Victoria Police wants to open a new front in the fight against family violence as frightening new data reveals a 43 per cent jump in child sex abuse cases in the past five years.
Detective Superintendent Rod Jouning, head of the Victoria Police sexual and family violence division, said the true rate of child sex abuse by family members and others known to the victim was horrifying. He said Victoria Police’s campaign to tackle family violence had encouraged unprecedented reporting of partner on partner violence, but too many child sex abuse victims were still not coming forward.
The Latest News from the Royal Commission
George Pell’s truck driver analogy veers into hostile territory by Tammy Mills of The Age
And again from the Age: Vatican refuses to hand over files on accused pedophile priests
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is probably one of the most noteworthy legacies of the Gillard Labor Government.
It was established to be serious and important – the way it was set up, its structure and its operation – it was no empty gesture to the concerns being expressed by the community in response to child sexual abuse allegations which occurred and are occurring within our large church and government organizations.
During this we have some high profile child sexual abuse allegations against men such as Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris.
In January of this year a new research study was released (Profiling parental child sex abuse by Jane Goodman-Delahunty)
Just a quick glance of some of the research findings:
• High prevalence rates of childhood sexual abuse in Australia—38 percent for women and 13 percent for men.
• Only 10 percent of child sexual abuse cases are perpetrated by strangers.
• Most parental child sex offenders were men in a father–child relationship with their victim.
• More than three-fifths of the victims were under the age of 10 years at the time of disclosure of the abuse, and overwhelming were exclusively female (91%).
• Parental sex offenders are among the successful and productive sex offenders who tend to be classified as low risk and to receive shorter sentences.
• One in every four victims experiencing sexual abuse it was accompanied by threats of extortion, or violence.
This research clearly shows us that the incidents of child sexual abuse that are currently hitting our headlines are not the majority – that the majority are occurring in our homes.
However, what the headlines are capturing is that this is about power and control.
The power and control offenders have over children – in homes, in churches and in institutions.
The power to do harm.
And this power and control is enacted with impunity – because they are protected by powerful institutions – whether it is church organizations or those protecting the sanctity of the family.
Be very clear that the sanctity of the family is at the heart of this impunity.
Our family law system fails to acknowledge or hear victims, and punishes mothers for raising their concerns about the safety of their children.
Our child protection system is more likely to punish mothers for failing to protect their children, than take action against offending fathers.
But how abnormal can it be when over a third of women are victims of child sexual abuse?
Suzanne Power has written an excellent article about this in which she talks about the absence of the discussion about gender, patriarchy and male power.
“Many would prefer to take refuge in the idea of the paedophile as pathological and aberrant. Those who work with victims of abuse will tell you that as with rape, most abusers are known to the victim. Home is where the hatred is and that is why abuse rips apart the boundaries between love and trust and intimacy in families and is so devastating.”
She talks about sexual politics, men in positions of power, cover ups and a culture of culpability. And the refusal to examine this in terms of patriarchy and how male power works. As she says:
“We are called feminists. Child abuse isn’t a new story for us.”
The questions that Suzanne Power asks go to the very reason why child sexual abuse is such a major problem and why there is so much silence surrounding it.
And the answers are that it is about patriarchy and male power and our “collective refusal to contemplate how patriarchy works.”
I will leave it to Suzanne to conclude:
“But it is absolutely negligent to talk about power and abuse without any context, in some gender-free vacuum. If we cannot talk about historical abuse and how male privilege operated to make it so risk-free, then it won’t go away. Abuse is always an expression of power. Not acknowledging that power is another way of silencing its victims.”
Another useful reference is Rocking the Cradle of Sexual Politics: What Happened When Women Said Incest by Louise Armstrong. A very good article she wrote in 1994, ‘Who Stole Incest?‘ is still very relevant 10 years later.