CHILDREN as young as four have been subject to horrific sexual
abuse in homes across central Victoria, some left with dislocated
hips, internal injuries and sexually transmitted diseases. Others
are suffering in silence - unable to comprehend what has happened
to them, or fearful of speaking out because of bribes or threats
made by the offender.
This is the stark reality of childhood sexual
abuse, which is a hidden and huge issue in central Victoria, according
to experts. Centre Against Sexual Assault manager for the Loddon Campaspe
region Judy Flanagan said while the stigma surrounding sexual abuse had
lessened, it was still very much a "behind closed doors" phenomenon. "There's
still a hidden element to sexual abuse - it is an issue much of the community
doesn't want to know about because it is just too confronting," she said. "It is
incomprehensible to much of the community that fathers can, and do, rape their
daughters and sons."
Between 2002 and 2003, CASA received 184 new registrations
for children and teenagers in the Loddon Campaspe region who required counselling.
A staggering 72 per cent of CASA's total sexual assault records related to child
rape and indecent assault. She said some children who had been sexually abused
had been forced to wait for up to three months for counselling as services were
stretched to the limit.
St Luke's Bendigo executive director Di O'Neil said the
physical and emotional impacts of child sexual abuse were far reaching. "It is a
huge issue - what is concerning for us at the moment is we have a number of
children who have moved from the victim to an alleged offender," she said.
"They have developed sexualised behaviour which is placing younger children
in the family at risk.
"This seems to be on the rise and in country areas, there are just no
therapeutic services to help these kids who are not to blame." CASA
counsellor Andrea Holland said child sexual abuse had a huge emotional
impact on both victims and their families. "Really young kids come out
with some really disturbing behaviour - they have been exposed to
information beyond their years which they just don't have the cognitive
ability to process," she said.
"We've seen children who defecate in drawers
and cupboards, become extremely anxious around adult males and become socially