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Wednesday, 28 June 2000
Page: 18527

Mr EMERSON (7:40 PM) —I feel it is my duty to relay some horrifying facts about child abuse in Australia. Infants in Australia are at greater risk of death by homicide than any other age group. Almost 100,000 children in Australia are reported abused or neglected each year. Ninety-four per cent of abused children are harmed by someone they know and trust and 71 per cent of abused children are harmed by their natural parent. Sixty-four per cent of women psychiatric in-patients have been victims of abuse. Seventy-six per cent of women and 72 per cent of men with severe mental illness have been abused. Homeless young people who have been physically or sexually abused are two to four times more at risk of attempting suicide than non-abused homeless young people. It is estimated that 80 to 85 per cent of women in Australian prisons have been victims of incest or other types of abuse. The odds of future delinquency, adult criminality overall, and arrest for a violent crime specifically, are around 40 per cent greater for people abused and neglected as children.

Let us just dwell for a second on what it would be like to be abused as a child. That child, in being abused, would have feelings of being bad. A young baby or a young child being abused, if they were aware of it, would think that they had done something wrong and that they were bad. This will cause great confusion and trauma for the child. It will also cause great confusion and trauma as they reach adulthood—suffer the little children. These are children who suffer in silence because they cannot go to the police and report this crime. There is emerging evidence of the effect of abuse on the development of a child's brain; that is, physiological and chemical changes that affect those children all their lives. That is why we get these horrifying statistics.

Struggling parents often find it very hard to cope. That is why they lash out, often in fits of rage, and abuse their children. Maybe they have no-one to turn to. How often is that the case? Society is losing its cohesion. It is losing a support base for parents, and some of those parents are then striking out at their children and abusing them. We are launching Purple Ribbon Day here today and Purple Ribbon Month—purple signifying compassion on the part of the Australian people and parliamentarians, in particular, towards the victims of child abuse, and also a commitment from us to do more to support parents who are struggling. Already there are positive parenting programs springing up in various states, which are proving to be spectacularly successful. Through home visiting and other means, they support struggling parents.

I wish to thank Jan Watson, who came down from Wyong today. She gave us this idea. She has been working on and promoting Purple Ribbon Month for several years. She gave us the idea of launching `parliamentarians against child abuse' and Purple Ribbon Day today. Jan is in the House today observing this debate. I also want to thank the Kids First Foundation, NAPCAN and the hardworking staff of the departments of community and family services all around Australia. They are often much maligned, but we know those departments are underfunded and the staff themselves are under great stress. I am sure they do the very best job that they can. But more needs to be done, and that is why we are commemorating Purple Ribbon Day today—to promote that awareness. I believe that if we work together to let all Australian children blossom into loving and caring people, free of the scourge of abuse and neglect, then we as parliamentarians will have done this country a great service. There is a duty, an obligation on all of us, to do so.