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In 2017, a 12-year-old Indigenous girl died by suicide. This week we saw history repeat itself.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that the following story contains descriptions of deceased persons.

This post deals with rape and suicide and may be triggering for some readers.

On Tuesday, an 11-year-old girl was airlifted from rural Western Australia to Perth Children's Hospital with self-inflicted injuries. 

She couldn't be saved, and died surrounded by 100 crying loved ones, some of whom slept overnight nearby in their cars to be close to her as she was taken off life support. 

She'd been living in fear of her alleged rapist, a 66-year-old man from her regional community, who was released on bail in mid-September after allegedly abusing her on multiple occasions between 2014 and 2020.

He'd been charged with four counts of sexually penetrating a child under the age of 13 and six of indecently dealing with a child under 13. But he was given bail in his first court appearance during a mention that lasted no more than three minutes - free to roam the streets while he awaited trial.

An 11yo WA girl died by suicide on Tuesday. Image: Facebook. 

The young Noongar nation girl is being described in media reports today as "clever, bubbly, and happy". She loved TikTok, and is being remembered as a "little ray of sunshine."

But she was also desperate to escape the town where she lived. 

"My daughter thought that he was going to hurt her and she was frightened. She didn’t want to live in that town. She didn’t want to be there," her mother told WA Today.

The young girl's family is demanding an urgent change to WA's bail laws, with the state's Assistant Commissioner of Regional WA, Jo McCabe, admitting on Wednesday police should not have released the accused man on bail.

National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project (NSPTRP) director Megan Krakouer, who has been with the girl's family in hospital, says they are shattered.

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"Their lives are ruined and they are forever heartbroken," she told AAP. "She was failed by a number of organisations and a number of departments.

"What I did see at that hospital is there were so many little children crying and hurting. It broke my heart."

But this isn't the first time a girl this young, from a remote Indigenous community in WA, has died by suicide. 

In 2017, the headline: "Nothing more could be done to save a 12yo WA girl from suicide, welfare worker claims," ran on this very website. 

The girl, believed to be a possible victim of sexual assault, began drinking alcohol and smoking cannabis 10 months before her death. She had spent her young life regularly witnessing domestic violence and alcohol abuse at her overcrowded home, and roamed the streets late at night to escape it.

About one month before she took her own life, she ran away from her home in Wyndham and had made a number of threats to kill herself.

The Department for Child Protection was notified about her high risk of self-harm, yet she had no contact with any mental health services.

As clinical psychotherapist at Seaway Counselling and Psychotherapy, Julie Sweet tells Mamamia, "Seeking immediate support from a trauma informed therapist and support services is paramount. There can be greater risk determinants relating to a child than an adult when examining this topic [of suicide], and it’s believed that children as young as approximately eight years of age can conceptualise suicide."

"It’s incredibly important both children and adults seek support when impacted by child trauma, even if it’s a single incident, it’s imperative the child’s safety and security is protected. Child sexual abuse is everyone’s responsibility and children need adults to be their advocates. Every child has the right to feel safe," Sweet added.

After the 12-year-old's 2017 death, former Aboriginal Support Worker Christine Cigobia told the WA coroner, "I think we did all that we could do. We didn’t have solid evidence to say that she was being abused. The family didn’t give us any information."

Under the powers that were afforded to her and the government's Kimberley Prevention and Diversion Team, they felt they simply couldn't have done more.

Her team cried in the court at the injustice of it.

At the time, the WA coroner was investigating 13 deaths in the Kimberley over a course of three-and-a-half years, five of which involved children aged between 10 and 13. 

Today, three years later, Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt says he is ‘sickened’ by news that an 11-year-old has died by suicide. But to the Indigenous communities of Australia, this is a scourge they've been dealing with for years. 

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According to research centre Creative Spirits, Indigenous Australians are six times more likely to die by suicide, compared to non-Indigenous Australians. 

In 2018, suicide was the leading cause of death for Indigenous 5 to 17-year-olds.

"We are meeting and reaching families that aren't being provided that support. Right now in its current form, it [the system] is failing dismally and left behind are my First Nations people," said NSPTRP director Megan Krakouer, adding that they'd assisted 12,500 people since September alone.

In 2018, two Indigenous suicide prevention conferences in Perth brought together 500 delegates from the national and international Indigenous communities to identify solutions that work in Indigenous suicide prevention. They called for a new national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide prevention strategy – and fully funded implementation plan – with a focus on preventing child and youth suicide.

In February 2020, Victoria’s peak Aboriginal health organisation called for an urgent government intervention into the “silent tragedy” of Indigenous suicide.

The federal budget has committed $4 billion to Indigenous Health over the next four financial years, but without increased infrastructure funding and domestic violence support, there are still too many gaps which will get in the way of enacting real 'deep rooted' change. Not to mention the lax nature of our bail laws.

Because right now, in its current form, the whole system is failing dismally. 

Nothing makes that more obvious than the fact that right now, while a family is mourning their 11-year-old child's death by suicide, the man accused of raping her remains on bail.

- With AAP

Feature image: Facebook.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner or in Australia, contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for support or  beyondblue 1300 22 4636.

If you, or a young person you know, is struggling with symptoms of mental illness please contact your local headspace centre here or chat to them online,  here. You can also contact Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800. 

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