Why are WA kids sexually abused by peers forced to face them at school?


Children who have been the victims of sexual assault are being retraumatised and further abused by being forced by the WA government to attend school with their perpetrators, a leading mental health and psychology expert has warned.

WA’s Australian of the Year for 2018, adjunct professor Tracy Westerman, who has extensive expertise in working with sex offenders and victims, said the government was harming child sexual assault victims by allowing the peers who offended against them to remain students at the same schools.

“This is not about more abuse potentially taking place,” she said. “The presence of a perpetrator in the environment of the victim is abuse - and the systems that are there to protect are failing to do so.”

It was revealed in WA Parliament after questions from opposition child protection spokesman Nick Goiran, that as of Tuesday, there were six alleged offenders attending the same public school as their victims.

That number remains unchanged since last year. However, since November 25 one of those perpetrators has left their victim's school in the Pilbara and a separate case of an offender attending the same school as their victim has emerged.

In response to Mr Goiran's questions, Education Minister Sue Ellery said a “risk assessment and management plan” (RAMP) was in place at each school reflecting individual circumstances and arrangements.

Mr Goiran introduced a motion in September calling for “all policies related to managing the education of children and young people charged with harmful sexual behaviour to put the safety of the children and young people first and ensure no further harm” was caused to the victims by ongoing contact with the alleged perpetrators.

The motion also called for the government to disclose what it is and will be doing to protect these children and young people. The motion received unanimous support in the Legislative Council.

Ms Ellery said protocols introduced were in place for agencies to share vital information so students attending the same school were protected.

“An extensive safety plan is put in place around that child to ensure that everybody is kept safe, taking into account the specific circumstances, school environment, restrictions or conditions set by bail,” she said.

“Every necessary support is provided to any students and school staff members who require that support including those affected and alleged perpetrators.”

Ms Ellery reiterated the safety plan was tailored to the individual requirements of each child, without a one-size-fits-all approach.

About two years ago a 10-year-old boy in a northern Perth suburb was charged with the rape of an eight-year-old boy and then continued to attend the same school.

He was later removed from the school following a public outcry from parents who were not told the offender was at the same school as their children.

Ms Ellery was made aware of the northern suburbs case the day she was sworn in as Education Minister in March 2017 when there were “no existing protocols” in place, with either the courts or police randomly notifying schools if a child was charged or even convicted.

She said this led to the development of WA’s first formal multi-agency protocol involving the department of education, communities and justice as well as the WA Police Force.

“As part of the protocol, RAMPs are developed by the Education Department at the school level upon notification from the WA Police Force that a student enrolled in a public school has been charged with harmful sexual behaviours,” Ms Ellery said.

“At the heart of the RAMPS is the safety of the child — every child — and at the heart of that, parents can be confident that measures have been put in place to protect everybody in school.”

Commissioner for Children and Young People Colin Pettit said research undertaken by his office had made it clear that each case needed to be considered individually and the responses needed to take into account each child’s age and capacity.

“I have made recommendations on strengthening our response for children and young people with harmful sexual behaviours and I am monitoring progress,” he said.

“The recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, accepted by the government, should be supported, resourced and implemented in full.

“The challenge is to both respond to the complexities of these cases and act in the best interest of every child involved.”

Greens WA MP Alison Xamon said in Parliament in September that part of the problem was a lack of specialist services in regional and remote communities, a lack of expertise in culturally safe services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and a lack of clear referral pathways.

“The Commissioner for Children and Young People recently undertook a program to map service provision across WA and found that 50 per cent of respondents identified insufficient service availability, 24 per cent had inadequate funding and 20 per cent had issues with workforce capacity,” she said.

“I also note the ongoing lack of investment in research and in program evaluation to strengthen the evidence base and inform practice.”

Professor Westerman said the big issue was the “complete absence” of highly skilled services to assess the victims’ therapeutic needs and the provision of support and intensive therapeutic support for offenders.

Professor Westerman said her Indigenous psychology scholarship program to support students with remote and rural connections addressed such a service gap but remained completely unfunded by government.

(Source)


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