Child protection agency, Bravehearts, is calling on the entire community, plus members of Parliament and churches to show their support for children who have been sexually assaulted during this year’s National Child Protection Week.
Bravehearts founder Hetty Johnston is asking everyone to get on board with the ‘chalk about it’ campaign from September 2 to 8, where people can draw a white balloon with a message of support at their skatepark, park, or other local area.
The week coincides with Bravehearts’ annual fundraising event, White Balloon Day on September 7.
White Balloon Day is the longest running national campaign to increase community awareness of the crime of child sexual assault and its prevention.
According to the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Report (BOCSAR) in the year to March 2018 there were 152 reported incidents of sexual offences in Dubbo involving a child/juvenile.
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“It’s very much all about understanding that silence wraps its very ugly arms around this issue and it is the friend of the pedophile and the children’s worst enemy,” Ms Johnston said.
“So the first step in addressing this issue is to start tasking about it, and that’s what we did...”
For the last couple of year’s White Balloon Day has moved to the ‘chalk it up’ campaign.
“So we’re asking people to get a piece of white chalk…. go somewhere safe, like a skatepark and draw a white balloon and put a message of hope in it,” Ms Johnston said.
With twenty per cent of the Australian population having been sexually assaulted, Ms Johnston said someone who needs to see that message will see it.
“There is nothing more powerful than leaving a chalk message somewhere as a way to let kids know that their safety is important, that they can speak up and we will believe them,” she said.
“We all have to work together. Child protection is everybody’s business.. so Dubbo, just like everywhere else, has an incredible leadership role to play.. for children in that area.”
Ms Johnston started the annual campaign 22 years ago, after her youngest daughter was sexually assaulted by a family member.
“It wasn’t something that we… ever thought would happen in our family,” she said.
“Everybody thinks it happens to somebody else, but we are living proof that it can happen to anybody.”
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The offender had been sexually assaulting members of the family and others, for forty years.
“This was happening across two generations. They all thought they were the only ones, that nobody would believe them, so nobody broke the silence,” Ms Johnston said.
“I knew the first port of call in all of this was to break the silence and start talking about it.”
While the offender did go to jail, Ms Johnston said at the time there was no agency in Australia that dealt with this issue or that could help.
“It was just horrific,” she said.
After doing some research on what happens to children who are sexually assaulted, Ms Johnston found that there was a high rate of youth suicide, depression, mental health issues, eating disorders, sexual confusion, and much more.
“The list was long and frightening and I just thought ‘none of this is going to happen to my child.’,” she said.
According to Bravehearts one in five Australian children will be sexually assaulted before their 18th birthday.
Every 90 minutes an Australian child is sexually assaulted.
“Things aren’t getting any better which is worrisome because it is one of the most preventative crimes,” Ms Johnston said.
To show your support this White Balloon Day get down to your local park and draw a white balloon with a message of hope.
All Australians are invited to support the campaign by registering at www.whiteballoonday.com.au
To find out more visit bravehearts.org.au