Every 90 minutes a child is sexually assaulted in Australia – that’s 1 in 5 children who are sexually assaulted in some way before their 18th Birthday – a statistic that is totally unacceptable in Australian society.

Bravehearts’ annual White Balloon Day (endorsed and funded by the Department of Social Services National Initiatives), is Australia’s longest running and only annual national campaign to increase community awareness of child sexual assault to prevent a crime currently affecting more than 58,000 children across Australia, every year.

The importance of supporting Bravehearts’ national White Balloon Day campaign in preventing child sexual assault and the flow-on destructive impact it has on communities throughout Australia, cannot be overstated.

While the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has smashed the wall of silence surrounding cases of child sexual assaults in institutional environments; sadly the majority of these crimes are perpetrated inside the family unit or by someone known to the family.

Hetty Johnston AM, Founder and Executive Chair of Bravehearts said “Increasing awareness of child sexual assault through White Balloon Day (now in its 22nd year) during National Child Protection week, is critical.

“Child protection is everybody’s business – because it takes a village to raise a child, an entire community of adults and stakeholders, and we must work together to better protect our children and allow them to grow up safe from harm.

“With rates of child sexual assault and exploitation in Australia remaining at crisis levels, now more than ever before Bravehearts needs the support of communities and governments to help increase awareness to protect our children from a crime that breaks the little hearts and spirits of Australia’s most precious treasures – our children,” she said.

Of women who were victims, more than 90% knew the perpetrator with 55% being relatives. For male victims, more than 80% knew the perpetrator with 23% being relatives. Compared to other recorded crimes against children under 19, the statistics of child sexual assault are shocking.

“Sadly, if we were to bring all these children together in one place, they would fill the MCG not once, but a staggering eight times – that is the tragic magnitude of this largely hidden crime against Australian children with the long-term damage caused estimated to cost the Australian economy between $13.7 to $38.7 billion,” said Ms Johnston.

“While early disclosure can improve long-term outcomes for victims through counselling and support and lead to preventing further harm and potentially the prosecution of perpetrators; the majority of these crimes continue to go unreported and perpetrators continue to sexually assault children who suffer in silence, too afraid to disclose because they fear consequences or feel they don’t have the opportunity to tell someone who can help them,” Ms Johnston said.

“If a child discloses and is unsupported or disbelieved, this can cause children grave harm but reports have shown that 1 in 3 adults would not believe children if they disclosed sexual assault, while more than 1 in 4 have said they lack the confidence to recognise the signs of child sexual assault,” she said.

“Child sex offenders are master manipulators, able to perpetrate this crime through the fear driven silence, secrecy and shame. While children feel shame, self-blame, embarrassment, guilt, responsibility and concern for their own safety or the safety of others, their suffering continues and the pain they suffer can last a lifetime.

“For those of us who do care; for those of us who do listen; the sound of their suffering is deafening,” Ms Johnston said.

Every Australian child has the right to feel safe and as a community, we have the responsibility to work together to protect our kids and raise them in an environment where they can feel safe. By working with Bravehearts and supporting national White Balloon Day we can help break the silence surrounding this crime to create child safe communities Australia-wide.

During National Child Protection Week everyone can help our children stay safe by participating in White Balloon Day and registering at whiteballoonday.com.au.

Bravehearts is Australia’s leader in child protection offering specialised training services for government organisations, educators in schools and childcare centres, education and support services for children and their families, while parents and carers can download free child safe information resources from our website www.bravehearts.org.au.

Call thier toll free Support Line on 1800 272 831 Monday to Friday between 8:30am to 4:30pm (AEST) or visit our website www.bravehearts.org.au.