Justice Shouldn’t Hurt: More NSW children are reporting abuse than would fit in Allianz Stadium

The capacity of Sydney’s sprawling Allianz Stadium is 45,500 – but this is still less than the total number of children who reported being sexually abused in NSW in the past five years, which is now a heartbreaking 50,061 kids.

This means that not only could NSW fill every seat in Allianz Stadium with a child who has reported sexual abuse in the past five years, but tragically, there would be a further 4561 children lining up outside, waiting to take their seat.

Another number: 43,000 – that’s also how many people have put their weight behind news.com.au’s Justice Shouldn’t Hurt campaign by signing a petition to make court less traumatic for children when giving evidence against their abusers.

Too many Aussie children are being put through hell when giving evidence in court and news.com.au wants to change that. But we aren’t satisfied with just 43,000 signatures – we want as many people who fit in Sydney Cricket Ground (capacity 48,000) or Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium (52,500) or even Melbourne’s Marvel Stadium (53,359) to get on board.

This is because we want to send a clear message to the NSW Attorney-General, Mark Speakman, that this issue cannot be ignored.

Justice shouldn’t hurt, but for children in Australia, it does. The NSW government knows how to fix this problem, but has failed to do so. That’s why news.com.au is calling for law reform to make it easier for child victims of sexual abuse to give evidence. Join the movement and sign the petition here.

The Justice Shouldn’t Hurt campaign is being fronted by the Milthorpe family from Albury who were left traumatised and broken after they went through the NSW court system.

It was October 2013 when Michelle Milthorpe’s youngest child Rose, then five, disclosed that she was being sexually abused by a family friend they trusted. She and husband Brent soon discovered that their middle daughter Pippa, then eight, was also being sexually abused.

They reported the abuse to police and waited for the justice system to kick into action – but over two years later they were still waiting to go to court. When the court case came it was more painful than the Milthorpe family could ever have imagined.

“I was under questioning for five days. I couldn’t understand half the language that was used. It was very scary, especially as an 11-year-old talking to mature adults that you’ve never met before about something that personal,” says Pippa, now 17.

The family has spent six years pleading with the NSW Attorney-General, Mark Speakman, to expand the Child Sexual Offence Evidence Program, a scheme designed to make court less traumatic for children.

In 2018, Mr Speakman declared the program would be made “permanent” but at present the program is only available in two locations: Sydney and Newcastle. Yet an investigation by news.com.au reveals that up to 96 per cent of the state’s children who may have need of the program are not eligible to access it.

Since the campaign launched on November 14, Michelle Milthorpe has written to Mr Speakman a further two times but is yet to hear back.

“It is disappointing but it’s also unfortunately what we’ve come to expect,” Michelle says.

“He has shown that he is really not that committed even though he committed all those years ago. I’d like to meet up with him to understand the rationale of why it has not been rolled out. It’s a no-brainer so there must be a pretty strong rationale for them not to roll it out.”

When approached by news.com.au previously, Mr Speakman recognised the trauma child sexual abuse victim-survivors go through and that court can be re-traumatising. However, he didn’t commit to extending the program to be available to rural children.

He didn’t respond to a recent request from news.com.au about his contact with the Milthorpes since the campaign was launched.

As well as gaining 43,000 signatures, the Justice Shouldn’t Hurt campaign has been making a big impact elsewhere.

The President of the Law Society of NSW, Joanne van der Plaat, not only supports a statewide expansion of the Child Sexual Offence Evidence Program but even proposes it be taken a step further: “[It] not only helps to reduce stress on children as they navigate police and court processes, the use of witness intermediaries has been shown to help children give better quality evidence.

“The Law Society of NSW supports the statewide expansion of the program and considers it should also be extended to all vulnerable witnesses in all criminal matters.”

The Milthorpes have also been asked to speak at the The 5th National Child Protection Forum, which focuses on developing strategies to respond to the pressure of demand at the front end of child protection services.

The movement is gathering momentum but it still needs help from everyday Aussies in the form of signing the petition.

“People need to sign the petition because unfortunately 50,000 people in five years means it can happen to anybody,” Michelle says. “No one expects to be a victim of child sexual assault or a parent of a victim of child sexual assault.

“50,000 kids in five years is 27 kids a day, that’s a whole classroom of kids every day in one state that are being sexually assaulted. If you can get this to happen we might see rates of conviction go up. At the moment the system isn’t equitable.”

Nina Funnell is a Walkley Award winning journalist and sexual assault survivor advocate who has created the Justice Shouldn’t Hurt Campaign in exclusive partnership with news.com.au.

Riah Matthews is news.com.au’s commissioning editor.

Contact us: ninafunnell@gmail.com

Read related topics:Justice Shouldn’t HurtSydney

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