We always assume that it will never happen to our own children, but according to the Australian Institute of Criminology up to 30 percent of children experience childhood sexual abuse, with five to 10 percent experiencing severe abuse. Chances are that you know a number of people who were sexually abused in some way as children; chances are that a child you know is currently being abused but is staying quiet due to fear or shame or embarrassment. It’s a terrible realization.
On Monday, Australia’s first-ever public sex offender register went live (see the ‘How it works’ box below for details). An initiative of the Western Australian (WA) state government, it has been developed to provide the public with information on known sex offenders who are living in WA. The ultimate aim is to raise public awareness and enhance the safety of children. You can access the website here.
Western Australia Police Minister, Liza Harvey, says the website will help with the protection and safety of children and the community by providing the public with access to information on known child sex offenders; opponents of the scheme fear that the publicly available information could lead to vigilante attacks, cases of mistaken identity and an increased risk that perpetrators could drop out of rehabilitation progams and reoffend.
From a personal viewpoint, I acknowledge the concerns of the scheme opponents – but I’d love to see the introduction of a similar website in my home state and, if it was available, I would most definitely use it. How about you?
Of course it’s not open slather. The only information that’s available to anyone and everyone are details of missing offenders – reportable child sex offenders who have absconded. Any other information, including photos of dangerous and high-risk offenders living in your suburb and checks on specific adults who have unsupervised access to your children, has to be applied for personally.
Of course, it’s not just the stranger in the next suburb who we as parents need to be wary of …
Nevertheless, limited information is better than no information and an initiative which raises awareness of and helps to protect against child sexual abuse is a good thing. Of course, it’s not just the stranger in the next suburb who we as parents need to be wary of …
Interestingly, according to Detective Senior Sergeant Darryl Noye from WA's Child Sex Crimes Squad, a British trial of a child-sex register was used mainly by people checking on family members. I suppose it’s not that surprising really – call it instinct – given that the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (2005) Personal Safety Survey founds that of all those who reported having been victimised sexually before the age of 15 years, only eleven percent were victimised by a stranger. Most commonly, child sexual abuse was perpetrated by:
30% - A male relative other than the victim’s father or stepfather
16% - A family friend
16% - An acquaintance or neighbour
15% - Another known person
13% - The father or stepfather
As I said at the beginning, we always assume that it will never happen to our own children - and this complacent assumption, along with the culture of shamed silence that defines the issue of child sexual abuse, helps to provide an environment in which perpetrators can flourish. In my view, a government-run website which raises awareness, provides useful information to parents and - yes – names and shames the worst offenders is a fantastic initiative. I hope that the other states follow suit.
How it works
The Community Protection Website provides any member of the public with access to photographs and certain information on Western Australia’s most dangerous and high-risk sexual offenders. The website provides three tiers of information access as follows:
Tier One - Missing offenders. The information on this tier is available to any member of the public who wants access to photographs and details of reportable offenders who have absconded.
Tier Two – Local dangerous and high-risk offenders. Under the second tier a member of the public can make an application for photographs of any repeat child sex offenders and those deemed dangerous offenders who live in their suburb or adjoining suburbs.
Tier Three – Disclosure scheme. The third tier allows parents or guardians to inquire with WA Police whether a specific person, who has regular unsupervised contact with their child, is a reportable offender.
What is your view? Would you use a public sex offenders register if one was introduced to your state?