National strategy to address child sexual abuse

Last week the Senate agreed to my motion calling for a national strategy to address the issue of child sexual assault.
The motion, which builds on one adopted at last year’s Australian Local Government Association Conference, called on all politicians to work together to develop a national strategy on child sexual assault in partnership with State, Territory and Local Governments and key stakeholders. Its passage is a significant recognition by all parties in the Senate of the need to work harder and smarter on the ongoing tragedies caused by child sexual assault.

Despite the success of the motion, we all know there’s a difference between making statements about how important something is and actually putting it front and centre as a political priority, getting action on it and continually following up to ensure that the issue is being addressed.

The bottom line, of course, is that children do not vote. Children don’t ring or email politicians and complain. They have to rely on others to advocate for them and without doubt there are some wonderful people out there doing just that. However, while you’d be hard pressed finding a politician who wouldn’t agree the issue is important – and there have been spurts of activity from time to time – overall we continue to fail to put it sufficiently near the top of the priority list.

Ensuring the wellbeing of children, most particularly when they are at risk of abuse and assault but in a broader general sense as well, is absolutely critical – not just for the wellbeing of the children but for the wellbeing of our nation, now and in the future. I guess it’s a bit of a cliche to say that children are our future but it is, nonetheless, absolutely correct. The bottom line is if we don’t address issues affecting children then we will be faced with having to address the consequence of that inaction for decades to come.

There’s plenty of research around that clearly shows a significant proportion of harmed and abused children descend, as adults, into homelessness and welfare dependency, a cycle of failed or dysfunctional relationships, crime and other problems. It is in our interests as a society to prevent this as much as possible and to intervene and address abuse and assault as early as possible – and it’s obviously also in the interests of the child to do so.

Over the years the Democrats have continually advocated the need for a national approach with national leadership, repeatedly calling for a royal commission into child sexual assault and abuse. Back in June 2003 the Senate passed a Democrats initiated resolution, supported by all the non-government parties, to set up such a Royal Commission, a resolution that three years latter is still being ignored by the Howard Government.

Senator Andrew Murray has also taken a strong role in driving two specific Senate inquiries into the experiences of children in institutional care in Australia (click here for the first report and here for the second report). I’m sad to say the government response was less than ideal (warning – large pdf file).

Still, at least the Government is now finally taking steps, through two proposed conferences, to hear from experts in this area. I’m hopeful that these will be more than a talkfest or an excuse to play the blame game with the States. It is not good enough to say it is a state jurisdiction and therefore a matter for them to deal with. Child abuse is a crime that respects no boundaries – we need national laws and a coordinated national strategy to ensure that the perpetrators of child abuse cannot take advantage of differences in laws and enforcement priorities in the states and territories to escape detection. A national approach will ensure that child sexual assault victims receive the same protection and their perpetrators the same punishment, no matter where the crimes are committed.

And while all state and territory governments are doing some things, it’s clearly not enough. The problem is very much bigger than each individual state/territory can address. We need the extra weight and momentum that you get only if you give national leadership, national resourcing, national priority and proper coordination to this issue.

A listing of upcoming conferences and events to do with child welfare can be found be clicking here.

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  1. There should also be a national strategy to address the issues of implanted memories, hostile therapists, and false accusations of child sexual abuse.

  2. Call me naive, but I would have thought that child sexual abuse wouldn’t have been a difficult area to get government action on.

    Both in personal (I’m sure politicians, of whatever political persuasion, find child sexual abuse as abhorrent as the rest of the community) and political (one of the most potent charges you could make against a politician is that they were insufficiently active in protecting children) terms, there would be quite sufficient political will to make any necessary changes.

    In fact, I find myself in partial agreement with EP for once; isn’t one of the big dangers in this area is the discarding of procedural fairness towards those accused of these crimes in the understandable zeal to protect children?

  3. Like so many issues the problems are easy to see but the solutions are not. Discussion is obviously needed, but not going around in circles continually re-analysing the problem. Again like so many issues, the solution lies outside of the status – quo. Child sexual abuse is a result of how things are at the moment. The status quo has no answers. Real change – of something, anything is needed in the strategy.

    As some may be aware I’ve recently been looking into housing on Aboriginal communities. Housing is a central issue in child sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities. It is not uncommon in overcrowded houses for drunken adults to be sharing a bedroom with children – a recipe for disaster. Similarly if there is no clear “boys room” and “girls room” because there is simply no room, innocent children, boys and girls reach puberty together in privacy behind closed doors – another recipe for disaster and it sets life long habits for those children.

    however in the status-quo, housing is another subject alltogether.

  4. and I agree about the ideological nature of therapy. Proffessionals creating programs based on their own preconceptions and developing behaviorist techniques to impose that illusion onto clients/patients.

    I know someone personally who’s family was torn apart by so called repressed memory, or as E.P. correctly described as implanted memories. This goes for lot’s off psyche issues not just assault trauma. Ten years later the father and daughter reunited, after the family split, when the daughter “woke up”. She then needed counciling to rebuild her own sense of reality and overcome the guilt of tearing her family apart.

    This repressed memory stuff is part of an overall adversarial, legal strategiy to deal with sexual assault. It is merely evidence gathering by the police and not a healing strategy for the victim, infact the deep subconscious nature of the technique implants the whole experience of the trauma insted of stepping on top of that experience to become stronger.

    in terms of the status quo and discussion of paradigms in the other forum, it is not surprising that the adversarial methodology of police, courts and forensic psychology is not working.

    Only healing paradigms will reduce the incidence of child sexual abuse.

  5. I know some survivors are offended by the assertion that statistics show a high percentage of perpetrators were themselves victims as children. Some survivors say this is irrelevant. In terms of my above comment about stepping on the experience to get stronger, they are absolutely right.

    However the statistics are relevant for policy development when considering what I said about drunks sleeping with children or boys and girls growing up together behind closed doors. There are social sytems that generate child sexual assault.

    Because incest is by definition an interaction within the family, the primary source of defining values for children, it becomes part of the family code along with things like you kiss mum goodbye before you go to school.

    Have any of you spoken openly to a pedophile about pedophilia? I have. He had a very strong sense of morality and was quite pleasant to talk to. He was serving over ten years gaol for hundreds of sex attacks on children. But he did not see it as an attack. He saw it as love, a sharing of intimacy between 2 people. This love , in his mind, was consistant with his very moral opinions about everything else. In his mind pedophilia and love are the same thing. He didn’t tell me about his childhood but I bet his first sexual experiences were someone in his family.

  6. As Robert Merkel said, this is an issue on which there is enough community support to get a lot done.

    However, there will be arguments over the best methods for addressing the problems, and the relative importance of different initiatives.

    John Tracey also makes an excellent point about the relationship between housing and child abuse — one which I hadn’t considered before.

    I too have personal experience of “therapy” which made the situation worse. A bright young woman of my acquaintance was reduced to a paranoid wreck by thereapists and “support groups” which made it their business to convince her that she had repressed memories and as a consequence was ruined for life. I think in this case the therapy was the problem, not childhood abuse.

  7. “I know some survivors are offended by the assertion that statistics show a high percentage of perpetrators were themselves victims as children.”

    It’s pretty common knowledge John.

    Even Tv series like SVU (et al), repeat it often.

    As for the pedophile, no wonder they are repeat offenders and it’s thought they are recidavistic for life.

  8. Good on you Andrew for your work. It is astounding that the Howard Government are still ignoring a Senate motion about establishing a Royal Commission.

  9. John. I too agree that the relationship between housing and child sexual abuse is something that needs to be understood and seriously considered and addressed.

    I also believe that the system is not set up to investigate and address issues of any nature. The process and the culture is to cover up. When issues are not addressed properly, openly and fairly it has the affect of discrediting people and ruining lives.

    The only people who really benefit from things being so messed up are the Paedophiles as they seem to be one of the variety with “rights” that the system has no trouble protecting.

  10. Geoff
    – yes rescidivism is a key issue here. If the perpertator is not healed they will attack again, sooner or later depending on the length of their sentence. Time in gaol does not heal these people but makes their delusions more violent and intense.

    gaols don’t work

    just to be clear – neither does capital punishment in terms of stopping the processes that create these mindframes..

    Healing for all parties, perpetrator and the victim as well as the family and community. There is not one answer fits all (e.g. gaol). If healing for the victim is the priority and focus then the healing process should be individually customised to each particular person or circumstance.

  11. I used to work in the disability field and the issues of sexual assault are very similar.

    Most institutions have a policy of some sort do seal with sexual assault and staff are told about this in induction and reminded at in-service training.

    As a man regularly assisting women with toileting and bathing I was concerned that I had no protection should an unfounded complaint against me was raised by a client.

    The solution was not for women to do it all, because unfortunately I was often the only person on staff strong enough to lift some people.

    I proposed a simple regime, which was adopted, where no male staff would help a female client with out a witness. This had many other benefits including maintaining the “womens space” of what was going on if the witness was a woman and providing immediate help of another person if required.

    But most importantly, appart from protecting me, it is a structure, not a policy, that protected the client.

    Similar frameworks would be relevant to institutions that deal with children such as childcare centres, schools etc. that do not leave either staff or children vulnerable.

  12. same at home – politely, so not to offend, but if you don’t trust someone 100% dont leave your kids with them without someone you do trust 100% watching over the situation.

    prevention is better than cure in the most profound way on this issue.

    prevention is better than a cure – should have a high profile in the national discussion about policy.

  13. Jolanda – yuo can make your sweepiongf generalisationa about the educaiotn system – but you know diddly squat about how Child Abuse is investigated.

    I was a District Officer in the Child Welfare Department for years – I know many fine people still working in that system, Labouring with the day to day decsion making theyu have to make delaign with families under stress, kids in need of care and support, angry viloent parents adn then having to try to deal wiht the legal system and health system that they have to work under.

    Your sweeping assertiosn that evertyone is incompetnet, trying to cover up – is fien for your dammned issue but stop talking bull… about what you know nothign about.

  14. Ken. I do know how allegations of child abuse are investigated because I have made formal allegations of child abuse causing psychological harm and I saw the process in action.

    Let me tell you what the Ombudsman said: Neglect is defined, in keeping with the NSW Interagency Guidelines for Child Protection Intervention, as “the failure to provide the basic physical and emotional necessities for life”, for example the failure to provide adequate food, shelter, medical care or supervision. Simply put, the matters you have raised do not constitute child abuse as defined in the relevant legislation.

    Apparently, being systemically targeted, victimized, educationally neglected, discriminated against and bullied is not classified as neglect as it doesn’t fall into the relevant legislation!.

    Sure, there are many fine people in the system and some are even in the Education system but when the powers to be under-resource, under-fund and provide no protection for children who are being treated unfairly and provide no avenues of redress for those with serious allegations against adults in relation to the treatment of children, then the system is failing in its duty of care. Whether you want to believe it or not.

    I don’t make sweeping generalizations, all my opinions are based on my experiences.

  15. OK – lets get back to the topic as with everything else you know best.

    Just one very simple concept – try to understand… a system can’t be brought before a childrens court on a complaint of being a neglected child. The child is actually the subject of the complaint in the relevatn child welfare legilsation. That might sound stupid but thats the way it is. The allegations laid by the Community Services Department are generally, but not always, made agaisnt the care provided to that child by its guardian, or apparent guardian. Even if the abuser is not the guardian or parent, the complaint is that a child is neglected, becasue of the actiosn or omissions of its guardian.

    I know this is wasitng my time btu try to understand. Your compaltins against the DofE, cannot and could never be sustained as complaints of child abuse OK….that is the substance of the letter you refer to abvoe.

    In some other jurisdcition fine…and we know about your actions there.

    On eh question of this enquiry – any prcoess that tries to bring information and progreess in this area is welcomed. While I agree with the otehrs who say that this issue should generate bipartisan support, thast true, but in my experinece it is also somethign the vast bulk of people find distasteful and better off not knwoing about.

    JT makes a good point – it wasn’t a lot diffenret in inner cuty sydney when six or seven kisd were sharing a bedroom in a small terrasce – but not in all cases – so thre is a causality issue that is not just practrical.

    Anyway one thing Jolanda is right about is resourcing – but not in the simplisitc polticial sense – (you know more polic on the beat etc) – but resourcing should be taregtteda t how can we keep families together. Its easy splititng them up – I did that (with the best intentiosn at the time) – but in many cases the end result was jsut as bad, failed foster homes, living on the streets, drifitng into crime, drugs etc particualry for teenage girls as disclosure is often around puberty time.

    Much better would have been stopping the abuse, but aiming to keep the family intact, keeping school and the realtionships that were improtant going, supporitng both the vicitnm and the perpertrator – but there were no resoruces for that.

    It does annoy me to see so much effort and resources beign expended to claim high profile scalps when the real issue of Uncle Tom getting it off with his niece is where the greatest problem lies.

  16. Okay Ken, whilst this is off topic in relation to child sexual abuse, it is not off topic in relation to child abuse. Child abuse is not always the parents or guardians fault. Some are doing their best to protect their children from abuse but the system doesn’t want to go there – they prefer always to blame the parents and by the sounds of things, they system is set up to ensure that the parent is the one that is targeted regardless!.

    Here is what the initial Ombudsman’s letter to me said:

    “As you are aware, the Ombudsman has the responsibility to ensure that effective systems are in place within certain agencies in NSW for preventing child abuse and for responding to child abuse allegations in the workplace. For a situation to fall within our child protection jurisdiction, there must be an allegation of child abuse that relates to a specific employee and the behaviour of that employee. In the case of psychological abuse, there must also be evidence of a direct link between that employee’s behaviour and the alleged harm suffered by the child”.

    I wrote to the Ombudsmans office and provided the names of the two people in the Department of Education that I allege are misrepresenting my children and manipulating my children’s papers and test scores in order to victimise them, vilify them, neglect them and do harm. I have the evidence and provided the evidence that justifies the allegations. I also have evidence to show the psychological and physical harm and despair that it has caused and is causing my children. They responded with this:

    “In this case, it seems that you are complaining about the system’s general failure to provide adequate services for your children. Whilst you may believe that your children have been unfairly disasdvantaged by not gaining placements in particular schools, I do not consider that this falls within the definition of child abuse in accordance with teh Legislation”

    remainder of comment deleted

  17. J – thast exactly what I just said, and you didn’t get. Its the same as you cant charge somoeme for fraud under the Motor Traffic Act – its just two different jurisdictions.

    Abusers have never been and won’t be charged under Child Welfare legislation – just like the Ombo told you. The only way that can happen is for chagres under the Crimes Act to be laid by the Child Mistreamtnet Unit – and you’ve got Buclkleys of that happening – in my considered view that is.

  18. No Ken, it is not what you said, I did get it and I am fully aware that the system has been set up so that they are protected from being investigated in relation to allegations of child abuse and “particular conduct”.

    What you said is not what the Ombudsman told me, he told me this:

    ‘As you are aware, the Ombudsman has the responsibility to ensure that effective systems are in place within certain agencies in NSW for preventing child abuse and for responding to child abuse allegations in the workplace. For a situation to fall within our child protection jurisdiction, there must be an allegation of child abuse that relates to a specific employee and the behaviour of that employee. In the case of psychological abuse, there must also be evidence of a direct link between that employee’s behaviour and the alleged harm suffered by the child”.

    Why, in your opinion, have I got Buckleys of having this issues addressed given that they fit the above criteria and qualifies?

    If the system doesn’t provide me with an avenue to address these issues then I will just have to keep talking about it and letting people know what is happening.

    These people are still in their positions and continue to have a biased and negative attitude towards my children and family and that influences how others feel about us and the decisions that they have the power to make over my children. I also know for a fact that my children are not the only ones that have been targeted and that this is a serious systemic problem.

    Why are abusers of our children be so protected?

  19. The only way to stop or lesson these cases is to watch whos having children with whom.To drive a car with have a test and liecence and practicle test. Even to marry we get a licence.
    When we make some standard basic requirements to be able to have children and to ensure those people are able to provide a stable home we might be on the way to solving the problems. However there is also a need for more school councliers to take children on a one to one basis to talk at random.
    Kids will get to know Mrs who ever who walks around while classes are running as someone they can speak with. A open door policy to talk to someone like that at schools is a must for children.
    To leave your children with someone you think you know is often [not always] the problem. If you mustleave children with others at least always try to leave a couple rather than one child to one adult.Above all try to get a job educate yourself be able to provide your own home even rented before having children that would help a lot. Its called resposibility. Child abuse knows no boundries of course and does happen in very wealthy suburbs also. However all crime tends to be higher in figures around the uneducated and irresponsible.
    Child Abuse is a crime . Its requires far more pre screening of parents. In a case where its a single mother they should keep in close watch as to whom they have in their homes.Often male persons will befriend a mother to get closer to the children. Then amazingly she leaves the children with the very nice new boyfriend because he so nicely offered to mind them and she was in need of a break. Thats another good reason to have marraiges before children and mum dad a safe home. It is reasonably rare we are told that in the case of the abuser actually being the natural parent that one or the other parent of that child has not got a idea or a feeling of what is going on. Sometimes mothers keep quiet about it which is shameful. In cases that can be proved of that being the case the mother or the other parent should be charged along with the other parent. To cover up such a thing is the most dispicable thing anybody can do to a child because it breaks their trust twice.

  20. People who pick on peoples spelling in actual fact disclose something. That something is what type of lady or gentleman you are. You see someone of good class would not try to belitle somebody else.There are many people who just dont take the time to type properly. Thats a fault we guess or is it.
    We wonder?
    Nice to have real people that care more about what they are saying than writing to impress. Dont change a thing ken we like you the way you are. Which is straight up real and informed. A real person is hard to find on this post let alone someone who actually knows what they are speaking about.

  21. Gee, she only said to run a spell check! I didnt’ see any belittling happening, it seems that saying that real persons are hard to find on this post is more of a belittling statement overall than suggesting someone run a spell check!

  22. The only way to stop these cases or lesson these cases is to make sure that the system of identifying and investigating complaints and allegations is transparant, thorough, fair and just and that those responsbile are made to answer and held accountable.

    There also needs to be consequences for those that turn a blind eye to abuse and neglect.

    If there are no repercussions for turning a bliind eye, more often than not, it presents as the most appealling alternative as the system isn’t designed to assist those that blow the whistle on wrongdoing. Instead it has a way of turning it on them.

  23. Oh and one more thing. I thing that you shouldn’ tbe allowed to make allegations against someone without having to take responsbility for your actions.

    If a person makes serious allegations against another and it is found that they did not have a justifiable good reason to bring them forward then the person that made the allegations should be charged with a criminal offence and should be punished.

    That will make people think twice!

  24. Post 24 – your issue is not child abuse youv’e already been told. Y0u don’t agree – tough. Investigating allegatiosn of child abuse couldn’t be any more transparent – you knock on the door and confront the parenta and ask the quesitons, demand to see the kid, take evidcne from schools pre-schools, go to hospital round up a docotor, social worker, if lucky you might get home at 10pm – whatever is relevant. you ever done that J?

    As for spell checker – I think it was a funny comment – tongue in cheek and meant to be a bit of poking fun at me – so what.

  25. Ken, what I am talking about is psychological abuse and that is form of child abuse.

    I am sure that there are some very dedicated workers in the system but if the funding is limited and the amount of cases are at alarming proportions – how do you get to knock on all those thousands of doors. There isn’t enough hours in the day or days in the week.

    The most frustrating thing is that many of these reports and cases are repeat offenders or about complaints and issues that were not dealt with in the first instance. The same thing happening to the same children and people over and over.

    It has to stop.

  26. Jolanda This is off post however I just wanted to say Ken is correct. If >and I mean If! you got up on a case or even commenced legal action your would be under discriministion from what you have said.
    You may even stand a good chance at that because of the tender treatment given regarding anything in that area. You yourself said you did not blame Australians for getting fed up with these sort of claims which I thought was very fair of you given your circumstances. However it is off post , as I am replying to you.
    Apoligies to others

  27. Absolutley – and it is investigated in exactly the same way. Its actuially called emotional abuse – but lets not quibble about words. Howver a system is not a perpetrator.

    get it

  28. The whole point about the long post re comment on spell check is that everybody is so unkind and instead of saying something to belittle others its just as easy to say something nice. Such as thankyou for your knowledgde on this post ken.
    Or the old saying> If you cant say something nice dont say anything at all. Child abuse is a seriuos matter. The guy posted some informed comments on that topic. He should be thanked for his input. I must say I have noticed its more the women than the men that seem to be serial offenders. I wonder if that means the child might be better off spending more time with Dad.

  29. Ken. A system is a perpetrator when they are permitted to ignore complaints and turn a blind eye to allegations and allow children to continue to be exposed to the abusers and continue to be abused.

    Especially when a parent or citizen is trying to exercise thier duty of care and is formerly making the complaints and allegations.

    get it.

  30. Wendy. This is off topic but what I am talking about is systemic Victimisation and vilification that resulted in discrimination.

    Last time I heard it was against the law to victimise.

    Or am I wrong?

  31. Over the years public awareness campaigns have increased in educating children in things like Stranger Danger, and awareness that they can tell somebody if someone is doing something to them that they do not like. Maybe still not enough, but they are told over and over again that they can ask for help if ‘someone’ does something to them. And then they system kicks into play to help them put themselves back together (or make it worse from what others have said).

    I have always thought an ADDITIONAL approach should be in place at the same time. How about that in high school kids are also taught that some of THEM sitting there right now are going to want to moleste kids when they are older. (use suitable pc speak). However, they can be told to ring this phone number here to speak to people for help BEFORE they do something to a child.

    The fact is there are lots of organisations and funding around to help REPAIR the damage. There should be additional resources in place to PREVENT the damage in the first place.

    Lets face it, if someone has desires for kids and they don’t want to have them, where on earth do they get help before it gets out of control?

    Can this topic even be discussed by the public without people wanting to punish the offender rather than help them before they offend?


  32. Hi Will,
    I think you raise a really interesting point.

    I remember being stunned and horrified by the number of Australian men who were caught accessing child pornography over the internet during that international police operation.

    When I got over the Yuk factor it set me thinking that this type of perversion might be fairly common throughout the community and that many people must sublimate these desires or rationalise that accessing the internet is a lesser evil than physically molesting a child (even though the internet option is ultimately just as exploitative).

    So, yes. I think it would be a great idea to put some effort into prevention or at least teaching people how to live with and suppress their socially and legally unacceptable urges. Thinking about robbing a bank isn’t a crime. Robbing the bank is.

    As to whether the topic could be publicly discussed in a rational manner – I have great doubts.

  33. Jane – agree with you and Will – however sadly most CSA is intrafamilial – about 70% from memory, Mostly by males to females and mostly to relatvies or friends.

    I suggest a visit to the Australina Institute of Family Studies web for any interesetd surfers.

    Whle the paedophile stuff is horrid – its less of a problem, only realtaveily speaking of course, than the other – but the dirty old man story alwasy gets bettter press.

  34. 37: Do you know what, in my opinion, is the problem with child sexual abuse?. Often there are no major physical injuries to be seen as they heal and its only the psychological injuries that are left and the word of a manipulative adult against a vulnerable scared child.

    The system doesn’t protect our children well from psychological injuries, regardless whether it is as a result of sexual abuse, neglect or psychological abuse.

    Its good if people get irritable, maybe then they will feel……You would think that they would be agreeing with me that the matter needs to be investigated just so as to resolve the issues and to ensure that the children were protected. The fact that they dont speaks volumes.

    Will see you at the other thread!.

  35. John Tracey’s (#12) comments on inappropriate babysitting choices would most likely protect a lot of kids from harm. But I’d also like to add that it’s frequently the people that are trusted that exploit the situation, or those associated with them. e.g. 100 years ago, a school friend lost her virginity at 13 years of age to her brother’s best friend who was 17. He regularly slept over after a night out. The family loved him. She was too young to know the difference between sex and love. She didn’t look like a child to him. And she was willing as well.

    That reminds me of another family. I use to live on a property in central Qld many years ago. The daughter also relayed a story of a jackeroo (family friend) who she began having a sexual relationship with when she was barely out of primary school. This same girl’s brother did his best to sexually exploit every governess that entered their ‘family home’. Many of these girls were naïve and barely out of their teens and were away from their families for the first time. I suppose the parents thought the girls were living with a good family.

    I suppose that as long as we live in a society that perceives it as humorous and masculine to be a cad, then young girls will be exploited, which is defined as pedophilia.

    David Curry’s (#30) on children spending more time with their Dad’s. Possibly. But I don’t think so. Because Dad’s can and are placed in the same situation as single mothers. They need support to go to work or for whatever reason. They may decide to leave their child with their girlfriend. The girlfriend could have a son who may just exploit the opportunity …

    That reminds me of a student of mine. She went to stay with her Dad on the coast one access weekend. He and his mate got drunk. She ended up spending the night driving around in a car with a group of boys, that were obviously old enough to have a drivers licence. Mum had no idea or control over what her daughter was up to.

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