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Branding girls for s*x

By Melinda Tankard Reist - posted Tuesday, 6 May 2008

The insertion of long-acting, potentially dangerous, hormonal contraceptives into the bodies of young Indigenous girls does not protect them from sexual abuse. It actually sets them up for greater exploitation.

Queensland Health recently admitted implanting contraceptive rods in girls as young as 12 after the practice was discovered in two Indigenous communities - Aurukun on Cape York and Woorabinda, west of Rockhampton. It has since emerged that girls in the Northern Territory are also being given the hormones.

The practice raises profound questions about the health and safety of very vulnerable girls living on society’s margins. No one in authority can say exactly how many girls have been fitted with the implant, which has significant side effects including prolonged bleeding - the main reason women abandon its use. Indigenous women suffer rates of anaemia far higher than their white sisters. Who is monitoring the girls to check on their health status?


Queensland Health acting chief health officer Linda Selvey said the implants were necessary where a girl’s decision-making process was impaired and they couldn’t make informed decisions about their sexual behaviour.

If they can’t make informed decisions about their sexual behaviour then they are at even greater risk of coerced sex. A quick contraceptive fix does nothing to stop men who see an opportunity for easy sex with pre-teen girls who don’t comprehend the meaning of consent. In fact, it may serve to encourage them.

In January, a 52-year-old Aboriginal health worker was sentenced to three years in prison for sexually abusing two girls aged 14 and 15 in the Northern Territory. He’d taken the youngest to the local clinic to have Implanon inserted before he started sexually using her.

Despite the claims of Northern Territory chief health officer Steven Skov that contraception would only be given to a girl of 12 or 13 after an in-depth interview with the girl and her family, “as well as looking at the relationship she is involved in”, that didn’t happen in this case. I doubt this is a one off.

In January, it was also reported that Queensland welfare workers were unable to find a 13-year-old Indigenous multiple-rape victim who was deaf and suffered cerebral palsy. The girl, who had three sexually transmitted infections, had been given contraceptive injections from the age of 12. She was then raped with impunity.

Of course, no one thinks pregnancy in young girls is a good thing. But this approach sets girls up to be repeatedly raped and abused because not enough is done to address the cause. Health authorities are inadvertently clearing the way for girls' bodies to be invaded by men's abuse - and by sexually transmitted infections which Implanon does not prevent.


Queensland Child Safety Minister Margaret Keech said that accessing contraception was “not always an indication that a child is being harmed or at risk of harm”.

But how many 12-year-old daughters of government officials are walking around with Implanon in their arms? Do they view their own pre-teen daughters as informed sexual agents?

This is not about freedom of sexual expression. It’s about branding girls for sex.

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About the Author

Melinda Tankard Reist is a Canberra author, speaker, commentator and advocate with a special interest in issues affecting women and girls. Melinda is author of Giving Sorrow Words: Women's Stories of Grief after Abortion (Duffy & Snellgrove, 2000), Defiant Birth: Women Who Resist Medical Eugenics (Spinifex Press, 2006) and editor of Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls (Spinifex Press, 2009). Melinda is a founder of Collective Shout: for a world free of sexploitation ( Melinda blogs at

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