Heartfelt House board member Julia Adlington gave out white balloons at Alstonville yesterday to promote Child Protection Week and stop child sexual abuse.
Heartfelt House board member Julia Adlington gave out white balloons at Alstonville yesterday to promote Child Protection Week and stop child sexual abuse. Jay Cronan

Zero tolerance to child sex abuse

A FLURRY of white balloons in businesses across the North Coast today signals the beginning of a new era in the fight against child sexual abuse - an era of zero tolerance, says Vicki Hamilton.

White Balloon Day is a Braveheart initiative and part of National Child Protection Week, and Ms Hamilton believes it will send a strong message to abusers.

“We need to show perpetrators that their behaviour will not be tolerated, and events such as White Balloon Day today will help to spread that message,” she said.

The day's theme is 'Break the Silence on Child Sexual Assault…It's ALL WHITE to Say No', and is aimed at encouraging communities to take a stand against child sexual assault and help survivors speak up.

Ms Hamilton is the head of Heartfelt House in Alstonville, which runs programs to help adult survivors of abuse.

She says she is determined to see White Balloon Day and similar events become much bigger as time goes on, serving to put an end to the shame that prevents young people from reporting abuse.

“We need to spread the message that the North Coast is a safe place for children, but it is not a safe place for perpetrators of sexual abuse,” she says.

The Department of Community Services said the number of child sexual abuse cases in NSW reported to its help- line almost doubled in the six years to 2007/08, from 159,643 to 303,121. In 2007/08, 33,577 reports were referred to the Northern region for a secondary assessment.

Ms Hamilton said the increase was an indication that such crimes were being more frequently reported, although it was still only a fraction.

Heartfelt House is also organising a golf match today as part of the Child Protection Week - a match Ms Hamilton will have to miss because she has broken both arms while attempting to skateboard.

The 38-year-old, herself an abuse survivor, laughs that this is the kind of thing that happens 'when you start living fully again'.

It has meant her organisation has had to postpone until November workshops aimed at educating the public about perpetrators' tactics, and showing children how to respond when approached by such a person.

The sad reality, she says, was that 80 per cent of perpetrators were well known to the child.

“It is not really about 'stranger danger',” Ms Hamilton said.

HOW DO WE END CHILD ABUSE? Phone 6624 3266 or SMS 0428 264 948


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