Don't punish mums for not speaking up about abuse

The Sunday Times report on child sex abuse in the home cites lawyer Lee Terk Yang's suggestion that the non-offending parent should face legal action for failing to report abuse (When home is where the sex abuse is; Aug 26) .

Based on the experience of the Sexual Assault Care Centre (SACC) at the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware), this suggestion turns a blind eye to the psychological and practical complexities that underlie speaking up about abuse. It also insidiously shifts responsibility away from the offenders.

Disclosing abuse not only has an impact on children but mothers too, many of whom experience secondary traumatic stress. They may blame themselves for being unable to protect their child, question their judgment or ability to parent, or grapple with the reality that both the perpetrator and the victim are their loved ones and part of the same family unit.

The shame and fear of destabilising the family unit is very real for mothers who are largely primary caregivers.

Although some mothers may be entrenched in financial co-dependency with their spouses, there is no substantive evidence to indicate that this is increasingly becoming the reason mothers do not report.

Many mothers at SACC struggle with the decision of reporting due to concerns about what will happen to their child and the psychological trauma that the child may endure going through the legal system.

Moreover, children who have survived sexual abuse often struggle with the guilt of "breaking up the family" or causing hurt to the non-offending parent, long after the disclosure.

Legal action against the non-offending parent may deter children from speaking up as they contend with the guilt of said parent being punished.

It is dangerous to imply that the responsibility of protecting children lies solely on the mothers.

At every level of society, efforts need to be made to ensure that both children and non-offending family members feel safe and confident in seeking help.

We need greater awareness of existing trauma-informed specialised services at hospitals such as KK Women's and Children's Hospital and services like those offered at SACC, which provide information and support to child victims and non-offending parents and family members.

Further, early intervention from and partnership between enforcement agencies and community organisations should be encouraged so that child victims and their families can be supported throughout the difficult process.

Ms Laika Jumabhoy

Senior Case Manager

Sexual Assault Care Centre, Aware