Systematic failure leads to court ordered child abuseHetty Johnston
Independent Senate candidate Hetty Johnston has today launched her highly anticipated Child and Families Policy by drawing attention to startling research that shows Family Court judges overwhelmingly disbelieve allegations of child sexual assault.
Just days from the start of National Families Week on May 15, the Bravehearts founder highlighted early results from a University of Wollongong research project that has found 80 per cent of allegations of child sexual assault are disbelieved by the Family Court judge.
Devastatingly, earlier research has found that children disclosing that they have been sexually assaulted are telling the truth in between 95 and 98 per cent of cases.
Ms Johnston said the statistics reinforced the desperate need for a Royal Commission into the family law system, which is riddled with systemic dysfunction, particularly in the ways the family courts deal with allegations of child sexual assault by a parent.
“Seven years after the Family Law Act was reformed to prioritise children’s safety, a culture of disbelief of children’s disclosures is continuing to put our children in danger,” Ms Johnston said in the week of the Federal election in which she is campaigning to represent Queensland in the Senate.
“Judges are frequently ordering children to spend time, or even live with, the very people they disclose have sexually assaulted them, often despite glaring evidence. This systemic failure leads to court-ordered child abuse.
“If elected, I will never stop fighting for a Royal Commission into the family law system. A Royal Commission is the only legal instrument capable of overcoming the significant obstacles that need to be addressed to make Australia the safest country in the world to raise a child.”
Ms Johnston, who founded Australia’s leading advocate on child protection, Bravehearts, more than two decades ago, said research has previously shown children were far more likely not to disclose a sexual assault than they were to make false allegations.
“It is a scandal that there is no formal risk assessment process conducted by the courts on matters involving allegations of child abuse and family violence before critical, life changing decisions are made” she said.
“Furthermore, no statistics are kept on the number and type of alleged harms going before the courts, nor their outcomes. This in itself is a reflection of the total disregard of our family courts for the children who pay the price for their appalling decisions.
“This is totally unacceptable, particularly as one in five children will be sexually assaulted before they turn 15.”
Ms Johnston said the most important things that needs to happen to overcome the crisis in the family law system are a royal commission and the nationwide introduction of Child Advocacy Centres. These centres will be equipped to present courts with structured, independent, multidisciplinary risk assessments of parents and children involved in child sexual assault and criminal family violence claims.
“There are about 900 such centres in the United States. When children who disclose are interviewed by a trained forensic interviewer in a child friendly environment, the criminal outcomes in terms of convictions increase exponentially,” she said.
“In Australia, current child protection systems are designed for adults, not children. That has to change. Children suffer the most when families break down and when crimes are committed against them. Children are the ones most likely to be telling the truth and they are also the ones least likely to be heard.
“The Child Advocacy Centre model ensures that we can help our courts make orders in the best interests of the child, based on thorough risk assessments conducted by highly trained professionals.
“Our children are dying, committing suicide, turning to drugs and alcohol, ending up homeless, committing crime and suffering life-threatening mental health conditions because our family law system is a broken, dysfunctional and dangerous institution.”
Ms Johnston said the nation’s politicians have failed to treat child sexual assault and family violence as the national emergency it is.
“One child every 19 days is murdered by a parent. At least one woman is killed through family violence in Australia every week. Mums and dads are committing suicide. These issues remain a low priority for most politicians,” said Ms Johnston, who is aiming to represent Queensland in the Federal Senate.
“Too many children are living their lives under the rules of this cruel family law system. This is a national emergency and enough is enough.
“Once elected, I will fight for an Australia that prioritises the best interests and safety of children in everything we do. I will not stop until Australia is the safest place in the world to raise a child.
“Having fought this battle for 22 years, I have done all I can from outside the political sphere. I now need Queenslanders to vote me into the Senate so I can bring the voices of children and families to the corridors of power.”
For media enquiries, please contact Jacqueline Bojanowski at Ruby Communications on (07) 5532 3808/ 0424 360 986 or email Jacqueline@weareruby.com.au.