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Report on Sexual Abuse Among Aborigines Shocks Australia

A report by an Australian state prosecutor has detailed horrific levels of sexual abuse in remote Aboriginal communities, including the rape of a seven-month-old child. The report alleges that violence against women and children has become entrenched among Aborigines in many areas.

Some of the cases contained in the report are almost beyond belief.

At an Aboriginal camp in central Australia, a four-year-old girl is reported to have drowned while being raped by a teenager who had been sniffing gasoline. In other cases, two very young children - including a seven-month-old and a four-year-old girl - were sexually assaulted by adult men while their mothers were elsewhere drinking alcohol. Both children needed surgery for their injuries.

Nanette Rogers, the state prosecutor in the Northern Territory who compiled the report, says Aboriginal settlements are suffering from a kind of tragedy fatigue, in which monstrous crimes are taken for granted.

Rogers has also told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, which first reported on the case on Monday, that many abuse victims are too afraid to speak to the police, fearful of reprisals from within their community.

"All child sexual assault in Central Australia is happening at much higher rates than are currently being reported to police," Rogers says. "Horrible offenses committed on really small children - it's beyond most people's comprehension and range of human experience."

Rogers has blamed the problems on indigenous culture, in which she says Aboriginal men often feel they can disregard the law.

The federal government in Canberra has responded to the report with a call for tougher policing in the region. That policing is the responsibility of the Northern Territory government, in Darwin.

Officials there have admitted that progress in the fight against such abuse has been slow, but they insist they will urgently address the lack of adequate policing in remote Aboriginal camps.

Australia's Aborigines make up about two percent of the country's population. They suffer disproportionately high rates of ill health, unemployment and imprisonment.

In isolated parts of the Australian Outback, they often live in squalid conditions where alcohol, drug abuse and violence are everyday facts of life. Central Australia, the area covered in the report, has the highest murder rate in Australia, at ten times the national average.