Changing the Status Quo in Responding to Abuse
BY BASIL HANNA
CEO, Parkerville Children and Youth Care
Mia*, 9 years old, was repeatedly molested, held down and raped by her uncle for two years. Born and raised in Perth’s Western suburbs, her parents weren’t aware that their charming, funny and attentive family member had been destroying their daughter’s faith in humanity, over, and over again.
Mia disclosed the abuse to her best friend at school in a moment of desperation. The violence was escalating, and she feared her 6-year-old sister Lily would be his next target.
What happened next is part of the reason why 80% of children who are sexually abused do not disclose until later in life, if at all.
The abuse had been perpetrated by Mia’s mother’s brother, causing a rift between her side of the family and between Mia’s parents. Mia’s mother felt disbelief, anger and sadness about what her protective older brother had done. Mia’s father blamed his wife, believing she should have known her brother had those tendencies and ultimately felt useless to help his daughter. Mia’s family home had turned in to a war zone.
When she wasn’t having flashbacks, Mia felt guilty, responsible, alone and suicidal. She wished she had never told anyone. She stopped making eye contact, consumed with shame and fear that someone would be able to see even a hint of what she was feeling inside.
That child, through no fault of her own, lost her innocence and a chance at a normal life.
The model commonly utilised in Australia to respond to child sexual abuse means each service works separately. Children and their families have to re-tell their story to each service as they progress through the complicated system. This frequently results in children and families feeling re-victimised and that the process was not worth the additional trauma and distress caused.
Mia’s family were instead referred to our George Jones Child Advocacy Centre. The first in Australia, the Centre and its dedicated team of child abuse professionals work with a common goal of providing advocacy, care, support, protection and justice for these children and families, so they can begin their journey to healing.
Each member of Mia’s family was supported by highly skilled advocates whose sole focus was to make sure their family were safe and supported. They also worked with specialist child abuse squad detectives, child interviewers and child protection workers, ensuring all their needs were met.
Slowly, repair and healing began. Fifteen months down the road and the family unit is safer and stronger. Mia still undertakes psychological counselling, but she is on her way to recovery. Just 10 years ago, Mia would have been destined for a life marred by psychological, cognitive, social and physical delays which, without intervention, may have resulted in relationship difficulties, mental health issues, drug and alcohol dependencies, unemployment and homelessness.
Our purpose, with your help, is to change the ending of stories such as these.
In the eight years since the Centre opened, the alliance between Police, Child Protection and Family Services and ourselves has supported over 20,000 children and their families. If the George Jones Child Advocacy Centre can change the lives of so many children, imagine what can be achieved at the upcoming Stan & Jean Perron Child Advocacy Centre. Five times larger and with additional professional organisations working together, the Centre is set to open in Midland in October.
I can only imagine a significant reduction in pain and a heightened response to healing for our community’s most vulnerable children. You can help us to make a real difference in their lives by supporting us to build this new Centre.
*Name changed to protect identity
Article appeared in the July issue of Business News WA