Authors

Professor Helen Milroy, Rowena Lawrie and Paul Testro, on behalf of The Healing Foundation. Healing Foundation

Background

This report is focused on culturally based healing responses to respond to children who have been sexually abused and provides a pathway to prevention of child sexual abuse in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

The report outlines a cultural framework which addresses current gaps in practice and identifies key elements and strategies for creating and restoring safety and healing.  The development of the framework was guided by insight and knowledge shared from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service providers and survivors, along with relevant non-Indigenous practitioners and researchers.

Key findings

  • There is no evidence to suggest sexual abuse was a problem in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures before colonisation or that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures condones sexual abuse in any way. Colonisation has had significant impacts on the cultural systems that are established to deal with the issue of child sexual abuse, for example tribal authority to deal with offenders. This was not valued or sustained in western legislation, which had limited responses until after Federation.
  • Child sexual abuse and the resulting trauma has both immediate and long term impacts across a wide range of areas, including physical and mental health, behaviour and development.
  • A child or adult’s experience of telling others about their sexual abuse to others contributes to the impacts of the abuse, either supporting their safety and recovery or adding to their trauma. Where children have not been believed, research and clinical experience indicates this is extremely distressing and potentially re-traumatising.
  • Continuing structural factors of Indigenous disadvantage and distress represent ongoing risk pathways to problem sexual behaviour in children, these factors include the intergenerational normalisation of violence; the silence, fear and shame in addressing violence;
  • There are a range of gaps in mainstream services responding to sexual abuse in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, including a continuing failure to understand the need for community led, culturally based healing services, and provide the funding required to support sustained healing.

  Messages for practice

  • To work holistically, responses to child sexual abuse need to address its impacts on victims, perpetrators, families and communities.
  • Research suggests that the earlier people disclose, the better their life outcomes. The framework outlined in this report focuses on creating open and safe environments to encourage early disclosures.
  • Knowledge Circle members identified eight values to drive culturally based responses to child sexual abuse: safety, respect, empathy, reciprocity, unconditional positive regard for children, hope, truth and empowerment.
  • A child’s safety is created by family and community and is the responsibility of both. Children’s safety is best achieved through the understanding and strengthening cultural child rearing practices and creating opportunities for open discussion to ensure safety is prioritised for children including addressing any risk factors identified.
  • Knowledge holders also recognised that cultural responses alone could not heal children who have been sexually harmed with a need for culturally strong therapeutic services available for children and families to assist them in their journey of healing.
  • Critical aspects of responding to child sexual abuse in communities include the strengthening or reestablishment of cultural processes and systems that created safety for children, and reconnection of people to culture including their responsibilities to children’s safety.

In its conclusion the report acknowledges that the task of creating and restoring is a huge one that requires a long-term commitment from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, communities, and organisations; the broader Australian community; and increased collaboration between state and federal governments.

 

The full report can be found here:  https://healingfoundation.org.au//app/uploads/2017/04/Looking-Where-The-Light-Is-Final.pdf