Featured CEO: How no more fake smiles are shining a light on child sexual abuse in Australia and giving a voice to child victims
When the Australian Bureau of Statistics released their data surrounding reported child sex abuse cases on the 9th of July this year, the stats were both startling and sorrowful.
As a nation, Australia has recorded its eighth consecutive year of increases in the number of cases disclosed to the authorities.
Last year, there were 14,760 reported sexual abuse cases of children aged 19 years and younger… that’s right, 14,760.
No more fake smiles co-founder Tracey Morris says ‘Child sexual abuse is one of the most underreported crimes and even with the cases that do make it to court, there is the lowest attrition rates, with only one per cent of cases resulting in the offender serving a jail sentence.’
The rate of online child sex offender activity has more than doubled since the start of Covid-19 and in 80 per cent of cases, the perpetrator is known to the victim. ‘Just as we have seen victims of domestic violence being forced into lock down with their abusers, we are also in a situation where children are being locked down with sexual abusers within their own home. These kids need our help now more than ever.’ Tracey said. ‘It is a pandemic of a very different kind that has gone unnoticed within our society for far too long.’
Tracey and her daughter Annie Jones are a mother/daughter survivor team who have experienced first-hand the impact of child sexual abuse, where the perpetrator was Annies step- father and Traceys husband.
Annie, like so many other victims tried to continue to mask the abuse, acting like a “normal” teenager whilst enduring isolation and feelings of disconnection, loneliness and despair.
Under the impression that no one would believe her due to her step father’s well held position in society and being so well liked and respected by both family and his peers, Annie continued to suffer in silence.
When Annie finally had the courage to disclose the abuse at 15 to her mother, Morris was able to take action to keep her safe and ensure the offender was brought to justice.
Tracey, Annie and her three siblings began navigating unknown terrain beginning with Tracey kicking her husband out and a criminal case being pursued against him. The case would ultimately last 3 years and result in a 17-year jail sentence.
The adversities, injustices and mental health issues that were confronted by Tracey and Annie led the pair to form no more fake smiles, a registered charity aiming to give a voice to child victims of sexual abuse and remove the stigma around child abuse in our society.
The charity works to empower child victims to speak out when abuse first occurs and educate adults to listen and believe a child’s disclosure of abuse.
Annie recalls – ‘I acted “normal”, making sure to put on my fake smile every morning before I left my bedroom. I was waiting for everyone to see the “help me” in my smile, that I thought I was so clearly expressing…but you must stand up and free yourself’
No more fake smiles assists victims right from the beginning, quite often before disclosure or police reporting. Their support and innate understanding of what the victims are going through empowers them to speak up.
The charity facilitates appropriate therapeutic services for victims of child sexual abuse and secondary victims of child sexual abuse – the family members who are as affected but most often overlooked by support services.
Since its inception in July 2019 the charity is proud to have assisted 380 young people who have been or were being abused as well as 115 parents seeking advice, support and advocacy for a child.
Both Morris and Jones are also strong advocates for change in the criminal justice system through highlighting how the same crime can result in very different sentences depending on which state or territory the sexual abuse occurs in.
During Child Protection Week, September 6 to 12, no more fake smiles has a vision to raise $700,000 in seven days to provide support to 700 child victims of sexual abuse.
With their major annual fundraiser being cancelled due to Covid-19 restrictions, the charity has shifted their focus online and the call is now going out to the nation to take action.
The #nomore campaign will raise awareness and educate society of the prevalence of child sexual abuse in addition to raising funds.
Every cent raised will go to the no more fake smiles Mental Health Program, which assists both primary and secondary victims of child sexual abuse access to appropriate recovery therapies. ‘We believe that people need to connect with their therapy and this is best achieved through choice of programs and therapists’ Tracey says.
‘Therapy is not a one size fits all and there are so many options available. We assist victims to source the best therapy for their healing process. It costs $500 to provide a course of therapy for one child, but every cent counts towards us reaching our goal. The more we raise, the more victims we can help on their healing journey, so they can go on to live happy and fulfilling lives, free from the trauma that comes from being a victim of child sexual abuse,’ she says.