The women who participated in the research on sexual abuse which made headlines last week are likely to have disclosed the child abuse they experienced in the hope that we, as a community, would act to make the situation better for others.
Disclosing abuse to a stranger is not easy. Survivors of child sexual abuse often blame themselves for the abuse occurring and remain silent for many years. Often survivors don't speak out because they care for the offender and don't want their families to be affected by the knowledge of the abuse, or any retaliatory reactions.
In my research with survivors of child sexual abuse only 4 per cent of children immediately told anyone about the abuse. Participants took 16 years on average before they told anyone about the abuse.
Having worked with survivors of child sexual abuse for more than 20 years, I know of children who have been abused and raped in every setting imaginable: in their own homes, in their own beds, in the lounge, in the shower, in the toilet, in cars, at school, in swimming pools, in churches, and in the case of Louise Nicholas at a police station. They have been raped and sexually abused by family, family friends, neighbours, teachers, church elders, babysitters, health care professionals, bus drivers, and people from all walks of life - male and female.
What is important about the latest research, led by Dr Janet Fanslow of Auckland University, is that it confirms what we have known for over 20 years - that we have a social problem that affects all ethnicities and all socioeconomic groups. Sadly, we don't seem to have made many inroads in solving this problem.
We have had decades of some - if not enough - child sexual abuse prevention programmes. While these programmes are vitally important and deserve much more funding, these measures alone have not eliminated sexual offending against children.
Educating children to protect themselves is only part of the solution. Another component is teaching caregivers and communities to be aware of what we know so far about sexual offending behaviour and opportunities to offend. With this information adults who care for children are better able to be on the lookout for risks.
Those who are motivated to sexually offend against children will look for ways to gain access to children and ways to ensure their silence. It is up to us as a community to make this access and opportunity difficult.
Rather than focusing on the horror of the knowledge - from a body of international and national research - that perhaps one in three to five girls and one in six to 10 boys are likely to experience some form of child sexual abuse, it is up to us as a community to act to protect our children.
One restraint in our ability to act is that the issue of sexual violence has fallen off the political agenda over the past two decades, resulting in services for survivors of sexual violence being depleted or having to close. In the 1980s most rape crisis and Te Kakano groups delivered some form of sexual abuse prevention programmes. As funding to these groups dwindled many prevention programmes were unable to be delivered.
Over the past two decades I have seen many colleagues either burn out or walk away from this field, often in an attempt to preserve their own health.
In an attempt to deal with these difficulties in the past few years those of us who work with the issue have formed the National Network Ending Sexual-Violence Together (NNEST). This is a bicultural network made up of those who work with survivors and offenders. After the marches in support of Louise Nicholas NNEST called on the Government to set up a task force on sexual violence. This was agreed to.
This task force is the best chances we have had in 20 years to start to find co-ordinated solutions to this huge problem. It is made up of CEOs from key government ministries, has four NNEST representatives and reports to five ministers. There are six terms of reference, focusing on all issues to do with sexual violence, including prevention, acute and ongoing services for survivors, treatment services for offenders and police and legal responses.
But a task force in Wellington is not the sole answer to the extremely complex and distressing issue. It is up to all of us in every community to be aware of the very high levels of sexual offending against children and join together to work out ways to eliminate the risk to our children.
* Dr Kim McGregor is the director of Auckland Rape Prevention Centre.