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Research suggests strong connection to culture can help protect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from institutional sexual abuse

12 July 2017

The Royal Commission has released a new research report that suggests strong connection to culture can help protect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from sexual abuse in institutions.

The research report, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and sexual abuse in institutional contexts, explains how the impacts of past discriminatory policies and ongoing systemic racism continue to put Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children at heightened risk of institutional child sexual abuse today.

However, the report cites a growing body of Australian and international evidence that positive connection to culture acts as a protective factor. It can help children develop their identities, foster positive self-esteem, emotional strength and resilience and increase the number of people around them who love and care for them.

The research finds there is insufficient data collected to know whether Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children experience institutional child sexual abuse more than others, but suggests they can often face many of the factors that place children at risk.  These include having experienced prior trauma and systemic racism; being disconnected from the protection of culture and family; being overrepresented in high risk institutions including out-of-home care and juvenile detention; and having disability.

This research was produced in a collaboration between a team of researchers (including Dr Dawn Bessarab, Ms Gabriel Maddock, Ms Margaret O’Connell, Mr Glenn Pearson, Dr Roz Walker and Dr Michael Wright from the Telethon Kids Institute, and Dr Sharni Chan from the Royal Commission) and a research advisory group made up of prominent Aboriginal Elders and academics.

Royal Commission CEO Philip Reed said according to this research Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are more likely to face the known risk factors for child sexual abuse in institutional settings.

“The report also suggests that when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are separated from culture, they are more likely to be separated from the protective factors that support high-self-esteem, secure attachments and a strong and positive social network” Mr Reed said.

Mr Reed said this report will help inform the Royal Commission’s final recommendations, which will be delivered to government on December 15.

The Royal Commission established an Aboriginal advisory group to provide cultural governance over this academic research.

Read the report.

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