The leaked document below reveals that Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough floated the idea of medical checks for Aboriginal children for signs of sexual abuse over a year ago. And according to this document, his advisers dismissed it as a bad idea.

The advice revealed in this exchange of correspondence between officials at the Office of Indigenous Policy Coordination in mid-2006 lists the reasons why the proposal is not necessary.

They suggest that sexual health screening would not result in an increase in the identification of abused children and one of the officials makes it clear that the idea came directly from Mal Brough.

Crikey revealed on Tuesday, that six months since the federal government announced their emergency intervention, of more than 700 checks, there has been a total of four referrals so far: two related to child sexual abuse; one to an allegation of neglect and the fourth for a family support referral.

This document, care of The National Indigenous Times, sheds some light as to why:

Wednesday, 31 may 2006 10:56
SHUGG, Katherine
S-xual health screening

Dear Wayne,

I have thought carefully about the s-xual health screening proposal and whether it would have any substantive outcomes/benefits. And I have confidentially discussed with my friend Dr _________ at Alice Springs Hospital. I did this under the strictest confidence and with no reference to the idea coming from the Minister or the Australian Government (I just asked _________ what he thought about the idea). In a nutshell, it is unlikely that additional s-xual health screening processes would pick-up more s-xual abuse than what is already being detected. There are, however, other ways that this abuse could be detected and prevented. The reasons for this are below:

– Children in the 3-7 years of age range who are being s-xually abused are already being picked up because the physical trauma associated with penetration of their bodies does so much damage to them that they are brought to health workers with the obvious signs of abuse. Dr _________ said the pen-tration usually tears their tissue apart.

– Children in the 8-12 years of age range do not usually experience the physical trauma (tearing etc.) of younger kids. Screening would not necessarily pick up any signs of abuse in this category.

– Girls from the age of puberty upwards usually picked up because they present with pregnancy or serious STD infections (Dr _________ advised me that 10 per cent of girls who are screen (sic) in the Alice Springs Region are detected with STDs). Screening boys in this age range would have minimal efficiency because they would not demonstrate any signs of physical trauma.

– Child neglect (rather than abuse) can be detected in the recently strengthened nation-wide health check process that is designed to pick up early childhood signs. This process, which has only just come into effect, will pick up discharging ears and faltering growth. These are effective proxies for poor parenting.

– The signs of sexual abuse are usually more insidious in older children (i.e., over 7 years of age). Rather than demonstrating signs of physical trauma, such as tearing to the v-gina, a-us, abdomen etc., they demonstrate behavioural problems. Examples of these behaviours include, learning difficulties concentration, attention, and rebellious behaviour such as petrol sniffing etc. These signs would not be detected in medical screening. They are usually observed by family members, teachers, youth workers or other people who have an on-going relationship with the children.

– Most of the violent sexual abuse of very young children is opportunistic and done in the context of the petrol and marijuana epidemics which are causing elevated levels of psychosis among Indigenous people in the region. It is acute and spontaneous violence. Screening would not be an effective preventative mechanism because it would not necessarily be identifying and picking up the risk factors.

[segment missing] laws concerning mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect. As we have discussed, I was advised by the Principal at Mutitjulu that if she reported all genuinely suspected cases of neglect she would be run out of town and children from only one family would remain in school (i.e., the rest were suffering neglect). Supporting teachers, youth workers, health clinic staff to report abuse and neglect would be a better investment than an additional screening program. This support could be made through training in behavioural characteristics of child s-x abuse. But most importantly, by authorities letting them know that they should report it and that they will be listened to and responded to.

In addition to this, there is an acute need for investment in treatment facilities for victims and abusers. When I reported to NT Health and Community Services that Kenny Kutitja (the young man who tried to kill himself eight times, regularly ran around the community wielding a knife and raped a dog) was a danger to himself and others, I was advised by NT officials “yes, we know about that but we don’t have any treatment responsibilities”.

Finally, I would make the point that we must remove the perpetrators not the victims. The violent criminals need to get the message that their behaviours will not be tolerated by the state and that they will be removed from the communities. The victims need to know that they will be 100% supported by the state and they will (particularly the women) need to have their voice heard clearly. There needs to be clear, proper and well understood processes about this.

If Minister Brough wanted to talk to expert practitioners about this he could speak to either Dr _________ at Alice Springs Hospital or Dr _________ who heads up the _________ in Alice Springs Hospital. Dr _________ is also _________. Both can be contacted on _________

Hope this is useful,


A spokesman for Mal Brough told NIT yesterday, “The Minister receives a wide variety of advice and, as is the case for any government, is ultimately responsible for making a decision.”

“The advice you referred to did not state that a sexual health screening program would not work. Rather it focused on the medical aspects of screening in relation to sexually transmitted diseases,” the spokesperson said.

Peter Fray

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