Uncovering the heartache of child abuse

Bendigo might seem sheltered from the heartache and torment of child sexual abuse. 

It's hard to imagine our children being abused at the hands of an institution. 

But as Loddon Campaspe Centre Against Sexual Assault chief executive Michael Beaumont-Connop says - this devastating reality can and does hit communities everywhere. 

An information forum discussing the work of the Royal Commission will be held on Wednesday night, with Mr Beaumont-Connop encouraging all residents to attend. 

"We as human beings have a difficult time acknowledging bad stuff," he said. 

"There are still parts of our community who would prefer this wasn't spoken about."

Despite this, there has been an increase in reporting of child sexual abuse in the region since the Royal Commission forum in Bendigo was announced. 

"This shows that these transparent conversations will move the issue forward and we will continue to see change," he said. 

"The profound damage which has impacted countless generations has a ripple effect, which impacts on not only the victim, but the families and communuties as a whole."

And it is not a historical problem - it is happening in our community right now. 

"Victims often say the sexual abuse doesn't happen in the context of normality, that they are often emotionally abused as well," he said. 

"There is a culture of fear and that means most people are highly unlikely to report cases because they are so frightened. 

"There are also feelings of shame and embarrassment and self blame but people try and minimise that to feel less damaged."

And while the Royal Commission will incite much-needed openness, it is also a "double-edged sword" for many victims. 

"They want it to be discussed but for many, it's also a terrible reminder of what's happened and everywhere they turn, there are misinformed media articles making it very difficult for them to cope," Mr Beaumont-Connop said. 

He said this week's question and answer forum, led by Royal Commissioner Justice Jennifer Coate, will provide an overview of the work of the commission and talk about prevention strategies that will be put in place. 

"We're going to start seeing systems introduced to encourage disclosure and reporting of child sexual abuse," he said. 

"There will also be institutional responses around recruitment and child safe practices and making children less vulnerable, as well as justice for these long-suffering victims."

Then there's the changes most people won't see, he said, surrounding the "tightening up" of the system and reducing the opportunities for sexual abuse to take place. 

The forum will be a the Bendigo Town Hall on Wednesday from 6pm to 8pm.


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