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Child Protection

Child sexual abuse survivor leads better child protection campaign

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The Australian Childhood Foundation has partnered with a survivor of child sexual abuse and child protection advocate, Emma Hakansson, to invite others with lived experience of child sexual abuse to offer their views and insights about how adults and the community can do more to keep children and young people safe.

Speaking about her own experience Emma, aged 22, said, “When I was a small child, I was sexually abused. It happened somewhere I was supposed to be safe, and it happened at the hands of someone who my parents trusted. Someone my community trusted. There is a lot of scar tissue on my heart, and there are a lot of people walking around with the same scar tissue on their hearts – there are a lot of people who have survived child sexual abuse.”

Aptly named Emma’s Project, the initiative will first aim to collect responses from child sexual abuse survivors and those who care about them, to hear directly about what more could have been done to prevent the abuse from occurring and how all adults in their community could have ensured that they were listened to, validated and effectively protected.

Australian Childhood Foundation’s 2021 Community Attitudes Report, Still Unseen and Ignored, discovered that one in six people feel uncertain or would be reluctant to report a child being abused or neglected, even if they were sure of the facts and one in five were not confident they could recognise a vulnerable child.

CEO of the Australian Childhood Foundation, Dr Joe Tucci said, “This reluctance and lack of knowledge leaves children unprotected at a time they need it the most. The overwhelming majority of Australians understand the harmful implications of not believing a child’s disclosure of abuse. Yet, two out of every three Australians believe children make up stories or are uncertain whether they are telling the truth about what has happened to them.

“This remains a devastating result for children. It means that children only have a one in three chance of finding an adult who will be on their side. It is far more likely that children will be disregarded and seen to be lying”.

These statistics only heighten the importance of Emma’s Project.

Emma invites child sexual abuse survivors, their families and industry professionals to participate in a national survey by visiting www.childhood.org.au/emmas-project and sharing their unique insights about child sexual abuse. The confidential survey is completed anonymously to protect the privacy of all respondents.

After the survey is closed, Emma and Australian Childhood Foundation’s researchers and counsellors will work together to turn the invaluable insights into freely available resources and training materials that will galvanise and inform the Australian community. The resources will include a strong call to action for everyone with children in their lives to make children’s safety from sexual abuse an ongoing and critical priority.

Commenting on the project, Emma said, “To make some light from the darkness of the abuse I experienced, I reached out to the Australian Childhood Foundation, driven to create positive change for children in our national community. I know that our collective wisdom will change the lives of children in the future.

“It’s critical that all adults don’t make assumptions around what will protect their child from abuse, but that they learn from survivors firsthand.

“This campaign was born out of the need to transform a system which currently is failing to protect children from sexual abuse. I know what could have kept me safe, and so I know what blind spots adults need education around.”

Australian Childhood Foundation CEO, Dr Joe Tucci says, “Emma’s Project is an opportunity to make a real and sustained change to the way the community is able and willing to protect children and young people from abuse. There is so much that people with lived experience of child sexual abuse can offer to the community’s effort to prevent and respond to child sexual abuse. Their involvement and support will only make our work far more effective.

“It is one of the first times in Australia that a project like this has been attempted. It can only now be done because of the strength and courage of survivors like Emma who are unwilling to stay silent any longer.”

“Like many survivors of abuse, Emma’s lived experience gives her unique insights into what could have helped stop the abuse when it was occurring. She also knows what could have been done to support her more after the abuse was discovered,” Dr Tucci comments.

In what the 22-year-old hopes will be a positive, but possibly difficult, exercise, Emma says the input into the research from child sexual abuse survivors is crucial to the creation of comprehensive community resources.

“To make a meaningful difference and to help those impacted by child sexual abuse, we need to be listening to and hearing from the survivors themselves – it can’t just be a theoretic exercise that generates rhetoric. I know just how difficult it is to think back to such a dark time in our lives as survivors, but I also know that nothing makes me feel more hopeful than the certainty I have that when we are heard, we can utterly change our communities for the better, keeping children safe from abuse,” Emma concludes.

For more information or to participate in the national survey, visit: www.childhood.org.au/emmasproject.

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