I have listened with great concern to recent debate concerning the prevalence of sexual abuse of children in remote communities. Child sexual abuse is unacceptable and every suspected incidence should be reported to police and investigated thoroughly, and the perpetrators brought to justice.
It should be remembered that child abuse is not confined to remote communities or any one segment of the community.
As some commentators have indicated, these issues are not new and it is important that community debate is clearly focussed on the needs of these incredibly vulnerable children and what we as a society must do to protect and nurture them.
Children and young people are at risk of sexual abuse, no matter where and who they are, when they do not have the means or ability to do anything about it, or do not feel confident to act.
As previous inquiries into child abuse in WA have stated, appropriate information and support for children and young people is essential to break through any barriers that may be preventing incidents of abuse from being reported. Families and community members must also be empowered to act when they suspect abuse.
In some situations, breaking down these barriers and empowering the vulnerable is an incredibly complex challenge; we need to work with families and communities to identify unique solutions and methods for each particular situation.
The risk of sexual abuse of children in families or communities increases where factors such as overcrowded housing, drug and alcohol abuse, poverty and mental health issues, and the dysfunction that these circumstances create, exist.
Our method of delivering services to families and communities with complex needs must be multi-faceted and highly collaborative. Agencies must continue to collectively improve the way that support and rehabilitation services are provided so that the underlying causes of child abuse are effectively addressed. This will require detailed consultation and individually tailored plans for families and communities that face complex issues – there are no shortcuts or quick solutions.
Children and young people are entitled to live in a caring and nurturing environment, protected from harm and exploitation. We must be committed to resolving these issues and strengthening families and communities to help the most vulnerable in our community.
A/Commissioner for Children and Young People WA
The West Australian