rather than preventing abuse in the first place.



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