The impending Royal Commission into Child Sex Abuse in Australia will shine a light on an issue that is so often swept under the carpet.
It will no doubt bring controversy but one thing we can all agree on is that the victims of this heinous crime deserve the very best of care and support. Sadly public sector restructuring under the O’Farrell government could mean hundreds of sexual abuse survivors in NSW are denied the services they need. I recently spoke with Kristina Brenner, Manager of the Bankstown Women’s Health Centre about how changes to the CASAC (Child & Adolescent Sexual Assault Counselors) program could let down many vulnerable people in our community.
Currently CASAC run 11 specialist counselling services for child, adolescent and adult victims of child sexual assault. They provide critical support like psychological counselling and court advocacy for those who would otherwise slip through the cracks in the system. Importantly the help is provided free of charge.
At the moment the options available for survivors of child sexual assault are shockingly narrow. NSW Health operates support services but eligibility is limited. Furthermore the up-front cost of private treatment is prohibitive for many. As a result the CASAC services are stretched to capacity seeing hundreds of clients per year. What’s more they do it on the smell of an oily rag. The entire program costs the public purse just $1.5m per annum.
The Bankstown Women’s Health Centre houses a CASAC service. According to its manager Kristina Brenner, staff discovered that a recent review of NSW Department Family and Community Services recommended an overhaul of CASAC as it currently stands and rolling it into another program known as EIPP (Early Intervention & Placement Prevention).
Whilst this sounds like run of the mill restructuring to the lay person, Kristina and her colleagues are worried about the implications for their clients. Eligibility for EIPP services is restrictive. CASAC fear that they will no longer be able to offer assistance to adult victims of child sexual abuse, many of whom have no where else to turn. This is not only devastating for the tormented individuals involved, its a problem for broader society. Providing these adults with the help that they need makes them more able to care properly for their own children. It’s key to breaking the cycle of abuse.
Of course, the sooner the victims of child sexual abuse get help the greater the chance at healing. Kristina is deeply concerned that under the EIPP, children will only be entitled to three months of assistance. Accordingly to Kristina this is woefully inadequate. In her experience it takes this long for many victims to learn to trust their counselor. Typically meaningful healing only starts to happen after 12 to 18 months of “work”.
Putting the notion of basic human compassion to one side, the cost to society of neglecting these people is horrendous. All too often the abuse results in permanent psychological illness, substance abuse, violent relationships and criminality. Providing immediate support to child victims goes a long way towards stamping out these issues down the track. You have to admit that’s pretty good value for $1.5m per year.
The CASAC staff and their supporters have embarked upon a mutli-pronged campaign to protect their very important program. They’ve been broadcasting their message via local newspapers and social media. They’ve persistently lobbied Pru Goward the Community Services Minister as well as Premier Barry O’Farrell and Treasurer Mike Baird. The Shadow Community Services Minister Linda Burney raised the issue in State Parliament but unfortunately the Liberal Party failed to guarantee CASAC funding beyond July 2013.
The CASAC team have organised a petition and are attempting to get the 10,000 signatures necessary to force a parliamentary debate on the issue.
If you are interested in helping this cause, here are a few things you can do;
- Assist in collecting ink petition signatures. CASAC has been asking community members to commit to collecting 25 signatures each. Please email Kristina at firstname.lastname@example.org for a hard copy of the petition.
- Add your name to the online petition at www.communityrun.org/p/csa.
- Write to Minister Pru Goward or your local MP.
Above anything else, Kristina urges us to keep the discussion about child sexual assault going. Although its an unpleasant topic, keeping the issue shrouded in darkness helps no one. Only by actively talking about this problem can we wear down the stigma and shame the victims feel and make their journey easier.
For more information please go to: www.casac.org.au