Alumni News

Child Sexual Assault: Preventing the preventable

Inaugural Memorial Lecture for Emeritus Professor Freda Briggs AO, 30 March

Emeritus Professor Freda Briggs AO

Photo of Emeritus Professor Freda Briggs AO courtesy of The Advertiser

Changing the culture of ignorance and denial surrounding child sexual assault is the subject of the Inaugural Memorial Lecture for Emeritus Professor Freda Briggs AO, to be delivered by Hetty Johnston AM GAICD, Founder and Executive Chair of Bravehearts Foundation, on Thursday 30 March at UniSA’s Magill Campus.

We know that one in five children will be sexually assaulted in some way before the age of 18. We know how that carnage manifests itself, not only in the victims and their families, but also across every cultural and socio economic demographic. We also know that this is, for the large part, preventable.

Hetty Johnston AM GAICD, a leading Australian child protection advocate, is calling for a Royal Commission into our “broken Family Law System” that is failing our children. We asked her to define her priorities and suggest some ways to prevent abuse.

What are your three most important and urgent priorities to repair the Family Law system?

There is so much wrong with this Family Law system that trying to identify just three most important priorities is almost impossible. Perhaps . . .

  • Skillfully and professionally listen to and systemically respond to the Voice of the Child and ‘walk the talk’ on acting in the ‘best interests of the child’;
  • Send the decision-making and risk assessments around child protection back to its statutory owners – the State and Territories, and out of the unskilled Federal Court;
  • Utilise existing Terms of Reference to the current Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse to forensically examine 50 or 100 cases which demonstrate the failings which are occurring across the system, inclusive of judges, court staff, family court consultants/report writers/experts (employed or appointed by the court), internal and external legal representatives including children’s lawyers, legal aid, private practitioners, Auscript, all related State Government institutions including police, child protection services, health & education and all non-government organisations, such as family relationship services, counselling services and supervision services.

How can we give children a voice in the legal system?

By enabling them to speak and by believing them when they do. By honouring their wishes, choices and their feelings. They should be able to speak directly to the court if they are willing and able or alternatively, via a skilled professional. The courts must take seriously the testimony of child protection professionals who are working with these children. Currently the courts are routinely ordering that protective parents withhold counselling from their children, urge their children to not raise allegations of sexual assault, not take their children to GPs or police and to ignore them if they disclose further harm. Despite how incredulous this sounds to the ordinary Australian, the truth is that this is an all too common Family Court Order.

How can parents help to protect their children?

In general, the best way to protect children is via: Educate, Empower, Protect – Bravehearts’ 3 Piers to Prevention model. As it relates to parents this means:

  • Educate: Parents need to ensure their children receive effective personal safety education;
  • Empower: Parents need to ensure they themselves are knowledgeable about the crime of child sexual assault, recognising signs to look out for in both their children and in those who interact with them;
  • Protect: Parents need to ensure that all organisations and institutions that likewise interact with their children have effective child protection policy and procedures in place and that they implement those into everyday practice which prioritises the best interests of the child without exception.

To support Bravehearts’ call for the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse you can sign the petition via the Bravehearts Foundation website.

The University of South Australia’s School of Education has established this memorial lecture to honour the life’s work of the late Professor Freda Briggs AO, who, through her roles as educator, author, scholar and ambassador, ceaselessly and passionately worked towards her vision to provide a safer and more caring world for children.

The University of South Australia has established the Emeritus Professor Freda Briggs AO Memorial Fund to continue her legacy by supporting higher degree scholarships for child protection in law, education or social work. Donate now

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Hetty Johnston, AM, GAICD Founder & Chair of Bravehearts Foundation

Photo: Hetty Johnston, AM

Inaugural Memorial Lecture for
Emeritus Professor Freda Briggs AO

Presented by University of South Australia
School of Education

Date: Thursday 30 March 2017
Time: 5:30pm to 7:30pm
Guest Lecturer: Hetty Johnston, AM
GAICD Founder & Chair of Bravehearts Foundation
Location: UniSA Magill Campus
H1-44 Amy Wheaton Building - Map
More details and registration

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