Child abuse alarm
By Mary Papadakis, Herald Sun (Melbourne), July 8, 2007

VICTORIAN teachers are annually reporting thousands of cases of suspected child abuse involving children aged as young as five.

Signs of abuse detected among school children include extensive bruising to the body, cigarette burns, malnutrition, stress and accusations of sexual assault.

Figures obtained from the Department of Human Services under Freedom of Information show teachers and principals made 6774 reports of child abuse in 2004-05 and 2005-06.

There were 2779 notifications of physical abuse, 1645 of neglect, 1466 of emotional abuse and 884 of sexual assault.

Reported cases include:

A PREP teacher noticed stripe-shaped bruising across the back of a six-year-old girl's legs at a school in Melbourne's east. A DHS investigation confirmed the girl's mother had been hitting her with a kettle cord.

A YEAR 8 student was upset at school and when teachers asked why, she showed them welts on her back caused by being hit with an iron's cord.

A STEPFATHER in country Victoria was physically assaulting a primary school pupil.

But when the school contacted DHS, the mother and stepfather went to the school and made verbal threats to physically harm teachers, the principal and other parents.

Security guards were employed to protect staff.

A CRYING year 7 student confided in a teacher that she was being physically "punished" at home. A teacher observed bruises on her back and legs.

Teachers are legally required to report suspected cases to the DHS, but child protection groups fear threats from abusive families could prevent teachers from taking action.

Most reports came from schools in Victoria's inner south, which covers suburbs including Dandenong, Narre Warren and St Kilda.

Schools in the inner east had the second-highest number of reports followed by Loddon-Mallee, the inner west, Gippsland, inner north, Hume, Barwon South-West and the Grampians.

Victorian Principals' Association President Fred Ackerman said schools were at the front line of keeping children safe.

But he said while the identity of those making reports was protected by law, it was "not uncommon" for families to make the connection or for teachers names to be revealed by mistake.

Teachers received threats from alleged abusers such as "You're not safe," and "I know where you live," he said.



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