To Violence against Women & Children, does Australia say No?
In recent years there have been increased campaigns and awareness of the issues of Domestic violence and child abuse, yet the horror stories continue.
If you were able to sit through the entire episode of the recent 4 Corners on the abuse of disabled children you would have seen one of the most pressing issues we must tackle. But flipping open the papers the following day it was clear that Australia does not take seriously enough the issue of abuse and violence against the vulnerable. The ABC show chronicled the shocking story of sexual abuse of intellectually disabled children attending a Catholic school in Adelaide and the way it was covered up.
Domestic Violence and the sexual abuse of women and children is not a new issue to anyone, but perhaps this exposure of the horrific assaults on disabled children highlights more than ever the need to tackle this issue. People much wiser than I have written about the issue for decades, campaigns have been waged, community workers battled and some funding allocated. But the inroads into the issue are simply not good enough for what is an epidemic size problem. Of the figures on child abuse that all Australians should find the most alarming. It is widely believed that before they are 18 years old 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused. Think about those figures for a moment…
To understand them more easily imagine a typical Australian classroom of ten year olds in year 4. In that classroom of between 20 and 25 children, 3 of the girls and 2 of the boys will be sexually abused by the time they are 18; if they haven’t already. We would not tolerate a situation where we look at a classroom of kids and accept that 5 of them will die of cancer before 18, or 5 of them will be killed in motor vehicle accidents or 5 of them would die from a preventable disease such as Malaria. We have tackled these problems either wiping them out in the case of preventable diseases, increasing survival rates for cancer and educating about driver safety. We did all of these things when as horrible as they are none of those problems ever reached the level that child abuse is at.
This is a National disgrace, a failure of leadership and an all to eager approach of sweeping things under the carpet and failing the victims and the support workers and organisations. Victims of child sexual abuse are NEVER responsible for the suffering they endure. But if we are to accept, and we do, that these figures are accurate then more alarming is the number of abusers that exist in our community. We have been quick to point the finger at Indigenous Australian’s and took the bizarre step of sending the Army into the Northern Territory. We have often marginalised minority groups as oppressing their women or having a culture where it is inherent. But there is a truth we must admit as all Australian’s, we have a national crisis in child protection and we have failed past and present generations. If we do not act decisively now then we will be failing the future generations whose protection we hold right now in our own hands.
Faced with figures of 1/4 of all Australian girls and 1/6 of boys I will not accept that the War in Iraq, the childish approach to the asylum seeker debate or even the economy are more important issues than the protection of children. Yet those issues are front page on a daily basis, they attract billions of dollars in funding and are part of every election campaign. When has a politician ever gone to an election with child protection and well being even in their top five policies? It just doesn’t happen. If children were voting do you believe this would be the case?
But children can’t vote, so we must take the responsibility as adults, as parents and citizens of our National community to speak out and act on their behalf. Figures show that of the female children abused under the age of 18, 92% of the perpetrators will be men. The figure is only moderately lower for boys and generally when a female is involved they are accompanied by a male perpetrator as well. Meanwhile the support industry and community sector that help run women’s shelters, domestic violence support, family support and other key services are dominated by female workers.
It is NOT a generalisation to say the problem is not women and children, its men! The figures clearly back it up and it is time we, the men of modern Australia take a stand on this most important of issues. We are the first to beat our chest and say we’d deal with a child abuser, we write letters to editors about how we’d love just five minutes in a dark alley with a paedophile and we tend to think pretty dimly of those who raise their hand to their partner. But what are we actually doing about it? The problem isn’t getting better and it wont on its own.
It is time for a national dialogue on domestic and sexual violence, particularly among men. It is unacceptable that we continue to allow the children, in particularly of our society be victims to such abuse and stand idly by and do nothing. This is not about being a vigilante and confronting with bare knuckles the first man you suspect of being an abuser. This is about opening the door so the conversations can take place, so the support can be provided and so we get this issue on the political map.
Our first step must be the ability to speak openly and honestly within our circle of friends that abuse of any kind is unacceptable, criminal and should be reported to the police and community services. We need to create a culture of fathers, uncles, older friends, sports coaches and others speaking together and with children that they don’t have to suffer this crime. We need to drop the attitude that any woman or child ever “deserves it”. Nobody deserves to be abused, no court in the land would accept such a view and it is morally reprehensible.
The toll of abuse on our community is immeasurable, many victims suffer a life time of mental anguish and illness, drug dependency, such low levels of self-esteem that the abuse continues into adulthood or sadly become abusers themselves. This is a vicious cycle, a snow ball gathering pace and with it the number of victims. It is time to push back and we must begin the conversation now, man to man about what WE are going to do about this issue.
Men my challenge to you is this, speak about this issue not just with your female friends but with your male friends. Make it a priority that you become a facilitator to addressing this issue and not a silent witness. As you read this piece a child, many children and women are being abused in our country. The question is, are you going to speak about it so that tomorrow can be a better day for us all? You are not less of a man to think and speak out against abuse, it isn’t a “female” issue to be left to women’s groups. This is about men pulling their weight and understanding they have a vital role in protecting our society, not with violence, but by opposing it!