Women's Safety Summit hears lockdown harm, AFP plea to break abuse taboos

AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

The Australian Federal Police Commissioner has told the Women's Safety Summit that COVID-19 and lockdown restrictions are either fuelling or hiding the abuse of women and children, and he is pleading with Australians to put abuse into open conversation.

Commissioner Reece Kershaw says ACT Policing has dealt with a pandemic case load of almost five family violence incidences a day, but he says that's not the full picture.

"In the past two years, ACT Policing has received 3400 reports of family violence incidents. Almost five a day," Commissioner Kershaw told the virtual two-day summit.

"And that's only from those coming forward."

He says the pandemic is making it worse.

"For some communities, it is taboo to talk about what happens in the privacy of someone's home," he said. "And the AFP is very alive to how the pandemic is either fuelling or hiding crime."

"Child sex predators are using COVID-19 to find more victims who are spending more time online because of lockdowns and restrictions."

During the past financial year, the AFP and partner agencies have charged 235 people with almost 3000 child abuse related offences, but the AFP is also concerned about crimes such as forced marriage, sexual servitude and slavery.

The AFP Commissioner says lockdowns, the closure of schools and disconnection to other community services, which he says are often 'the first lines of reporting' are a contributing factor to a reduction in the reports of abuse.

"The AFP observed a 62 per cent reduction in forced marriage reports in the first six months of the declaration of COVID-19 pandemic, compared to the same period in the preceding year,"he said.

"Borders do not have to be open for forced marriage to happen in Australia."

The Commissioner says abuse is horrifying, hard to hear and it is a parent's "worst nightmare", but it needs to be out in the open.

"Please, when we start talking about this incredibly important issue. Don't turn down the radio. Don't walk away from the TV," he told the summit.

"One [of the] best forms of protection and prevention is education. We must talk to our children about how to stay safe, not only in the real world, but the online world too.

"Perpetrators want to keep discussions about child sexual abuse taboo. That coupled with secrets and the perceptions of shame, enables predators to keep offending."

The federal government-hosted Women's Safety Summit winds up on Tuesday. It is charged with gathering information and ideas to develop the second national plan to reduce violence against women and children.

It will also guide the next tranche of funding for women's safety.

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This story COVID shield: AFP plea to keep abuse in the open first appeared on The Canberra Times.