If we want to help victims, we can start by helping police

AN alarming increase in reporting of sexual offences has put added pressure on both support services and police.

More than 500 victims across the North East have sought help in the past year alone.

And that figure relates only to new cases, not those that the Centre Against Violence see on an ongoing basis.

The centre’s chief executive Kerry Burns said she believed the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse had prompted more men to come forward seeking help.

There can be no doubt that the Royal Commission, while a long time coming, led to some painful memories being revisited by many victims of child sexual abuse.

For so many victims, those memories are never very far from the surface.

The abuse for some has shaped their entire lives. It has had an impact in everything they do, undermining their self-esteem, their security and their view of the world.

We all know that child sexual abuse robs its victims of who they were meant to be, but the figures for the number of sexual offences reported in our own backyard will shock many.

Ms Burns said because the most common form of sexual assault was by a friend or family member, it was often the case that people were not aware how often it was happening, creating a false perception that sexual assault doesn’t happen much “around here”.

Detective Sergeant Peter Greaves heads the Wodonga Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Team, and struggles to think of a time when the unit has been busier.

The three full-time and one part-time detective are investigating 86 active cases, which may span one offence or dozens of offences.

It’s a heavy load being borne by so few, with some of the cases dating back decades being far more difficult in terms of investigating and gathering evidence.

The Royal Commission has put child sexual abuse clearly in the spotlight but the question must now be asked, where to from here.

The priority has to be the protection of children, and justice for victims, and it has to be said that a well resourced police force is the only way to make inroads on either of those fronts.