I rise today to move the motion standing in my name. That this Chamber –
a) recognises National Child Protection Week was held from the 2nd until the 8th
b) acknowledges that Child Protection Week is a wonderful opportunity for everyone in the community to think about how we can work together to keep all children safe;
c) acknowledges and thanks all individuals, organisations, agencies and service providers working in our community to support children and families impacted by child abuse.
In speaking to my motion, I would like to provide the chamber initially with a very important number. That number is 45,714. I will say it again: 45,714. That is the number of Australian children who had substantiated notifications of abuse between 2015 and 2016. Quite frankly, that number is horrendous.
The National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (NAPCAN) was established as a peak body through the formation of the NAPCAN Foundation in 1990. They began coordinating National Child Protection Week across Australia in an effort to engage and educate all Australians about the part we all play in keeping our children and young people safe.
This foundation was established by Rosemary Sinclair in 1987 to address the culture surrounding child protection. She acknowledged that the abuse and neglect of children is often seen to be a taboo topic. I couldn’t agree more. As a result, we don’t talk about this uncomfortable topic often enough. We have let children slip through the cracks. This foundation works hard to change the perception surrounding the abuse and neglect of children, encourage discussion, increase awareness and work towards eradicating the problem. Leesa Water, NAPCAN Deputy CEO, urges Australians to think about child abuse as something that can be prevented rather than a problem to be fixed after the fact.
National Child Protection Week provides an opportunity for all of us, and the community as a whole, to focus on the role each of us play in creating safe and nurturing environments for children where they are free from abuse and neglect. It is the strong belief of this Government that all the children of South Australia deserve the very best start in life.
There is considered to be four types of harm: emotional abuse, neglect, physical abuse and sexual abuse. In order, the most common form of abuse between 2015 and 2016 was emotional abuse, followed by neglect, physical abuse and then sexual abuse. It is concerning that the statistics gathered from the Australian Institute of Family Studies between 2011-12 and 2015-16 show a steady and consistent level of abuse and neglect. What is even more concerning is that there has been an alarming increase in the prevalence of child abuse. This increase is indeed alarming, given the amount of time and effort that has been put into the subject.
It saddens me that 1 in 32 children are the victims of substantiated child abuse each and every year in Australia. The Australian Institute of Family Studies considers a substantiation of notification to be “when an investigation has concluded and there is reasonable cause to believe that the child had been, was being, or was likely to be, abused, neglected or otherwise harmed.” Ms. Water, stated that these children “are just the ones that are severe enough to reach the high threshold required to be picked up by the statutory child protection system. Hundreds of thousands more children have less than optimal lives but are not counted in these alarming statistics.” This impacts children of all ages. Sadly however, children aged less than 1 year are the most likely to be subject to substantiation with statistics revealing 16.1 per 1, 000 infants. This is followed by children aged 1-4 years with 9 children per 1, 000 children.
I would like to share some numbers with you:
• Between 2015-16 there was a staggering total of
225,487 Australian children suspected of being harmed or at risk of harm from
abuse and/or neglect.
• 355,925 notifications of allegations of child
abuse or neglect, child maltreatment or harm to a child made to an authorised
• This is an increase of 11.2% from the previous
year with the rate of notifications being 42 per 1,000 children.
• In 2015-16 there were 60,989 substantiations of notifications which involved a massive 45,714 children.
45,714 children with the number on the rise. That is 45,714 children too many. These children aren’t just numbers on a page. Each number represents a child whose life has been changed forever at the hands of those who should have protected them. Harm which has occurred at a time when these children were most vulnerable. According to the Australian Federal Police, “when a child is abused, the physical and mental pain can last a lifetime,” which I believe is understated. This abuse does last a lifetime. If you think it doesn’t impact us, you’re wrong. In South Australia alone, there are some 3680 children and young people living in out of home care.
In 2012, State, Territory and Federal Governments established the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The report contained recommendations in relation to the establishment, funding and operation of a single national redress scheme which our Government has since opted into. The scheme aims to provide acknowledgment and support to people who experienced institutional child sexual abuse. It is vital that we work together to create a safer environment for all South Australians, but particularly, that we care for our most vulnerable, our youth. We as a Government acknowledge the unforgivable crimes committed against South Australia’s innocent children and are seeking to address the legacy of child sexual abuse. We must not forget or be blind to the impact of the monstrosity of the events these children have endured.
Unfortunately, abuse is far more common than we would like to let ourselves believe. Between 2015-16 there were 5,559 Australian children who were found to be victims of sexual abuse, 152 of these children were from South Australia. This is appalling. As a society, we must do better. What happens to these children impacts them greatly. It’s important that we remember that these children are not just a number. Every now and then it is important that we put a face to the name. That we realise that each number in these statistics is a life and a family that is impacted. The abuse a child suffers does not solely impact the victim, but the family and support network of the child too.
We all too often do not stop to think about the suffering of the victim and how their lives have been impacted. The Royal Commission found that of the survivors who provided information in private sessions about the impacts of being sexually abused, 95% suffered from mental health issues. Some of these issues include depression, anxiety and post-traumatic disorder (PTSD); other symptoms of mental distress such as nightmares and sleeping difficulties; and emotional issues such as feelings of shame, guilt and low self-esteem. Issues faced by survivors are not limited to mental health issues, they expand to different aspects of their lives such as relationship issues, financial issues and the list goes on. What is so troubling about child sexual abuse is that our children are our most vulnerable members of society. We have a responsibility to protect our children.
I want to recount an experience that I have recently had that has really brought this extremely close to home for me. I recently met with a very brave person—a friend and somebody who I hold in the highest regard—a man who I thought had it all together. He is an incredibly competent, professional person doing wonderful things to improve people's lives.
Recently, on a Saturday, this very good man asked to see me urgently, which was really quite unusual. Without hesitation, I made time to make sure that I could catch up with this gentleman. Sadly, he shared with me the horrific and chilling experience suffered by himself and his brother, which really caught me by surprise. Again, I had seen no signs at all that he was holding on to another horrific part of his life. As a very young man, he and his brother were part of a very good family in Victor Harbor who were part of a strong religious group. Sadly, in a trusting environment, this man and his brother were abused. It is something that he has had to live with his whole entire life.
It took enormous courage for this man to tell me about the events that had occurred and the extensive impact that it had both on his life and that of his brother. This survivor told me something that has powerfully resonated with me: that the child sexual abuse he endured affects his life every day and will be with him for the rest of his life. In his own words, he has been given a life sentence.
He also informed me about his and his brother's involvement in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. I thank him and his brother for their bravery in coming forward and sharing their story. I acknowledge the courage that it has taken for these victims of child sexual abuse to come forward in this royal commission and how difficult it would have been to relive these horrific events and share these highly personal and raw experiences. This is something that would have taken enormous courage and strength.
As a society, we are often focused on the perpetrator. We often talk about how a perpetrator has changed and learnt their lesson or how a sentence is too harsh or too lenient. We seldom stop to consider the life sentence a victim carries. This is what this brave constituent has enforced with me. Every day, for the rest of these victims' lives, they carry with them the weight of these horrific actions, how through no fault of their own their lives were changed forever by the disgusting cowardice and unforgivable actions of the perpetrator.
He explained to me in very clear terms how he considered himself at the time, if you can imagine a champagne glass: clean, smooth lines, very functional, something to be savoured. After the events of the perpetrator, he described himself as someone who has managed to pick up the pieces of that smashed glass and actually managed to get them together. It will never be that exact vessel that it was before, and he accepts that, but he has done an enormous job in putting those pieces back together. That analogy really rocked me and reminded me again of his words, that he has been given a life sentence by this animal.
Vivian Frederick Deboo was found guilty and goaled in April 1996 for six years, with a two-year non-parole period for child sex offences for three boys aged between 14 and 16. His sentence was backdated to commence from the date of his arrest, he was released in 1997. For the young victims and their families, this sentence was insulting, humiliating and brought enormous heartache.
This paedophile ran a catering company named Portersfield Catering, which was used at Campsites. His despicable actions were discussed in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, in particular, to the Church of England Boys’ Society and Anglican Dioceses of Adelaide in relation to youth camps and activities. Deboo has been in Court, again. Over a three-year period he denied further allegations and, at the time of trial, he pleaded guilty. So, after putting his victims through another three years of misery and agony recounting those events—and, again, I can only offer my admiration for their strength and courage because it would have been very easy to fall away and not pursue this gross indecency—this man has pleaded guilty and is yet to be sentenced.
There is another side to this story. My friend, the man whom I admire immensely, told me that, after expecting to go to court and expecting an extremely harrowing period of time, there was some relief in the fact that Mr Deboo pleaded guilty. However, upon leaving the court and trying to absorb all that, a man whom he did not know and did not recognise approached him, introduced himself and said, 'You may not remember me, but as young boys we were friends together in Victor Harbor. In fact, we were friends and my brother was also one of our friends.' The man went on to tell my hero that he had not in fact been abused by Deboo but that, sadly, his brother had. His brother never quite managed to deal with it and finished up taking his own life.
The relief and gratitude that this man expressed to my hero was quite immense. Again, I can only reiterate that these people, the victims, received a sentence for life. If we can do anything as a parliament and as members of parliament—you know that I have enormous respect for you all—we should never, ever forget that in all of this the victims carry their sentences for life.
I move the motion standing in my name and thank the chamber for its indulgence.