The Silent Epidemic

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Confronting society’s darkest demon of child abuse is everyone’s responsibility

Halloween is slowly becoming a popular occasion in Australia, with many people putting on masks and using the opportunity to dress up as something they are not. Traditionally, during Halloween, party goers will don a scary outfit and parties will be decorated with skeletons and ghouls.

This is what makes Halloween the perfect time to discuss an issue that is amongst the scariest in society, and one people would rather keep hidden: the ever growing rate of sexual abuse perpetrated against children.

This year, instead of hiding behind our masks, we’ll open our hearts, our minds, our wallets and our mouths to break the silence surrounding this epidemic.

And it really is an epidemic. In Australia alone statistics reflect that one in three girls and one in six boys will receive some sort of unwanted sexual attention during their childhood. These statistics only reflect the number of reported incidents, and it is understood the rate is much higher in countries like India, Pakistan and Fiji, where many of the ethnically Indian diaspora still have family members today.

Parents are extremely vigilant in warning their children about “stranger danger” and “bad people” who are not to be trusted. It’s often noted that Indian parents are amongst the most overprotective in Australian culture, or at least as a child growing up within an Indian family it can certainly feel that way! This can be really helpful in ensuring that children are not abducted, or hit by a car accidentally whilst playing outside.

However, in the case of sexual abuse, 95 per cent of the time the perpetrator is someone known to the child and the family.

This was the situation in my case. Someone outside of my immediate family, but a trusted part of their inner circle nonetheless. I’ve always had (and continue to have) the most supportive, protective and – above all – cautious parents anyone one could ask for. There have been countless times I wish they’d have been less cautious and let me do the many things that I probably shouldn’t have been doing anyway.

This didn’t stop me from being abused.

Perpetrators of abuse are clever and manipulative, and they will abuse the trust of the child and their family in order to commit their offences. Being opportunistic can be easy in a culture as trusting as ours, as the Indian communities within Australia feel a sense of kinship and trust amongst each other. This is wonderful, and to be encouraged, but can also be very easily violated. How many times do you see kids running together and free at a family event or wedding, where the ‘family’ consists of over a hundred people, or the wedding is of a distant relative and attended by hundreds of strangers? These ‘safe spaces’ in which we assume our children will be taken care of are often an ideal setting for a predator.

The solution isn’t to automatically bar children from ever doing anything and wrap them up in cotton wool kept behind closed doors. As a parent, or a caring adult, the hardest reality is that you may be completely unable to prevent abuse because abusers will work to make abuse happen.

As adults, it is our responsibility to be vigilant, to ensure that home is a safe space for our children. If we suspect abuse, we must confront and deal with it instead of sticking our heads in the sand just because the person arising our suspicion is a family member or a friend, or a member of the community.

It’s safe to say that most people aren’t child abusers, and of course no one wants to be accused of being one, however if the someone you suspect is a decent person, they’ll simply understand and commend you for looking out for the interests of the child.

The worst thing we can do for our children is to stigmatise abuse. As a community, we must band together and be supportive and help those who’ve been harmed instead of labelling them ‘damaged goods’ and unable to be helped, or married, or to recover. Victims of abuse should not feel fear or shame about something that was done to them, and must be assured that abuse is not their fault.

Sweeping the matter under the rug causes within the child a sense of fear and disappointment, like they’ve done something so unspeakably wrong that it can’t ever even be mentioned again. What must people think of them? We don’t know, so we, as children, often assume the worst.

Recovery is not only possible, it is essential. Organisations like Rosie’s Place have been working in this area for over 15 years, and director Cathy Want stands by their organisation’s mission statement: “Children and young people have a right to live in an environment that is free from violence and abuse and a right to access all services available within their community. Rosie’s Place is committed to working to support children, young people and families in obtaining safety, and providing resources to increase their safety”.

With this in mind, I’ve teamed up with the Fijian Indian community to host a fundraiser this Halloween with all proceeds being donated to Rosie’s Place.

People often ask me why I’m doing this, and why now after all these years? In her recent address to the United Nations, regarding another important cause, gender equality, Harry Potter’s Emma Watson summed it up best – “If not me, who? If not now, when?”

To find out more about my story, or how to support us in this journey, please visit http://tinyurl.com/rosies2014 or contact us via email, aneeta@wordologysolutions.com


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