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Australians In Denial About Child Sexual Abuse

Posted on: October 17, 2009

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02:22 9/21/2009

September 21st 2009

Article from On line Opinion – Australia’s e-journal of social and political debate

By Barbara Biggs

Every Australian must recoil at the headline story of a man alleged to have fathered four children with his 11-year-old daughter.

Meanwhile, as vigilante’s camp outside child sex offender Dennis Ferguson’s door in Sydney last week, the myth that the greatest sexual risk to children is strangers continues to flourish.

The Melbourne case is an extreme example of this fallacy.

Peer-reviewed global research indicates that the greatest sexual danger to children, intra-familial abuse (including close family friends), accounts for 90 per cent of cases. Yet it continues to be ignored, dismissed and children’s disclosures not believed.

Of every hundred cases of reported child sexual abuse, only 1.6 per cent are successfully prosecuted. Most cases of child sexual abuse are not reported. (In one study by Emeritus Professor Freda Biggs AO of 189 men who admitted to having been sexually abused as children, only 27 had attempted to report their abuse. Just one made a successful report.)

The Melbourne incest story is being compared to the Austrian Joseph Fritzl case. It resembles it in more than one respect. In that case, the girl ran away from home three times before being brought back by police and then imprisoned in her father’s cellar for more than 20 years. The police, apparently, did not ask why she kept running away.

The Melbourne woman, too, told authorities three years ago because she feared for her safety but nothing was done. Why did authorities not act then? Surely, even if she refused to testify, DNA evidence would have been enough to convict.

Even as recently as this year, despite four Melbourne child protection agencies and authorities testifying to the Family Court that a four-year-old boy had been abused by the father, a single court expert said the agencies were all wrong and the mother was coaching the child. Custody was awarded to the father and the mother now has only supervised access visits once a fortnight. A Department of Human Service protection order, which still exists, can override a Family Court order, but because of lack of resources, this power has never been invoked.

While society continues to stereotype people like Ferguson and the extreme case of the Melbourne father as monsters, a different species to the rest of us, the majority of child sex offenders and their families remain blind to the most common form of child sexual abuse. The fact is, according to psychologist Christabel Chamarette, who has treated more than 700 offenders and their families, that most offenders are charming and look and behave much like the rest of us.

It’s time society looked this problem in the face.

As Melbourne forensic psychologist Bill Glaser told a criminology conference: “Imagine a society afflicted by a scourge which struck down a quarter of its daughters and up to one eighth of its sons. Imagine also that this plague … made (victims) up to sixteen times more likely to experience … life-threatening starvation, suicide, persistent nightmares, drug and alcohol abuse and a whole host of intractable psychiatric disorders requiring life-long treatment …”

Such a plague, if it affected one sector of the population, such as only policewomen, nurses, teachers, would marshall our resources. But because it happens to children whom our laws silence, we continue to marginalise, minimise and deny its prevalence.

Until one extreme offender is identified. Then, the monstering myth continues, creating a veil around the most common offenders – step-fathers (29 per cent), fathers (20 per cent), other family members mainly adolescent boys (11 per cent) and others in the family circle, up to one-third female (30 per cent).

Yes, public outrage, monstering offenders and frenzied vigilante action helps people feel better, but it further endangers children by masking the ordinary face of most child sex offenders.



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