Setting the record straight: sexually transmissible infections and sexual abuse in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities

James S. Ward, Belinda Hengel, Donna Ah Chee, Olga Havnen, John D. Boffa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (hereafter respectfully referred to as Aboriginal people) living in remote communities often face the brunt of public scrutiny because of careless reporting on sensitive issues. The consequence of such reporting can be stigmatising for individuals and communities, creating shame and potentially forcing the issues further underground, rendering them harder to manage. One such issue is the occurrence of sexually transmissible infections (STIs) in young people that is often depicted as demonstrating child sexual abuse.1-3 While every case of child sexual abuse is a criminal act that demands the full force of the law, the context in which STIs occur in young people and minors is far more complex. Notifications of STIs among young people and minors may be the outcome of child sexual abuse, but others may be occurring in the context of sexual activity between consenting similar age peers no different from that found in non‐Indigenous Australians in the same age group. While such activity is both unlawful and known to present health hazards, jurisdictions around Australia have recognised circumstances in which criminal proceedings are not in the best interest of those involved. In this article, we provide an overview of the epidemiology of STIs in remote communities, describe reported ages of sexual debut, outline mandatory reporting requirements and describe what has recently been reported about child sexual abuse. Our aim in bringing this information together is to set the record straight and form the basis for a healthier public discourse.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)205-207.e1
Number of pages3
JournalMedical Journal of Australia
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2020


  • Child welfare
  • Chlamydia infections
  • Indigenous health
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Social determinants of health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)

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