30 ac­cused of child sex abuse in re­gions

Pilbara News - - Pilbara | News - Gabrielle Knowles

Shock­ing ev­i­dence of en­trenched child sex abuse in re­gional Abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­ni­ties has been un­cov­ered, with more than 30 al­leged pae­dophiles charged af­ter a crack­down in the Pil­bara.

It is be­lieved to be among the most ar­rests from an abuse in­ves­ti­ga­tion in re­gional WA.

The nine-month op­er­a­tion has prompted calls for more in­ter­ven­tion in the com­mu­ni­ties, as well as sup­port for af­fected chil­dren.

The al­leged per­pe­tra­tors have been charged with close to 300 of­fences, in­clud­ing sex­ual pen­e­tra­tion, and are ac­cused of in­ter­fer­ing with chil­dren as young as nine.

Most of the ac­cused men are from Roe­bourne, Wick­ham, Kar­ratha and sur­round­ing ar­eas, with some re­garded as lead­ers in their com­mu­ni­ties.

Chil­dren’s Com­mis­sioner Colin Pet­tit said he was pleased about the “dili­gent” in­ves­ti­ga­tions, which also showed how vi­tal it was to sup­port scared chil­dren to speak out, no mat­ter where they lived.

He has asked agen­cies to en­sure the young peo­ple in­volved and their fam­i­lies are given the sup­port they need to re­cover from the trauma.

“Once this process is over, it is in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant for a strong pre­ven­tive ap­proach to be es­tab­lished in th­ese com­mu­ni­ties and main­tained for the long term,” Mr Pet­tit said.

“Ev­ery child and young per­son has the right to live in a car­ing and nurturing en­vi­ron­ment and be pro­tected from harm and ex­ploita­tion.”

Some men are ac­cused of prey­ing on more than one girl and there are al­le­ga­tions the de­prav­ity had be­come so normalised that girls sought out men to sell them­selves for cig­a­rettes or al­co­hol.

Min­ing mag­nate An­drew For­rest was crit­i­cised when he raised con­cerns about Roe­bourne in 2011, claim­ing “lit­tle girls” had ap­proached him in the street and of­fered him sex­ual ser­vices in ex­change for the price of a cig­a­rette.

A group of lo­cal in­dige­nous women la­belled his com­ments a racist slur and threat­ened to re­fer him to the Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion.

Mr For­rest did not want to dwell on that com­plaint, which was not pur­sued, but said last week he be­lieved the al­le­ga­tions emerg­ing from the Pil­bara demon­strated the need for fur­ther in­ter­ven­tion in re­mote Abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­ni­ties, in­clud­ing cash­less debit cards.

“Wher­ever there is unchecked cash wel­fare and abuse of al­co­hol or other sub­stances, and no change in lead­er­ship, or failed poli­cies, a di­rec­tion­less com­mu­nity re­sults and tragedies like this can hap­pen,” Mr For­rest said.

It is un­der­stood the in­ves­ti­ga­tion started in Septem­ber af­ter po­lice gained the con­fi­dence of an in­jured girl who had sought treat­ment at a hos­pi­tal.

Po­lice spent a lot of time in the com­mu­ni­ties earn­ing the trust of chil­dren and their fam­i­lies to un­cover in­ci­dents.

The ac­cused range from teenagers to men in their 70s.

It is un­der­stood a re­cov­ery group led by the Depart­ment for Child Pro­tec­tion has been set up as part of a State Gov­ern­ment re­sponse.

Spe­cial coun­selling ser­vices are be­ing provided and ded­i­cated child pro­tec­tion work­ers have been ap­pointed to en­sure the af­fected chil­dren are safe.

Com­mu­ni­ties in the Kim­ber­ley and Mid West have pre­vi­ously been the fo­cus of sim­i­lar po­lice in­quiries amid sus­pected un­der-re­port­ing of child sex abuse.

WA child pro­tec­tion ex­pert An­drea Musulin, di­rec­tor of the Perth Catholic Arch­dio­cese’s Safe­guard­ing Ser­vices pro­gram and a former po­lice of­fi­cer, said the al­leged abuse high­lighted the im­por­tance of teach­ing chil­dren how to pro­tect them­selves.

“Even though it is the adults’ re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­tect chil­dren . . . by ed­u­cat­ing chil­dren, we may be able to pre­vent some of­fences hap­pen­ing or at least em­power them to re­port abuse,” she said.

The sooner chil­dren dis­closed of­fences and re­ceived sup­port, the bet­ter chance they had of re­cov­er­ing from the trauma and the less likely they were to go on to be­come abusers them­selves, Ms Musulin said.

Any­one who would like to seek ad­vice or sup­port can con­tact Cri­sis Care on 1800 199 008 or Life­line on 13 11 14.

Pic­ture: Tom Zaun­mayr

Some of the ac­cused are from Roe­bourne.

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