Child protection is everybody's business | OPINION

Every 90 minutes a child is sexually assaulted in Australia. That’s 1 in 5 children who are sexually harmed in some way before their 18th birthday – a statistic that is totally unacceptable in Australian society.

Every child has the right to feel safe, but with rates of child sexual assault remaining at crisis levels, Bravehearts needs the support of communities and governments to help increase awareness to protect our children from a crime that breaks the little hearts and spirits of Australia’s most precious treasures – our children.

Bravehearts’ annual White Balloon Day is Australia’s longest-running national campaign to increase awareness of child sexual assault to prevent a crime affecting more than 58,000 children across Australia, every year. But we can’t do it alone.

We need community support to help break the silence. Child sex offenders are master manipulators, able to perpetrate this crime through the fear-driven silence, secrecy and shame. For the children who are victims, they feel shame, self-blame, embarrassment, guilt, responsibility and concern for their own safety or the safety of others while their suffering continues. And the pain they suffer can last a lifetime. For those of us who do care; for those of us who do listen; the sound of their suffering is deafening.

Although the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has helped break the silence for child sexual assault victims in institutional environments, sadly the majority of these crimes are perpetrated inside the family unit or by someone known to the family. So we want children to feel safe and tell someone they can trust.

If a child discloses sexual assault and is unsupported or disbelieved, this can cause them grave harm. And yet, studies show that 1 in 3 adults would not believe a child if they disclosed, while more than 1 in 4 said that they lack the confidence to recognise the signs of child sexual assault.

It takes a village to raise a child, an entire community of adults and stakeholders to work together to help make Australia the safest place in the world in which to raise a child. 

By participating in White Balloon Day and registering in Bravehearts’ national child protection campaign, together we can protect our children and allow them to grow up in a community safe from harm.  

For more details, visit www.whiteballoonday.com.au or for free child safe information visit www.bravehearts.org.au

Hetty Johnston is founder and executive chair of Bravehearts. White Balloon Day is on Friday, September 7.