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Byron Shire
September 28, 2023

Mandy Nolans Soapbox: National Child Protection Week – Break the Silence

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(Trigger Warning: This is about child sexual abuse)

Here’s some deeply shocking statistics that remain unchanged.

28.5% of Australians experience or have experienced child sexual abuse. Girls experience double the rate of child sexual abuse.

The Australian Child Maltreatment Study found that almost 1 in 4 Australians experienced one or more types of contact child sexual abuse while almost 1 in 5 experienced non-contact child sexual abuse. Almost 1 in 10 Australians experienced forced sex in childhood.

How do we continue to fail to protect our children? What is broken that we need to fix? What is systemic that we need to smash?

I was at the launch of a podcast in Sydney last week about interfamilial child sexual abuse and a panellist said something that stuck with me. She said, ‘I was lucky to have a loving father’. This came after a harrowing story told by a woman who had been sexually abused by her father between the ages of 9 and14. It was something I would have said. It’s something I have heard many people say, particularly women. Yesterday was Father’s Day. It occurred to me that in some households there were children gifting presents and handwritten cards to their abusers. It is not lucky to have a loving father who does not sexually abuse you. It is every child’s birthright. But it’s not just fathers, it’s uncles, and well-known friends, trusted carers, and in much much rarer cases, women. It scares me that we have normalised abuse to such an extent that we perceive not being hurt as good fortune. 

In August this year a 45-year-old former childcare worker from the Gold Coast was charged with more than 1,600 child abuse offences, including rape, against 91 young girls at a dozen early childcare centres, primarily in Brisbane and Sydney. He was charged after police identified bedsheets from a childcare centre in a video on the dark web.

When he was arrested they uncovered nearly 4,000 images and videos allegedly created by the man. This man who had been a trusted carer of small children. This man with a blue card. This man who smiled as he handed babies into the arms of their grateful parents.

I have five children. I never thought for a moment that my children could have been at risk at a childcare centre. The fact that a man could commit such heinous crimes on so many little girls and go undetected for so long tells me that there is something very wrong in the sector.

My friend Tracey is a childcare worker who lives near where this man was arrested. She is a deeply compassionate person who was outraged by what happened. She rang me and said ‘I want to organise a rally. Things have to change’. Tracey identified key recommendations for her sector that included no phones or cameras in all rooms, and increasing staffing ratios so that staff are not left alone with children. It was a no brainer. I imagined there were many in the sector who felt Tracey’s rage. 

I helped her organise the gathering. 

At the podcast launch of No Laughing Matter, speakers with lived experience identified the crippling impact of silence. The silence borne out of shame. The silence borne out of fear. And the silence borne out of other people’s discomfort. These are not the stories we want to hear in the public space. Podcast creator Tanya Lee has taken stories and had them re-voiced by well-known actors and personalities such as Hugo Weaving, Jean Kitson, Andrew Denton – to give anonymity to the original tellers and to create a more accessible format for others to hear these stories. Yet, Tanya talked about the silence. How hard it was for her to get media on her event. MC’d by Richard Fiedler, with high profile guests such as Jennifer Byrne, Annabel Crabb and Grace Tame. But still she struggled to get cut through. Because of the silence.

It occurred to me that this was what Tracey and I experienced in organising our rally. No media would cover it beforehand. (Although NBN did turn up on the day). Childcare centres did not circulate the information. Every community Facebook page we tried to promote the event on took it down because it didn’t comply with ‘community standards’. Wow. I would have thought children’s safety was the highest standard of all. It was impossible to get any traction on this event to tell people what was happening. So on the day there were around 40 of us. People with lived experience, a law firm and their associates and some friends. I would have thought more people would have cared about this issue. It was deeply sad. It’s not enough.

This is the silence. This is why people don’t speak up. Why raised voices go unheard.

This silence is the next level of abuse.

Silence is being complicit. It protects perpetrators. Silence is the abuser who hurts our children.

Ask your news sources, your childcare centres, your social media to break the silence. 

Ask them to choose who they stand with. Yes, this is an ugly conversation. But silence is uglier.

I stand with children. Where do you stand?

Please sign this petition. www.change.org/p/unite-for-changes-in-the-childcare-system

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  1. Some years ago when I worked with a group of ladies with ‘mental illness’ one lady told me that she had spent her entire teenage years either pregnant or miscarrying as the result of rape from her father – that was my first exposure to the horrors of how unsafe our children are in their own families – it can be, as you say, fathers, uncles, even brothers, all allegedly ‘ trusted’ relatives – and they persuade the girls to keep quiet – what a horrific secret. These girls and women need help – so too do the men who commit these acts of invasion – we live in a very sick society if a man uses a small child (boys as well as girls) for his own self gratification/relief. No judgement for anyone, but the silence – it’s time to end it.

  2. Are we including what the Tavistock Clinic has shown is being done to autistic and gay children, in clinics around the world, or must we remain silent about that, and sweep it under the carpet?

  3. Part of the damaging silence around this is because abusers are almost all men, and men still hold almost all the positions of power in our society. When that changes, this will.


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