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Wednesday, 28 June 2000
Page: 18529

Mrs MAY (7:51 PM) —As a mother and an elected representative, I am very concerned about the increasing problem of child abuse throughout the community, and I feel very strongly about joining my parliamentary colleagues in supporting Purple Ribbon Day. No caring Australian can bear the thought of any child enduring abusive or violent treatment. As politicians we have a special obligation to alert the public to this dreadful problem. For many, the problem of child abuse is easy to ignore. Every now and then we hear of a particularly sickening case which receives widespread media attention, but the vast majority of instances occur behind closed doors when no-one is watching.

Abuse often leaves no easily identifiable physical marks. It takes many forms, including emotional abuse, such as constant criticism and belittling; sexual abuse; and neglect, including insufficient food, shelter or medical care. Every single child deserves to grow up in a loving and secure environment but, unfortunately, the reality is very different for many abused children. Their innocence and trust are shattered. Too scared or too small to speak out, they suffer silently and bear the physical and psychological scars into adulthood. Hopefully, someone will take notice of these children—a stranger, a teacher, a relative—and sound the alarm. Often, though, kids are not that lucky.

I am proud to say that 14 years ago a group of professionals decided to sound the alarm. They saw the need to address the increasing problem of child abuse in Queensland by establishing a treatment program for abused children and their families. Two years later the Abused Child Trust was born. The first day centre, known as Contact House, was set up in Brisbane for families at risk of or experiencing abuse. The organisation reached the hearts and consciences of many Queenslanders and was able to expand its services. In 1999 Contact House was set up on the Gold Coast. Each year on the coast, the Department of Families, Youth and Community Care is notified of approximately 700 families who need help. Contact House provides a small but important service which counsels children under 10 years of age—and their families—affected by forms of abuse and neglect, emotional and sexual abuse. At the moment the service is counselling about 12 families.

Contact House delivers vital and worthwhile assistance but, unfortunately, it hardly scratches the surface of the problem. Each year 91,000 Australian children are abused. One in 170 children under nine is a victim of abuse and neglect; that is one child in every third classroom. Ninety-three per cent of abused children are harmed by someone they know, 71 per cent by their natural parent. And it is not only the child victim who suffers: the repercussions are felt throughout the entire community. The tendency for criminal behaviour, including violent crime, delinquency and drug addiction, increases by 40 per cent for people who were abused and neglected as children. It is estimated that 80 to 85 per cent of women in Australian prisons have been victims of incest or other types of abuse. Abused adolescents carry significantly greater risk factors for suicide than non-abused children. These are the sorts of sad lives the Abused Child Trust aims to prevent.

The trust believes that abuse need not have long-term harmful effects if victims have access to sensitive and effective treatment. The specialised therapy programs the trust provides enable each child to achieve his or her full potential. By breaking the cycle of child abuse, the trust is also saving taxpayers huge sums of money. It costs $60,000 a year to maintain one prisoner in a high security jail cell. When you consider the statistics on the links between the criminal behaviour I mentioned earlier, the massive costs are evident. It is incumbent on all members of the community to support our children—Australia's future. In particular, I would like to congratulate Lionel Barden, a businessman on the Gold Coast who has generously donated vast sums of his time and money towards addressing the problem of child abuse. Gold Coast trust executive director Jane Anderson has said:

There is a high demand for the service on the Coast and while funds from supporters pay for a two day a week service there is a desperate need to extend it to a full-time facility.

Sadly, our statistics certainly demonstrate that this lifeline is desperately needed. I know the Gold Coast community will get behind this worthy cause, and I look forward to doing all I can to help.