Rural Aboriginal people and child sexual abuse


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Rural Aboriginal people and child sexual abuse

  1. 1. Rural Aboriginal people and child sexual abuse A public health perspective Jon Willis May, 2008
  2. 2. Some Background  Between 2001 and 2007 Australia has been occupied with an extended moral panic about the issue of family violence, particularly child sexual abuse.  The perpetrators demonised by this moral panic have often been personified in male public figures. Most prominent were two cases.  The Australia Governor General and former Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane, Peter Hollingsworth, was implicated in concealing the abuse of children by priests under his authority, and forced to resign as the Australian head of state in 2004.  The second case involved Geoff Clark, the first elected chair of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), who was
  3. 3. Geoff Clark‟s case(s)  The lawsuits failed, as had criminal prosecutions of Mr Clark in both cases, but not before Mr Clark‟s behaviour was put to an extended examination in the media.  The public and political frenzy surrounding Mr Clark‟s case was accompanied by an unprecedented groundswell of public discussion of Aboriginal men as rapists and abusers of women and children  This frenzy included  policy discussion and shifts in relation to services to Aboriginal women and families  in early 2005 the total dismantling of ATSIC, which had been responsible for
  4. 4.  I did a study of the Australian print media portrayal of Aboriginal men and their sexuality from mid-2002 to mid-2003, at the height of the moral panic.  A Lexis-Nexis search of all Australian newspaper from the period on the search terms Aborigines and Sex returned an (astonishing) 445 articles, letters and editorial pieces addressing the issue of Aboriginal men as rapists and sexual abusers of children.  Although many of these pieces focus on or allude to the ongoing public spectacle of Mr Clark‟s rape cases, they also discuss a range of other prominent sexual abuse accusations around the country, many implicating senior Aboriginal men previously viewed as leaders of their people and even non-Aboriginal public servants working in Aboriginal policy portfolios.
  5. 5. The media content of this moralpanic  is fuelled by centuries-old characterisations of black men as sexually suspect and dangerous  it serves the continuing disempowerment of Aboriginal people by characterising them as perpetrators or victims of sexual violence and therefore degraded in comparison to European Australians  the moral panic was cynically manipulated by the Ministers of the Howard Government to achieve their policy goal of dismantling ATSIC, destabilising the authority of the Northern Territory Government, and attacking Land Rights through the compulsory re-acquisition of Aboriginal land for Government purposes
  6. 6. Aboriginal child sex numbers „put in perspective‟ Margaret Wenham, May 19, 2008, Courier MailONLY 39 of nearly 7500 Aboriginal childrenexamined from remote Northern Territorycommunities were assessed as at risk of seriousneglect or abuse.The Commonwealth Health Department figures ofthose examined after the Howard governmentsindigenous intervention, and released to TheCourier-Mail yesterday, raised questions about thetrue level of child-sex abuse in indigenouscommunities. A departmental spokesman said the0.5per cent of cases was not necessarily forsuspected sexual abuse but could includeemotional or physical abuse or neglect.In contrast, nearly 40 per cent of the childrenexamined were referred to dentists and ear, nose
  7. 7. Sunrise Health Service chief executive Irene Fishersaid the figures brought a "welcome perspective back to thewhole issue".
  8. 8. "We screened 1100 of the children and less than a handfulwere suspected of being sexually abused," she said."Since June 21 (last year) Ive been really concernedabout the perpetuation of negative stereotypes aboutAboriginal people."Not only has it been made to seem like every male is aperpetrator of abuse, but communities have been labelledneglectful, when they just live in poverty.“
  9. 9. Mr Howard said in June last year thatthe innocence of childhood inindigenous communities was "a myth".He ordered a widescale "interventionin the Northern Territory in response toallegations of shockingneglect, including child healthchecks, controls on spending ofwelfare money and alcohol bans.Indigenous Affairs Minister JennyMacklin said it was important tobalance the "reality" which showedindigenous children were five timesmore likely to be abused than non-
  10. 10. Recent Evidence  The Mullighan Commission of Inquiry into Children on APY Lands reported 2 weeks ago on abuse and neglect issues in the far north-west of SA  The Commissioners found “evidence of sexual abuse relating to 141 children living on the Lands where it was reasonably possible that they had been sexually abused”.
  11. 11. The case summaries The case summaries that relate to each child who was reasonably likely to have been sexually abused have been put into categories based on the relationship between perpetrator and victim and the nature/reason for the sexual abuse. The categories are:  extra-familial – men abusing girls (mostly 13-15 year old girls, and 17-19 year old boys)  Sex for petrol, food or cannabis, money and gambling  Promised wife  extra-familial – juvenile on juvenile  So-called „consensual‟ sex between juveniles  No consent  intra-familial abuse (11 cases, including abusers with intellectual disability, or petrol sniffers)  offender unknown (mostly extra-familial)
  12. 12.  There appear to be significant changesWhy so in Pitjantjatjara sexual culture over the last 10 years (e.g. sexual repertoiresmany? and scripting, availability of pornography) without concomitant changes in education about relationships and sexual risk  There have been considerable disruptions to family and community life over the past 2 generations (missionaries arrived here in 1938)  Neglect of older kids, and substance misuse  Communalisation and the provision of Western-style housing has had a significant and disruptive effect on the management of privacy, and particularly on the supervision and surveillance of adolescents  Community standards differ, including what is categorised as a child, and what
  13. 13. Why we worry: the consequences ofchild sexual abuse Sexual abuse touches every life when it leads to losses of trust, decreases in self-esteem and development of shame, guilt and depression. Sexual abuse touches every life when it leads to eating disorders, substance abuse, suicide, promiscuity/prostitution and other psycho-behavioural problems Victims of child sexual abuse report more substance abuse problems. 70-80 per cent of sexual abuse survivors report excessive drug and alcohol use Young girls who are sexually abused are three times more likely to develop psychiatric disorders or alcohol and drug abuse in adulthood than girls who are not sexually abused
  14. 14.  Among male survivors, more than 70 per cent seek psychological treatment for issues such as substance abuse, suicidal thoughts and attempted suicide. Males who have been sexually abused are more likely to violently victimise other Children who have been victims of sexual abuse exhibit long-term and more frequent behavioural problems, particularly inappropriate sexual behaviours Women who report childhood rape are three times more likely to become pregnant before age 18. An estimated 60 per cent of teen first pregnancies are preceded by experiences of molestation, rape or
  15. 15.  Victims of child sexual abuse are more likely to be sexually promiscuous More than 75% of teenage prostitutes have been sexually abused Adolescents who suffered violent victimisation are at risk for being victims or perpetrators of felony assault, domestic violence, and property offence as adults Nearly 50% of women in prison state that they were abused as children
  16. 16. Some strategies for movingforwardAs Public Health practitioners
  17. 17. Support versus control Hold back expertise unless invited The difficulty is empowerment, or providing an enabling environment Barriers include personal and community history, and current personal circumstances Sometimes the same things work or don‟t work in different situations, but when they don‟t work you don‟t get the chance for critical reflection with the group on what went wrong
  18. 18. Sensitivities finding the right person to talk to elders organisations ignorance about community structures can make it hard to manoeuvre (in the way you would with a non- Indigenous community) use local workers/connections to talk to the right people, meet the requirements of local protocols permission sometimes being rigid about structures causes problems – eg working with young people where they have conflicts with elders
  19. 19. Time frames develop trust staff turnover – problem with long project time lines long time to develop foundation networks
  20. 20. National focus  means different approaches with urban, rural and remote communities but  need to work through local networks, and with local people  gender is important, though there is flexibility  managing and meeting expectations is important – not good to surprise people  other issues can intervene in relation to gender (for eg young gay men in one place didn‟t want to be seen by a straight male health worker)
  21. 21. Service Delivery flexibility (outside of hours, outside of clinic) may cause problems over visible “work hours” men sometimes need to know women‟s stuff, and women sometimes need to know men‟s stuff
  22. 22. Shame Difficult to understand cross- culturally Includes different understandings of the implications of different parts of interaction (such as looking/staring and touch) Aboriginal people may not be experienced with dealing with white people Shame reactions might include withdrawal or anger
  23. 23. Sensitivity to levels of abuse in thecommunity make counselling available make sure people feel free to leave be conscious of and prepared for the emotional content of these issues
  24. 24. Partnerships need to normalise processes of dialogue with organisational cultures include Aboriginal people prior to the development of the process the importance of advisory structures, especially being involved from the start formal mechanisms sometimes lack the flexibility need to allow partnerships to move forward, or get in the way of the work of the partnership
  25. 25. Equality mutual respect needs to be articulated expectations between workers and managers go both ways
  26. 26. Interviews May be difficult to ask direct questions without giving the person time to think Sometimes hypothetical scenarios are a better way to go (not as personal)