Child abuse a monster eating society: top cop
THE state's most senior police officer is embarking on a personal crusade to tackle the hidden ''monster'' of child sexual abuse.
Spurred by a spike in the report of assaults, particularly those that occur behind the closed doors of family homes, the Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione, has told the Herald the community can no longer afford to turn a blind eye.
Internal police figures show more than half the sexual assault victims in NSW last year were children aged 15 and under. Of those, at least 10 per cent were not yet five years old. More than 720 of the children - mostly girls - were aged five to 10.
Defying common misconceptions about ''stranger danger'', many had to share a dinner table and bathroom with their abuser, often a father or stepfather.
''This is a monster that is eating at the very heart of our society and we cannot afford to pretend that it's not happening,'' Mr Scipione said.
While children and families were increasingly likely to speak up, the secretive nature of these ''heinous'' crimes made them very difficult to police, he said.
There is scant public information about child sex molestation, which the most recent estimates suggest is under-reported by up to 90 per cent.
Published material is limited by legal obligations preventing the identification of victims. In the case of incest, identifying the offending family member would also identify the child.
Around 13 per cent of callers to the NSW Rape Crisis Centre in 2009-10 said they were survivors of child sex assault, while a further 6 per cent had concerns about their children.
The repercussions of the abuse were tragic and lifelong, the centre's executive director, Karen Willis, said.
Child victims were more likely to be sexually assaulted as adults, often turned to drugs and alcohol to cope, had a poor sense of self-worth, and suffered with mental health problems, she said.
Ms Willis said abusers groomed their prey and used the victim's vulnerability, their access, and their ability to manipulate them, to escalate the abuse.
Recriminations encouraging the child to take responsibility for the assaults - such as ''you're bad and naughty for letting me do this'' - were key to the manipulation, she said.
''What it's about is that actual fear [and confusion] it creates in the child,'' Ms Willis said. ''They know something's wrong, they don't know what to do about it.''
Mr Scipione said people should not think sexual abuse only happened in other families.
''We appeal to the greater community to be more vigilant in recognising and reporting suspected child abuse.
''People can help children who are victims of child sexual abuse by showing empathy and solidarity.''