Aboriginal sexual abuse

Aboriginal communities and families are collapsing. It affects Aboriginal children and teenagers' sexual health and drags them into a vicious circle of abuse.

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Selected statistics

Percentage of reported sexual offence incidents in Australia which go to court .
Reoffending rate for sexual offences. This percentage drops to less than 5% if offenders enter a special program .
Estimated proportion of sexually abused children in Australia where the perpetrator was 18 years or younger .
Times an Aboriginal child in 2009 is more likely to be sexually abused than a non-Aboriginal child .
Times an Aboriginal woman in 2012 is more likely to be sexually abused than a non-Aboriginal woman .
Proportion of children on South Australian Aṉangu, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara (APY) Aboriginal lands who have been sexually abused . Same rate for all of SA population: 0.12%.
Proportion of perpetrators of sexual abuse towards Aboriginal women who are non-Aboriginal; who are Aboriginal: 41%; who are both (e.g. pack rapes): 17% .

Sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities

A sad chapter of Aboriginal health is the sexual health and abuse, especially of children. Issues like stolen wages and the governmental removal of children (Stolen Generations) lead to hopelessness and cultural dissociation.

This in turn leads to inappropriately high alcohol consumption or petrol sniffing which causes violence and in the worst cases sexual abuse of children within some Aboriginal communities.

Sometimes children abuse other children because they have been watching porn or simply are bored . Children as young as 6 have been observed performing oral sex on each other. "They say they're just playing, without having any sense that it's wrong."

Aboriginal community and family structures that once protected children from sexual abuse are breaking down.

Rates of sexual assault among Aboriginal children in 2012 were between 2 and 4 times higher than those for non-Aboriginal children in NSW, Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory , the highest rates being in NSW .

The Breaking the Silence report of the Aboriginal Sexual Assault Taskforce (ACSAT) interviewed more than 300 Aboriginal people in NSW in 2007 and found that not one could name a family unaffected by the scourge of child sexual assault. However, the government released no funding to implement the report's recommendations.

Some victims are under the age of 10. Young girls are reported as accepting that abuse was inevitable and resistance was futile . Children trade sex for money, drugs, alcohol or petrol. Reports about sexual abuse in communities make "harrowing reading".

As a consequence sexually transmitted diseases have increased sharply. It comes to no surprise that Aboriginal children are almost 7 times more likely to self-harm, the second most common cause of death from external injury .

An inquiry found that Aboriginal women had been threatened by men if they gave evidence about child sex abuse , which led to no victims coming forward.

Professor Judy Atkins, an expert on trauma and abuse, says non-Aboriginal pedophiles show pornography to young Aboriginal males and give them alcohol on condition they bring young children to viewings . "Some of them choose to work in [Aboriginal] communities because they know they have access to kids," she says. This happens also in rural towns.

How porn ruins young lives

Following is a case study reported from Maningrida, a remote Aboriginal community 230 kms east of Darwin in the Northern Territory .

An 11-year-old boy was attacked by two adults and three teenagers on three separate occasions at the coastal Arnhem Land community.

During the screening of a pornographic DVD, the child was anally penetrated by an 18-year-old, and a 16-year-old before being fondled by a 15-year-old.

Later that evening, the boy performed oral sex on a 19-year-old, while the 18-year-old rubbed his penis in the area of the child's buttocks. His 13-year-old friend – who had been laying on a mattress watching television – then attempted to penetrate the young boy.

On another occasion the group went swimming at Army Beach, outside the town. There he was sexually abused again by the 18-year-old and the youngest offender.

In total, the group pleaded guilty to eight sex offences, including sexual intercourse with a child under 16 and gross indecency.

Dire consequences of sexual abuse of children

As a consequence of dysfunctional families Aboriginal children are exposed to adult sexual behaviour, neglect and violence. Children copy what they witness or watch on DVDs which is totally inappropriate for their age.

The consequences of child sexual abuse are horrifying:

  • Children have sexual diseases. Children under the age of 10 and as young as 4 are diagnosed with sexually transmitted diseases like gonorrhoea, chlamydia, syphilis and trichomoniasis .
  • Early exposure to pornography. Children as young as three have been exposed to pornographic material in their homes .
  • Teenage rape. Teenagers rape children, and older children rape very young children.
  • Higher vulnerability to illness later in life. The younger the child and the more frequent the abuse, the more likely they are to manifest physical symptoms later in life that hint at their trauma. It could be pelvic pain, stomach aches, chronic back pain or more-complex conditions such as autoimmune disease, asthma, psoriasis and type 2 diabetes. Experts call this 'somatisation': physical manifestations of psychological trauma.

Within a six-month period in early 2007 the Northern Territory Health Department reported more than 800 cases of sexually transmitted diseases in Indigenous populations, while just 53 cases were noted in non-Indigenous groups .

Sexual abuse gets children into a vicious circle

When we assess and judge sexual offenders we often forget their history of abuse. Sexual offenders rarely offend because they cannot control their sexual desire. The much likelier reason is the damage done to them in their childhood, the pain caused by cultural and identity loss, or the traumas suffered when they themselves became victims of sexual abuse.

When I raped that girl I felt like all my pain was going into her, when she screamed that was me screaming.

— Little Children Are Sacred Report, p.67

Story: The sad cycle of abuse

"HG was born in a remote Barkly community in 1960. In 1972, he was twice anally raped by an older Aboriginal man. He didn't report it because of shame and embarrassment.

He never told anyone about it until last year when he was seeking release from prison where he had been confined for many years as a dangerous sex offender.

In 1980 and 1990, he had attempted to have sex with young girls. In 1993, he anally raped a 10-year-old girl and, in 1997, an eight-year-old boy (ZH).

In 2004, ZH anally raped a five-year-old boy in the same community."

Child sexual abuse is now known as intergenerational and perpetuated by fear and shame . The cycle began in the late 1800s when white missionaries abused Aboriginal children they had vowed to protect.

It continued on stations where white farmers and graziers almost routinely raped their Aboriginal employees. Rarely felt they compelled to look after children born from these rapes. Seasonal workers and truck drivers followed in later decades.

About half the perpetrators are Aboriginal, and half of those are aged 18 or under , suggesting many of them might be former victims. Unable to deal with the pain they suffered, their only release being to do to others what had been done to them.

Sexual abuse is taboo

For victims of sexual abuse it is already hard to talk about what happened to them. Aboriginal victims are even more reluctant to tell.

A deep mistrust exists between Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal authority representatives, grown from a history of betrayal by the invaders .

White policemen and women are "among the last people in the world" victims would tell about an incident, and there is not much more trust for a white doctor who might fly into the Aboriginal community for a quick check .

People in Aboriginal communities might not be interested in naming perpetrators for many reasons .

  • Fear of incarceration.Aboriginal prison rates are already far too high.
  • Blaming the messenger. People who report sexual abuse can be blamed for the questions following a report. Some might fall victim to malicious gossip, community-wide denial the abuse even happens, retaliation or lateral violence.
  • Blaming the victim. Too often Aboriginal people use threats, violence and family and community ties to silence the victim. They blame and shame her. When the assault happened in the family, the victim is often told she is to blame and the offender is excused and protected.
  • Payback. The victim and her family can be subject to payback, like threats or acts of violence by the family of the offender against the family of the victim.
  • Ostracised as 'traitor'. Reporting sexual assault is often seen as "dobbing an Aboriginal man" to police.
  • Fear of feeding stereotypes. People don't report abuse for fear of feeding into stereotypes about Aboriginal people.
  • Protecting the perpetrator. The abuser might be a close family member. Relatives of a perpetrator hide them from authorities, or protect them from retaliation. The same relatives won't hesitate to lash out physically at any negative word said against their father, uncle or nephew. Protection is even tighter if the abuser is highly regarded in the community.
  • Protecting the victim. If the victim is a child, they may not be strong enough to stand the pressures of a trial, or it is too painful to relive the abuse.
  • Protecting the community. Aboriginal people avoid anything which may lead to rejection by the community. Reporting sexual assault or even admitting that it happens is seen as striking out against the community.

I've heard of men who have sexually assaulted three generations of women in one family, and no-one says a word against them.

— Yatungka Gordon, project worker, Mudgin-gal (Aboriginal women's place)

Causes of child sexual abuse

Community meeting during the inquiry into sexual child abuse in the NT.
Community hearing during the inquiry into sexual child abuse in the Northern Territory . The inquiry found 'widespread sexual abuse' and made 97 recommendations, few of which were implemented.

Child abuse is not driven by sexual desire. The immediate cause seems to be a cocktail of boredom, poverty, alcohol abuse and resulting violence when the offender is of mature age.

There are also young offenders of teen age and below who just imitate the behaviour they are exposed to by adults or by pornographic material. Their victims are even younger, sometimes toddlers.

Some victims know no way to deal with their pain than to abuse other children.

Child offenders are compelled to rape out of rage, confusion or despair . Their actions could also be traced back to a childhood sexualisation, where children as young as three were regularly exposed to graphic pornography.

The authors of the 'Little Children are Sacred' report believe that "generations of social problems" play an important role, one of which is education. "Education is the key to helping children and communities nurture safe, well-adjusted families," believes Rex Wild, co-author of the report . Getting children to attend school puts them into such a safe environment.

Other causes include :

  • overcrowding of houses
  • limited education
  • boredom
  • easy access to drugs and pornography
  • limited understanding of European ways due to English being a third or fourth language
  • frustration and helplessness
  • parental neglect
  • government neglect
  • childhood sexualisation (exposure to graphic pornography at a very young age)
  • no or limited sexual education

When it came to matters of sex he was clueless, save that he watched porn [...] that was in essence his sex education.

— Peter Elliot, lawyer of a juvenile sex offender


View article sources (17)

[1] [1a] [1b] 'Dark secrets of the family home', SMH 5/12/2009
[2] 'Long way to go to end disadvantage', Koori Mail 509 p.9
[3] [3a] [3b] [3c] 'The evil within', SMH 19/1/2013
[4] [4a] [4b] '$19 million to address APY Lands child abuse', Koori Mail 426 p.7
[5] 'End violence against Aboriginal women', Cathy Eatock, in: Green Left, 18/2/2013,, retrieved 22/2/2013
[6] [6a] [6b] [6c] [6d] 'How porn helped ruin young lives', Koori Mail 417 p.22
[7] [7a] 'How NSW fails its most vulnerable', SMH 30/6/2007
[8] [8a] 'Indigenous children suffer more abuse', SMH 9/7/2014
[9] 'Indigenous Child Safety', Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2014, p.13
[10] 'Non-indigenous prey on young', SMH 23/6/2007
[11] [11a] 'Illness rates terrify AMA', Koori Mail 417, p.4
[12] [12a] [12b] [12c] 'Abuse rampant', Koori Mail 403, p.1
[13] 'Child abuse leaves mysterious physical scars in adulthood: psychiatrist', SMH 26/5/2016
[14] 'Little Children are Sacred' report, 2007, p.14
[15] 'Damming the river of shame', SMH 3/1/2009
[16] [16a] 'Bigger problem', readers letter, Koori Mail 488 p.23
[17] 'Invest properly now or pay later', Koori Mail 394 p.20

Cite this page

Korff, J 2021, Aboriginal sexual abuse, <>, retrieved 14 July 2024

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