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Australia: Police forum on child abuse 'epidemic'

Publish Date: 24 Oct 2005

Source: Agence France-Presse English Wire

Australian police hold forum on child abuse 'epidemic'

SYDNEY (AFP) — Australian police opened a national child abuse forum aimed at tackling a significant increase in reports of physical and sexual assault against children.

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show that reports of child abuse in the country's most populous state New South Wales have increased by about five percent over the past five years.

New South Wales police commissioner Ken Moroney described the physical and sexual abuse of children as "something of an epidemic."

"Police in New South Wales charge at least one person every day over some form of physical or sexual child abuse," Moroney said.

"We estimate that an offence against a child is reported to police in New South Wales at the rate of around 58 children a day and sadly there are hundreds more we know nothing about."

Moroney said that police investigate 33,000 cases a year, suggesting that one child is assaulted in Australia every 15 minutes.

"Latest police statistics also show that 72 percent of all children who are sexually abused are reportedly assaulted in someone's home," he said.

"What is  most disturbing is that a child is almost as likely to be sexually assaulted in someone's home as they are of being assaulted at all."

Speaking on ABC radio, Moroney said it was difficult to say whether the increased reports of child abuse were the result of a rise in violence or greater community awareness.

"So I don't know that the crime has necessarily increased, but certainly we know the reporting of it is increased," he said.

"In one sense that's to be encouraged, but at the same time I think we've got to look beyond that cold, hard statistic and try and understand how this phenomena occurs in the first place."

The Sydney meeting is designed to ensure a national approach to investigations, research and the collection of data and to enhance prevention policies.

"Until police in all states approach this issue with uniform guidelines we cannot effectively measure the success of our child abuse prevention programmes," Moroney said.

"The issue is worthy of national recognition and police commissioners in every state recognise the need to do more to try and tackle what has become a critical problem."

The meeting, which will also be attended by officers from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, will also look at Internet child exploitation, the interviewing of child victims and victim support.

Copyright © 2005 Agence France-Presse.