Story 1, from Northern territory remote area GP, Dr Glynis Johns, attending the Garma Indigenous health conference:

S-xual abuse is a universal problem, with at least one in seven children being s-xually abused at least once in their lives. This is a conservative estimate.

As a doctor who has listened to and examined over 200 children who have disclosed having been s-xually assaulted, I learned that the perpetrators are usually close family members such as fathers, grandfathers and cuddly uncles. Priests, school teachers and sports coaches also numbered high on the list of offenders in my experience.

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For the last four years, I have worked as a GP in remote NT Aboriginal communities, a position which privileges me to be both doctor and friend to many Aboriginal people, most of whom are delightful, loving, law abiding citizens. Rarely has child s-xual abuse been brought to my attention although, given the accepted international rate of one child in seven being affected, I was not surprised by the findings of the Little Children are Sacred report.

Instead of acting on some of the report’s recommendations, the Federal Government has used this report to tarnish remote communities with a universal brush which depicts all remote Aboriginal communities as dysfunctional hotbeds of vice and malice.

How racist can you get?

Could someone please tell me how the repealing of land permits will protect children from p-edophiles, who tend not to wander around with “I love children” emblazoned on their T-shirts?

Will Aboriginal children, who at present freely and safely play on roads and other communal areas in communities, where motor cars are now few and far between, be made to follow their urban counterparts, whose lives exist for the most part within the “safe” boundaries of the locked door, barred windows and picket fence?

If the Federal Government was serious about protecting children in NT remote communities, it should have broadened its consultation process (what consultation process, I hear you say?) to engage the wider community. If it had done this, it may have discovered that many whitefellas working with children in remote communities are doing so without having had a criminal record check.

Story 2: By Sydney child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr Saretta Lee, also at the Garma Indigenous health conference:

Removing Aboriginal control of their land may only make the problem of child s-xual abuse worse. As a health professional who works with child s-xual abuse survivors, I have some concerns about the Federal Government’s plans.

It is well known that p-edophiles will travel long distances to access vulnerable children. Children in impoverished circumstance or who are undersupervised are at risk of being targeted for grooming for child s-xual abuse.

Taking away Aboriginal control of their land would make it easier for p-edophiles to gain access to communities. As well, efforts to detect child s-xual abuse provide no benefit unless there are means to protect the child from ongoing harm and there is timely provision of treatment of the psychological, emotional and physical affects of abuse, in a secure environment.

How terrible for a child to know that we have exposed what has happened to them but cannot protect and take care of them.

Exposure without appropriate treatment can bring more harm than good. In tackling this crucial problem, it is important we get it right. What a tragedy if the Federal Government’s intervention turns out to be a further betrayal of children who have already suffered such a terrible breach of trust from those charged with protecting them.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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