Don’t turn away from dire child abuse stats

May 25, 2017 by

Barry Gittins –

I woke up, abluted, dressed, slithered off to work, turned on my computer and went for a coffee while the cyberhamster warmed up. With caffeine in my veins and hope in my heart I surfed for news of the world and Oz, that fair, magical kingdom of the fair go and ‘she’ll be right’ attitude.


I’ve spent 25 years reporting bits and pieces of human misery, yet with increasing mass and social media reportage of child abuse and general awareness of the issues involved, especially around family and domestic violence, I am likely to be optimistic about the possible social change when it comes to how we care for children in this country.

Yet it was depressing, that morning in April, to read the findings of the federal government’s Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS), which put its CFCA (Child Family Community Australia) researchers on to a project that ‘summarises Australian studies that have estimated the prevalence of different forms of abuse and neglect’. The news was not good. It weighs on me still.

The paper looked at percentage rates of Australian kids who suffer physical abuse, neglect, emotional maltreatment, exposure to family violence, and sexual abuse. The results are gleaned from numerous studies and governed by a truckload of necessary caveats. It cites five ways Australians are inflicting pain and indifference on children: physically, materially, emotionally, environmentally, and sexually.

In Australia, prevalence rate estimates of physical abuse of children, in the majority of studies, range from 5-10 per cent. But that’s only the start of this pentagon of pain. How do we do when it comes to straight out neglect of our kids? (Failing to meet basic needs such as ‘adequate food, shelter, clothing, supervision, hygiene, medical attention, safe living conditions, education or emotional development’.)

Prevalence estimates for Australian children ‘ranged from 1.6 per cent to 4 per cent’. The paper noted that the studies with the lowest estimates ‘used a single item measure of neglect (“I was neglected”) that could have led to a conservative estimate’. Further, while the studies were ‘reasonably representative’, their samples ‘slightly under-represented those most at risk … people with a low socio-economic status’.

As for emotional abuse, while ‘more research is needed to comprehensively measure the prevalence of emotional maltreatment in Australia’, we are looking at a ‘prevalence rate for emotional maltreatment in Australia … between 9 per cent and 14 per cent’.

Between 4 and 23 per cent of Australian children — a widely disparate estimate — ‘are exposed to family violence … Prevalence estimates were from self-reported exposure [and the] most likely source of variation in estimates is the number of questions used to measure the exposure to family violence.’ In other words, we don’t know how bad the instances of such exposure are.

“According to some definitions, up to 45 per cent of girls experience sexual harassment. That’s staggering to accept, as a father and a husband. It speaks to the patriarchy that many social commentators deny exists.”

And what of the sexual abuse of our children — the most reported on and examined type of abuse included in this study? According to some definitions, up to 45 per cent of girls experience sexual harassment in this country. That’s staggering to accept, as a father and a husband. It speaks to the patriarchy that many social commentators still deny exists.

It is estimated that from 1.4-7.5 per cent of boys in Australia experience ‘penetrative abuse’, and that from 5.2-12 per cent of boys experience ‘non-penetrative abuse’. Compare and contrast with what Australian girls are subjected to: 4-12 per cent of girls are estimated to suffer penetrative abuse, and 14-26.8 per cent — more than a quarter of girls — experience non-penetrative abuse.

The study notes that there is ‘limited data currently available in Australia’ on these areas (hence the ranges of percentages), and that ‘measuring the extent of child maltreatment is not an easy undertaking [and] definitions of abuse and neglect differ from study to study … There are also considerable practical and ethical difficulties involved in the measurement of maltreatment, which can influence prevalence estimates.’ We do need to take care ‘when interpreting and discussing study findings’.

That said, kids are being bashed, raped, starved, scorned and otherwise treated with no dignity or kindness. The study states it is not simply a case of one-off abuse for children. It notes that ‘research has demonstrated that maltreatment sub-types seldom occur in isolation (e.g. sexual abuse is often accompanied by psychological maltreatment or physical abuse)’. What’s more, it is unequivocal in stating that ‘all five types of child maltreatment occur at significant levels in the Australian community’.

That is difficult reading. It makes me sick to write it. But the CFCA paper should, in a just society, serve as a catalyst for a national conversation. What can you or I do, in the face of abuse on such as suggested scale? Some of us are parents, educators, social workers, clerics, relatives, friends of children and their parents. All of us are citizens, neighbours, onlookers or passers-by. We can’t afford to look the other way.

Source: Don’t turn away from dire child abuse stats – Eureka Street

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