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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2018 Week 03 Hansard (Wednesday, 21 March 2018) . . Page.. 787 ..

Child sexual abuse prevention researchers and advocates have long promoted the crucial role parents and caregivers can play in keeping children safe from child sexual abuse.

As far back as 1986, Professor David Finkelhor, who has been called probably the most prominent sociologist at work in the field of child sexual abuse, identified three advantages of prevention education for parents: first, the repetition of information from a trusted source can be more effective than the isolated classroom experience; second, if parents learn to recognise the signs, they may more easily identify abuse when it occurs; and, third, parents may learn to react in more helpful ways to discovery of abuse.

These points have been repeated and amplified by other experts, with Nathan Marriage from James Cook University noting last year that parent-focused child abuse prevention efforts have been increasingly advocated in the literature. I offer just a few examples. In 2012 Georgia Babatsikos observed that most prevention programs place the burden of responsibility for prevention on children while overlooking the critical population of parents and concluded that there is a need for more prevention programs targeting parents. The following year Professor Russell Hawkins stated clearly that prevention programs which target parents are needed to supplement school-based programs that leave the onus on the child to prevent and report abuse.

In 2015 Tamar Mendelson and Elizabeth Letourneau from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health advocated for child sexual abuse prevention efforts that specifically target the parents of young children. They wrote that parents have been neglected as a focus of child sexual abuse preventions, noting the success of family focused interventions in reducing other forms of child mistreatment. The aforementioned study by Marriage et al likewise echoes the need for parents and other primary caregivers to be better informed as they “do not automatically develop the ability to identify abuse as a result of their close and regular interaction with their children”.

The call to better inform and equip parents can be found in recent government reports as well. Victoria’s 2012 report of the inquiry into protecting Victoria’s vulnerable children, also called the Cummins inquiry, calls for a wide-ranging education and information campaign for parents and caregivers of all school-aged children on the prevention of child sexual abuse. Recommendation 6.2 from the final report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse includes prevention education for parents and clarifies that the education should aim to increase knowledge of child sexual abuse and its impacts and build skills to help reduce the risk of child sexual abuse.

This unified call to provide better resources for parents acknowledges that many are insufficiently prepared to teach correct and appropriate information to children, to recognise the signs of child sexual abuse and to respond correctly to suspected abuse. Parents interviewed by Babatsikos as part of her PhD research expressed concern about what they should be teaching their children and at what age.

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