Bravehearts protect children against sexual assaults

Australias leading child protection advocate expands into NSW; on track for national roll out.

Following support from both the Queensland and NSW Governments, Australias leading child protection advocate Bravehearts is expanding into NSW. To launch the expanded program, Bravehearts is hosting a Gala Dinner on May 24th at the Opera House to raise awareness and support for continuing their fight to put a stop to child sexual assault in Australia.

In Australia, one child is substantiated to be abused every 11 minutes;
(Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2005)

Led by Founder and Executive Director, Hetty Johnston, Bravehearts makes a difference in child protection, and is forging a movement for change in how child sexual assault is dealt with by the criminal justice sector, government, educational institutions, and the community at large. Bravehearts has already achieved impressive results in Queensland, including the introduction of indefinite sentencing for paedophiles [Dangerous Prisoners (Sex Offenders) Act 2003].

"The major question I am asked when out and about is what can I do to protect my child" Mrs Johnston said.

In response, Bravehearts has developed a personal safety CD-Rom, Dittos Keep Safe Adventure!, which is available through us. The CD-Rom, which educates children on how to recognise unsafe feelings and inappropriate actions towards them, has also been expanded into a live, interactive show that our counsellors take into schools. Last year we saw over 12,000 children and this year expect to present the program to over 20,000 children between 4 and 8 years old.

"We have had this program externally evaluated and are so proud that the results just exceeded our expectations. It works and we cant wait to get the program into NSW schools."

"Parents of children who have been sexually assaulted are often faced with feelings of guilt. Questions they commonly ask include: Why didnt I know? and Why didnt my child tell me?"

"There needs to be greater awareness of the silence that surrounds child sexual assault," Mrs Johnston says, "Perpetrators encourage silence as this secrecy is fundamental to their ability to continue offending undetected."

Reasons children dont disclose they are being sexually assaulted include:

They often feel it is their fault because they let it happen;
They feel disclosure may cause family problems or breakdowns;
The offender is often someone the child knows or heavily relies on;
They fear they will be taken away from their homes and families if they speak out;
They fear they will be blamed, punished or not believed;
They fear disclosure will cause harm to someone or something they love and care for, such as family members.

About Their Secrets

Offenders put a great deal of effort into ensuring that a child remains silent. Apart from promises, threats and bribes, offenders also take advantage of the childs powerlessness by presenting a distorted view of what is happening. Some of the ways offenders trick children into secrecy include convincing the child that:

They are somehow responsible for the abuse;
No-one will believe them if they tell;
They will be punished, not the abuser;
They will be to blame if the offender goes to jail;
They will be to blame if the family breaks up;
They are bad in some way, which is why the assault occurred.

Survival Hints for Parents:

Let your child know that you are willing to talk about what has happened;
Let your child know that you believe them, and that they are not in trouble;
You also need the opportunity to talk about how you are feeling;
Children still need the security of sensible, firm limits after being abused;
Talk to other parents who are going through the same thing;
Dont expect too much of yourself.

"Kids who have been sexually assaulted often dont display visible wounds that can be fixed by medicine or a trip to the doctor. Their wounds can be much deeper than that, and last a lifetime. It is up to all of us, as concerned parents and responsible adults, to keep our children safe, and to be informed and aware of the signs that may be evident in a child who is being sexually assaulted," Mrs Johnston states.

"It is time for governments to get serious about protecting our kids from these dangerous offenders. Education programs such as Dittos Keep Safe Adventure!, should be mandatory in schools across NSW and Australia to educate children, parents, carers and teachers about the dangers and issues surrounding child sexual assault. We can all help to break the silence surrounding child sexual assault in Australia."

"Children often lack the words to describe sexual assault, therefore finding it exceptionally difficult to disclose. The fear of a negative reaction and possible punishment can also stop them from speaking out, which makes child abuse a largely silent crime."

"It is essential for governments, parents and the community to remember, that education is the key to breaking the silence surrounding child sexual assault in Australia," Mrs Johnston explains.

The inaugural Gala Dinner, to be held at the Sydney Opera House on May 24th, will provide a great opportunity for Bravehearts to thank the many people who have made their NSW expansion possible, and also to those who offer their continued support to Bravehearts. Hosted by MC and newly appointed Bravehearts Ambassador, Ray Hadley, OAM of Sydneys top-rating 2GB, the evening is sure to bring out the generous spirits of all involved.

Bravehearts recent expansion was welcomed by former NSW Minister for Justice, The Hon. Tony Kelly, who pledged ongoing support to Bravehearts from the NSW Government.

"I am pleased to advise that the Iemma Government was able to play a role in the establishment of the [NSW] office by offering a start-up grant of $35,000. Mrs Johnston is a fierce and passionate advocate for children who are victims of sexual assault and she deserves our support," Minister Kelly states.

"Every year Bravehearts receives an increasing number of calls from people in New South Wales. It has become clear that it is time to have a presence in New South Wales."

"Bravehearts is now also heavily involved in policy development and will work with the Government on new policies in this area," concluded Minister Kelly.

Bravehearts currently provide counselling and therapy services to hundreds of children and families a year in Queensland and Western Australia, (with a long waiting list due to limited funds) at a cost of nearly half a million dollars per annum.

Since their formation in 1997, Bravehearts has made significant inroads in the area of child protection, not only through government lobbying, but through support services and education. Hetty Johnston believes that Bravehearts can break the silence on child sexual assault in Australia, through education, and with the support of governments, schools, parents and the community at large.

"We demonstrate by our actions that we care, and are prepared to be involved in whatever way we can to help our kids. Bravehearts are dedicated to giving a voice to the survivors of child sexual assault in Australia, who have for too long been shamed into silence, by dangerous offenders and communities who are not equipped with the knowledge and education to deal with these kinds of disclosures," Mrs Johnston explains.

Peter Crawford, Detective Superintendent & Child Safety Director for QLD Police, speaks of his support for Bravehearts and their child protection initiatives:

"Even in cases where victims dont want to speak to police or make a formal complaint, the Bravehearts Sexual Assault Disclosure Scheme helps us by ensuring valuable intelligence about offenders is provided to police."

"Bravehearts must also be commended on its commitment to the provision of counselling and support programs for children, adolescent and adult survivors of child sexual assault as well as their non-offending family members."

"All these initiatives and programs though need money, services, skills and most importantly commitment if they are to survive and grow," concludes Detective Superintendent Crawford.

About Bravehearts:

Bravehearts is Australias leading child protection advocacy group.

Founded in 1997 by Mrs Hetty Johnston and based in Queensland, with the inaugural White Balloon Day, Bravehearts Inc. has evolved into an organisation whose purpose is to provide therapeutic support and advocacy services to survivors of child sexual assault. Bravehearts makes a difference in child protection and is forging a movement for change in how child sexual assault is dealt with by the criminal justice sector, government institutions, churches and the community at large.

Bravehearts currently provide counselling services to hundreds of children a year (with a long waiting list due to limited funds) at a cost of nearly half a million dollars per annum. As well as supporting survivors of child sexual assault, Bravehearts is unique in that they also focus on prevention and early intervention, as well as healing and activism. If you have any questions about child sexual abuse, or to contact Bravehearts, call their toll free number: 1800 114 474

About Dittos Stay Safe Adventure

Research has found that one of the greatest tools for reducing child sexual assault is childrens ability to recognise unsafe feelings and inappropriate actions towards them. Bravehearts have created an interactive CD-Rom Dittos Keep Safe Adventure which is used as an educational tool at schools and in homes across Australia. The CD-Rom has been expanded into a live, interactive, fun show that is presented in schools to over 20,000 children between the ages of 4 and 8 each year.

** Statistics vary, but suggest that 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 7 boys will be sexually assaulted by the age of 16. True figures are undoubtedly higher, as sexual assault is a predominantly a silent crime.