It has been over a week since the publication of Australia’s first high-quality, nationally representative study of the prevalence of all five forms of child maltreatment, the Australian Child Maltreatment Study.
In the words of the Hon. Amanda Rishworth MP, Minister for Social Services, and the Hon. Mark Dreyfus KC MP, Attorney-General and Cabinet Secretary:
“the findings of the Australian Child Maltreatment Study are shocking.”
The study has found that across the Australian population* (16-65+):
- 32.0% experienced physical abuse
- 28.5% experienced sexual abuse
- 30.9% experienced emotional abuse
- 8.9% experienced neglect
- 39.6% experienced exposure to domestic violence.
* In childhood before the age of 18.
These aren’t just statistics. These are the lived experiences of 8,500 people over 16 years of age who have bravely shared their stories to help inform a safer future for all Australians.
Through these stories we now know that child maltreatment is widespread with 40% of young people having experienced more than one type of abuse and 25% having experienced between three and all five different types of abuse.
We now know that Australian girls experience 2.4 times the rate of sexual abuse and 1.5 times the rate of emotional abuse compared to boys.
We now better know the extent to which child maltreatment continues to be a major problem affecting Australian children and young people today – it is not just something that happened in the past.
We now better know that child maltreatment is associated with severe mental health problems and behavioural harms, both in childhood and adulthood.
We now better know that emotional abuse is much more harmful and damaging than society has understood to this point.
We now know that all systems involved in the care and protection of young people can and must do better.
There is however cause for hope in amongst these shocking findings. In recent years there have been reductions in the rates of physical abuse and some types of sexual abuse. These reductions show that the work of our sector, and the dedication of all those involved in keeping children and young people safe can and does make a difference.
The findings of the Australian Child Maltreatment Study create an urgent and compelling call for change. We believe the only acceptable rate of child maltreatment in Australia is zero and every form of maltreatment is preventable.
PeakCare supports the call of the Australian Child Maltreatment Studies lead researcher, Professor Ben Mathews:
We need to turbocharge our prevention efforts. We have a community obligation to build a better society. Change is possible and change is required.
PeakCare would like to thank the authors of this vital study for their important contribution and all those who shared their stories.
The Australian Child Maltreatment Study report and associated materials can be found on the ACMS website. PeakCare urges its members and supporters to take the time to review the report findings and consider how your work and your voice can continue to advocate for and create change.
Now is our time to listen, learn, reflect, and embrace opportunities for greater investment in approaches that deliver positive and lasting change. Together, we can better prevent and respond to child maltreatment. Together, we can help create new stories of hope for Australia’s children and young people.