Looking after children a community’s responsibility | Editorial

The tally of victims of serial child abuser and former priest Gerald Ridsdale has risen.

The 83-year-old was jailed again last week, extending his prison time by three years, after pleading guilty to 23 charges related to the sexual abuse of 12 children. 

The number of his confirmed victims now sits at 65, but the true number of children he has assaulted is not known.

A combination of factors left Ridsdale free to commit his horrific acts against so many young victims for so long.

He preyed on vulnerable children and manipulated his victims into silence. The fact the Catholic Church moved him from parish to parish gave him rein to continue offending.

But it is also likely that the signs of abuse were simply not picked up by the adults who knew his victims.

Even today, when the issue of child abuse is so prominent, many do not know what to look out for, nor what to do if they suspect abuse. An online survey of more than 1000 Australian adults, carried out by Pure Profile and funded by Act for Kids, found one quarter did not know the signs of abuse and neglect, while 41 per cent said they did not know how to report it.

Signs of abuse can include aggressive or submissive behaviour, low self-esteem, difficulty concentrating, excessive rocking, humming, sucking or biting, bedwetting, sleeping difficulties, unexplained bruising, alcohol or drug abuse, suicidal tendencies and inappropriate sexual knowledge or actions for the child’s age.

Those who have reason to believe a child is at risk of or is being abused or neglected should contact Child Protection Services on 1300 664 977.

Young victims are often too afraid or too ashamed to speak up, so it is up to adults to ensure they have the knowledge and ability to do it for them.

- Natalie Croxon, journalist