Australian children and young people deserve better

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Yesterday, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released its findings from the 2021-22 Personal Safety Survey (PSS).

Among its key findings, the survey found that:

  • About 2.7 million (14%) Australians experienced adult-perpetrated sexual or physical abuse before they were 15-years-old.
  • 18% of women and 11% of men experienced these forms of abuse before the age of 15. This is around 1.7 million women and 1 million men.
  • 11% (1.1 million) of women and 3.6% (343,500) of men experienced sexual abuse before 15 years of age. This is 7.5% of the Australian population.
  • Most victims of child sexual abuse (69% of women and 52% of men) were sexually abused by an adult more than once.
  • The first incident of child sexual abuse was by an adult family member for about half of females (47%) and one third of male victims (32%).

As alarming as these statistics are, we know this data grossly underestimates the prevalence of child sexual abuse in Australia.

Data released this year from the Australian Child Maltreatment Study (ACMS) showed that 28.5% of the Australian population had been sexually abused in childhood. This is almost four times the rate of the ABS statistics released yesterday.

Most of this difference is because the ACMS included victimisation throughout the entirety of childhood (up to 18 years of age) and included sexual abuse by a person who is under 18 years of age.

Nonetheless, both data sources paint an alarming picture of the lives of Australian children where abuse is highly prevalent and widespread. The lifelong harms being inflicted on Australian children is unacceptable.

Speaking on behalf of the National Centre for Action on Child Sexual Abuse, CEO, Dr Leanne Beagley said:

“The data released yesterday, along with that of the Australian Child Maltreatment Study (ACMS), underlines the challenge we must face up to in this country regarding children’s safety and children’s rights. The evidence is stark and must compel us to act.”

“Currently more than one in three girls and almost one in five boys experience child sexual abuse before the age of 18. All childhood abuse, and especially child sexual abuse, causes wide-ranging and long-lasting harm. Mental health disorders and serious health risk behaviours are greatly increased when children experience abuse, particularly sexual abuse. The immediate and long-term consequences for us as a country – morally, ethically and economically – cannot be underestimated.”

“All adults must take responsibility to stop this endemic problem.”

It is notable that these findings have been released in the same week as World Children’s Day (November 20). A day that acknowledges the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Australia is a signatory. As the Convention clearly states, children (people under 18 years) must be treated with decency and respect, they must be cared for, given opportunities to grow and included in communities. Children have the right to feel safe from violence and prejudice, regardless of where they live or their ethnic or social origin, abilities, birthplace or other status.

We must not look away.

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