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Australia is finally waking up to its shocking history and scale of child abuse.

A Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse exposed serious failings and sparked action to tackle the problem.

And while there have been positive steps in understanding and supporting survivors, some our most vulnerable are not benefiting from this progress.

Victims from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) communities, those with disabilities in remote communities and Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander peoples, still face many barriers to accessing justice.

We must act now or risk leaving behind those who need help the most.

 

How big is the problem within vulnerable communities?

Unfortunately, there’s a lack of data about the rates of abuse within CALD communities which prevents us getting a clear picture of the problems.

However, statistics indicate that approximately:

  • One in five adults with disability have experienced abuse before the age of 15.
  • Nearly one in six Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children have experienced physical abuse.
  • One in 20 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children have experienced sexual abuse.
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were eight times as likely as non-Indigenous children to have received child protection services.

This snap shot may only be the tip of the iceberg, but should prompt urgent action.

 

What barriers stand between survivors and justice? 

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse found that survivors took nearly 24 years on average to disclose their abuse – if they ever feel able to speak out.

A combination of factors deterred victims in general, but especially those from vulnerable communities, speaking up:

  • A lack of counselling and mental health services in most remote communities;
  • Underfunded not-for-profit legal services;
  • The current legal capacity framework, built into laws and policy, limiting or denying the exercise of legal capacity for people with disability;
  • The complexity and stressful nature of legal proceedings;
  • Lack of awareness of mental health issues;
  • Lack of awareness of legal rights;
  • Lack of awareness that a wrongful action was taken against them;
  • Fear of retribution, being treated unfairly or not being believed
  • Fear of re-traumatisation;
  • Language barriers and difficulties accessing an interpreter;
  • Lack of autonomy to make decisions to seek legal assistance and therefore a lack of knowledge that they are entitled to seek redress; and
  • General unfamiliarity with the legal system.

 

What impact does isolation have?

Many people from CALD communities, those with disabilities or in remote communities can feel cut off from everyday support services.

These basic care and legal services are often where victims go first to report abuse and seek help. Without ready access, they will struggle to find assistance.

Often, a few small changes and improvements can make an enormous difference. Here are four steps that would dramatically improve access to support and legal advice to survivors struggling to find help.  

 

Four steps could make a big difference:

  1. Free education workshops about the Australian Legal System should be provided to CALD communities, people with disabilities, people in remote communities and Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander peoples.
  2. Medical practitioners should be encouraged to make referrals to appropriate and specialised services to assist survivors access the proper support, legal advice and representation.
  3. Public funding and resourcing to community legal centres should be increased.
  4. There needs to be better data collection across the system which may enable better measurement of the services required.

 

Accessing the support which is available

It is important that survivors are able to access adequate support from a qualified treating practitioner and legal advice about their rights and entitlements from a lawyer.

Accessibility to support and legal advice play a crucial role in contributing to positive long-term outcomes, including recovery and rehabilitation.

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual abuse or violence, we recommend that you contact following services:

  • Blue Knot (1300 657 380) offers professional phone counselling for adult survivors of child abuse.
  • Beyond Blue (1300 224 636) offers general mental health support resources for you and your loved one.
  • Bravehearts (1800 272 831) can provide counselling, case management, support and information for survivors.
  • Care Leavers Australia Network (1800 008 774) can provide counselling, support and advocacy.
  • Sexual Assault Counselling Australia (1800 211 028) offer trauma specialist telephone counselling for anyone affected by the Royal Commission.
  • Australian Counselling Association (1300 784 333) can help you find a counsellor.
  • Australian Psychological Society (1800 333 497) can help you find a psychologist near you.

It should shock us all that today in Australia so many victims are going without access to justice.

There’s a great deal of truth in the saying that you can judge a society by the way it treats its most vulnerable – so it’s time for action.

 

Our team of experienced lawyers are here to help. You are not alone. 

If you or someone you love is a survivor of childhood abuse, we are here to support you and get the justice you deserve. 

It doesn't cost you anything to know where you stand 

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