2 year old rape – a management failure?

August10, 2016

Recently, a two year old aboriginal girl was allegedly raped by a 24-year-old aboriginal male in Tennant Creek, a town located in central Australia. The injuries sustained by the two year old girl warranted her transfer from the local hospital to a tertiary hospital in one of Australia’s capital cities (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-02-22/indigenous-groups-urge-government-to-address-tennant-creek-abuse/9473002). Child abuse, whether it be physical, sexual or neglect, is unacceptable. It is even more unacceptable when a government agency charged with protecting the child fails in its duty of care. And this seems to be what may have occurred in this case. Between 2015 and the alleged rape in February, 2018, the responsible agency, Territory Families, had received at least 20 prior notifications regarding the family that appeared to be associated with arguments between the parents and alcohol use. In addition, the father had been jailed for involvement in a fracas and an adult male was fatally injured within the same household, associated with some form of dispute, one week prior to the alleged rape (https://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/indigenous/agencies-had-20plus-alerts-on-toddlerrape-family/news-story/83b8958e0f2f2f7aa43bc30e3ba3e45a). In an article by Amos Aikman in The Weekend Australian on 24 February, 2018 (https://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/state-politics/parents-of-raped-girl-trying-their-best-child-protection-chiefs-say/news-story/34d48e04a82c81fd3ec88e2ae39e2b72), the child protection service executives have defended not taking the two year old girl into care before she was raped as the parents had been ‘trying their best’ and ‘her prospects would not necessarily have been better in custody, where she would have been moved around or ended up in a residential home.’ This response begs the question of the purpose of government child protection services particularly if they feel they can’t provide an appropriate secure and nurturing environment for a developing child where this can’t be provided by the parents. It is acknowledged that there are political sensitivities associated with the management of aboriginal children particularly in light of perceptions by some of the Australian population that aboriginal children were ‘stolen’ from their parents in the past – a perception that is disputed by others but resulted in a previous Prime Minister apologising for this action. There is, however, no excuse for allowing political sensitivities to prevent children being afforded a safe, secure and nurturing home environment and that if this cannot be assured then the affected children be placed with a single family where it can. Much that the Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs correctly is being cautious and seeking all the information before laying the blame, if there is any blame to be laid, past published reports and experience of child protection services in other Australian jurisdictions suggests that these public services too often fail in the provision of the protective services for which they are engaged. Perhaps it is time that political sensitivities were put aside in the interests of the wellbeing of children and that the management of these services was reviewed to ensure optimal outcomes for the children.

John Gall, President