September 13, 2014. Nino Bucci Crime reporter for The Age

Victoria Police wants to open a new front in the fight against family violence as frightening new data reveals a 43 per cent jump in child sex abuse cases in the past five years.

Detective Superintendent Rod Jouning, head of the Victoria Police sexual and family violence division, said the true rate of child sex abuse by family members and others known to the victim was horrifying.

He said Victoria Police's campaign to tackle family violence had encouraged unprecedented reporting of partner on partner violence, but too many child sex abuse victims were still not coming forward. "We haven't even scratched the surface," he said. "We never liked talking about family violence, because it happened behind closed doors. "Here's something else happening behind closed doors, and we've got to talk about it."

The new data, obtained exclusively by The Saturday Age, show that children were the victims in almost three-quarters of sex assault cases and a third of rape cases in Victoria last year. Girls aged 10  to 14 are the most likely to be abused.Senior police fear the rate of child sexual abuse will match the family violence crisis – which has largely focused on abusive relationships between adults. The crime statistics reveal  large increases in offences against children under 10, and sexual assaults by parents.

Other revelations uncovered during interviews with police and support services include:

  • More children in primary schools – some as young as five – are being counselled after instigating troubling sexualised behaviour against fellow students;
  • Increases in men approaching youths online, pretending to be their age and getting them to exchange explicit images, before extorting them for sex;
  • Men committing sexual offences against girls after arranged marriages.

Detective Superintendent Jouning said a community fear of "stranger danger" attacks clouded the fact children were far more often abused by family members or people known to them. 

The focus on institutional child sexual assault, including the royal commission, and media attention on infrequent cases involving teachers, community leaders or celebrities also obscured the true picture of offending, he said.

Detective Superintendent Jouning said being sexually assaulted by a family member was no different to someone being abused by a teacher, priest or scout leader. "In fact it's probably worse."

A woman who was abused by her father, mother, and a worker on their farm has spoken publicly for the first time about her ordeal, to urge others to come forward and stop living with their secrets.

"Kate" fears her father may have abused or allowed the abuse of 10 children between the 1960s and 1990s before he took his own life while facing charges. She approached police three times before they believed she had been abused, but said her ordeal was worth it because she had been able to break free of the control her abusers had over her.

"I've had some silly people say 'Oh just forget about it'," she said. "You're not talking about it for nothing, you're talking about it because it's haunting you, and you need to do something.

"I thought that I must feel guilty, and that's why I shook when I went to the police station, but it wasn't guilt, it was intimidation."


Detective Superintendent Jouning said he was concerned that an increase in sex offending could also be driven by the accessibility of more "deviant" pornography, such as rape, bestiality, incest and child exploitation material. He said this material could blur the lines of consent. "Unless there's screaming and they're yelling 'no', they're not enjoying it. You get that kind of warped thinking. "It becomes normalised."

Abused by those they trust

CASE STUDY A  After her mother died, victim A was sent to boarding school. Her father remarried, and her stepmother and her two sons moved into their home. The girl would visit her father's house on weekends, and on the first visit she met her stepmother and stepbrothers. Her father was a heavy drinker. On one visit, her father started touching her breasts and genitals. The abuse progressed to rape. She believed her stepmother was aware of the abuse, but did not intervene. She stopped going home and became a ward of the state.

When she reported the abuse as an adult, her mental health had suffered and she had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and other personality disorders. After she reported the abuse, one of her stepbrothers also came forward. He detailed years of sexual abuse committed upon him by his stepfather in Victoria and interstate. Their tormentor was extradited to Victoria, found guilty in two trials, and sentenced to a significant jail term.

CASE STUDY B  Victim B played sport in a boys' team coached by his brother-in-law. The man was married to the victim's older sister. He often stayed with other members of the team at the coach's house. The coach allegedly gave them alcohol. During one sleepover, the coach allegedly started touching the boy's genitals, and forced him to masturbate him. The coach allegedly progressed to raping the boy.

The victim left home at 16 and ceased contact with the coach, who his mother had trusted to care for him. He found himself in trouble with police, and eventually reported his abuse. He believes he offended because of an inability to deal with the trauma of his alleged sexual abuse. After the report, the victim's older brother spoke to police and alleged that he had been abused in an almost identical fashion by the coach. The accused was charged and committed to stand trial later this year.

"Recent cases reported to Victoria Police.
Centre Against Sexual Assault 24-hour crisis line: 1800 806 292
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