Child sexual abuse

The latest material added to the Australian Institute of Family Studies library database is displayed, up to a maximum of 30 items. Where available online, a link to the document is provided. Many items can be borrowed from the Institute's library via the Interlibrary loan system.

See more resources on Child sexual abuse in the AIFS library catalogue

Sex offences in Victoria, 2010-2019

McGorrery P, Simu O and Bathy Z
Melbourne, Vic. : Sentencing Advisory Council, 2021.
This paper provides an overview of how courts in Victoria sentenced contact sex offences in the last decade. It draws on police and court data from 2010-2019, taken from a recent broader study on the impact of sentencing reforms. In the last decade, there has been a significant increase in the number of sex offences recorded by police, especially offences committed against adults. However, there has been little change in the number of cases sentenced by courts, though there has been significant increases in the lengths of prison sentences, especially for rape and offences involving children.

Sentencing sex offences in Victoria: an analysis of three sentencing reforms

McGorrery P, Bathy Z and Simu O
Melbourne, Vic. : Sentencing Advisory Council, 2021.
There are often calls that sex offences are sentenced too leniently in Victoria, and governments have responded with reforms aimed at making prison sentences mandatory and longer. This report investigates whether these reforms have affected how different types of sex offences were sentenced in 2010-2019. It focuses on three reforms: the March 2017 reclassification of some serious sex offences as Category 1 offences, requiring courts to impose a term of imprisonment; the February 2018 reclassification of some serious sex offences as standard sentence offences, providing courts with numerical guidance on sentencing; and the various Dalgliesh decisions that held that sentencing practices for incest were inappropriately low and required immediate rectification. Trends in recorded crime and case attrition are also noted. Overall, all the three sentencing reforms appear to have influenced sentencing practices. Sentences have increased in severity, particularly for offences against children, but this could be attributable to changing community expectations and judicial understandings of the effect of sex offending on victims.

Sentencing older offenders in Victoria: a report on sentencing outcomes

Stewart F and Schollum P
Melbourne, Vic. : Sentencing Advisory Council, 2021.
The number of older people in the correctional system in Victoria has increased in Victoria in recent decades. This report investigates this further, with a study of people sentenced at age 60 or over in the last 10 years. It examines whether the number and proportion of older offenders is increasing, the offences in involved and whether this has changed, gender differences, whether the number of older offenders sentenced to imprisonment is increasing, and whether advanced age is considered during sentencing. The study finds that the number of older offenders sentenced in Victoria has increased substantially, well beyond the growth rate of older people in the Victorian population generally. It is largely due to an increase in the number of historical sex offences cases, as well increased numbers of older people electing to take traffic/vehicle infringement matters to court.

Adult responses to concerning sexual behaviours of young people in specialist school settings

Page Z and Higgins D
Canberra : Institute of Child Protection Studies, Australian Catholic University, 2021.
Many young people have been exposed to displays of sexual acts by their peers at school, but young people with disability may be less able to put effective self protection strategies into practice or draw on effective coping mechanisms than their non disabled peers can. Thus, it is important for adults to be able to identify these young people's behaviours that may constitute early signs of sexual abuse and respond appropriately. This paper investigates the knowledge of staff in specialist schools about concerning sexual behaviours. Seventeen principals, teachers, and other staff from specialist schools in Victoria were asked about their knowledge of peer-to-peer violence, their views on this type of violence, appropriate intervention, and the skills they used when responding. Though all participants saw it as their role to act if they witnessed concerning sexual behaviours, staff varied in their knowledge of reporting, risk factors, and appropriate intervention.

Independent review into the Department of Communities' policies and practices in the placement of children with harmful sexual behaviours in residential care settings

Western Australia. Office of the Commissioner for Children and Young People
Perth, WA : Commissioner for Children and Young People WA, 2021.
This inquiry follows on from media concerns about a girl placed in residential care with an older young boy with a history of harmful sexual behaviour. The girl had previously been abused and raised concerns and later allegations of harmful sexual behaviour by the boy. The boy in turn had a history of abuse and had repeatedly asked staff for help. The Minister for Child Protection requested the Commissioner for Children and Young People to review the Department of Communities' policies, practices and services regarding children with harmful sexual behaviours in residential care. It looked at systemic issues, whether current policies and practices meet the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, and whether changes are needed to improve the safety of children and young people. The inquiry finds the Department's policies and practices are not effective, consistent or fit for purpose and sets out recommendations for reform. A response by the Department is also included.

Cyber strategies used to combat child sexual abuse material

Edwards G, Christensen L, Rayment-McHugh S and Jones C
Canberra, ACT : Australian Institute of Criminology, 2021.
The crime of online child sexual abuse material presents significant challenges to law enforcement, due to the anonymity, accessibility and affordability of the internet, as well as constantly evolving technologies. This paper looks into current strategies that aim to reduce the distribution of this material, based on a review of the literature. Five main strategies were identified: peer-to-peer network monitoring, automated multi-modal CSAM detection tools, using web crawlers to identify CSAM sites, pop-up warning messages, and facial recognition. The paper explores the background of each approach, how they work, effectiveness, benefits, limitations and implementation considerations.

Statement from the Family Court of Australia in response to the paper 'Allegations of child sexual abuse: an empirical analysis of published judgments from the Family Court of Australia 2012-2019', by Nola Web, Lawrence Moloney and Bruce Smyth.

Australia. Family Court
Australian Journal of Social Issues 22 Aug 2021: Advance online publication
A recent article in this journal looked at court outcomes when allegations of child sexual abuse or risk of abuse are made. The article, by Webb, Moloney, Smyth and Murphy, reviewed all published judgements heard in the Family Court of Australia from 2012-2019, regarding how often judges believed allegations were true and how parental responsibility and parenting arrangements were allocated following contested hearings. This statement in response has been issued by the Family Court of Australia.

Commentary on 'Allegations of child sexual abuse: an empirical analysis of published judgements from the Family Court of Australia 2012-2019'.

Sheehan R
Australian Journal of Social Issues 1 Aug 2021: Advance online publication
A recent article in this journal looked at court outcomes when allegations of child sexual abuse or risk of abuse are made. The article, by Webb, Moloney, Smyth and Murphy, reviewed all published judgements heard in the Family Court of Australia from 2012-2019, regarding how often judges believed allegations were true and how parental responsibility and parenting arrangements were allocated following contested hearings. This opinion piece by Professor Rosemary Sheehan discusses the findings and highlights the challenges associated with legal decision making about children alleged to be at risk of sexual harm in the context of parental separation, and the need for more information on how best to respond.

Findings of unacceptable risk - a comment on Webb et al.'s analysis of child sexual abuse allegations in the Family Court of Australia.

Parkinson P
Australian Journal of Social Issues 29 Jul 2021: Advance online publication
A recent article in this journal looked at court outcomes when allegations of child sexual abuse or risk of abuse are made. The article, by Webb, Moloney, Smyth and Murphy, reviewed all published judgements heard in the Family Court of Australia from 2012-2019, regarding how often judges believed allegations were true and how parental responsibility and parenting arrangements were allocated following contested hearings. This opinion piece by Professor Patrick Parkinson discusses the findings and argues how the Family Court is effectively the 'too hard basket' of the child protection system.

Allegations of child sexual abuse : an empirical analysis of published judgements from the Family Court of Australia 2012-2019.

Webb N, Moloney L, Smyth B and Murphy R
Australian Journal of Social Issues 14 Jul 2021: Advance online publication
Allegations of child sexual abuse in the family court are serious and fraught, with claims of judicial bias against mothers or fathers, or against those making or defending the charge. To help inform this matter, this article looks into court outcomes when allegations of child sexual abuse are made. It reviews all 521 published judgements heard in the Family Court of Australia from 2012-2019, regarding how often judges believed allegations were true, how often risk of abuse was raised in contested hearings, how parental responsibility and parenting arrangements were allocated following contested hearings, whether restraining orders or warnings were imposed on the parent making the allegations, and the impact of allegations being withdrawn. The data show low rates of belief in allegations. In uncontested hearings, judges expressed belief in 73% of judgements, while risk of sexual harm was found in 65% of judgements. In contested hearings, judges expressed belief in 14% of cases, risk of sexual harm was found in 12% of judgements, residence arrangements were changed to the allegedly unsafe parent in 17% of cases, and just under two-thirds of allegedly unsafe parents had the time they spent with their child increased.

Sexual violence - victimisation

Australian Bureau of Statistics
Belconnen, ACT : Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2021.
This new series will explore the nature and prevalence of sexual assault, sexual abuse, and sexual harassment in Australia. This first edition examines sexual assault and childhood sexual abuse, drawing on data from the data from the 2016 Personal Safety Survey and the 2019 Recorded Crime Victims reports. Topics include: key statistics, measuring sexual assault, prevalence of sexual assault and childhood sexual abuse, reporting to police, police recorded crime, characteristics of the incidents and relationship to perpetrator, advice and support, and impacts on victims. The survey data highlights how common these crimes are: 17% of women and 4.3% of men have experienced sexual assault since the age of 15, and 11% of women and 4.6% of men experienced sexual abuse during childhood. Only 13% of women reported their most recent incident of sexual assault to police, but sought advice or support from family, friends or services.

Engagement and completion of therapy following a disclosure of child sexual abuse to authorities.

Herbert J
CFCA short article 19 Aug 2021
This short article summarises findings from a recent review of rates of therapy use among children who have disclosed sexual abuse, and what might improve engagement with therapy. The disclosure of child sexual abuse to authorities is an opportunity for services to address the effects of abuse, but children face considerable barriers to accessing, engaging with, and completing therapy. However, some of these barriers can be addressed.

Predicting prolific live streaming of child sexual abuse

Cubitt T, Napier S and Brown R
Canberra, ACT : Australian Institute of Criminology, 2021.
The live streaming of child sexual abuse is a growing crime, but little is known about the characteristics of offenders or transactions. This study aims to address this gap by using a supervised machine learning approach to analyse the characteristics of Australian offenders who live stream in high volumes with known facilitators in the Philippines. It finds that this approach can successfully provide insights into this crime and help improve efforts to identify offenders. The study found that offenders who engaged in high-volume live streaming typically spent small amounts (under $55) at intervals of less than 20 days. Offenders did not appear to have engaged in violent offending; rather, a history of low-harm offending was common.

Report of case study no. 44: the response the Catholic Diocese of Armidale and Parramatta to allegations of child sexual abuse against a priest

McClellan P and Coate J
Sydney, NSW : Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, 2021
As part of the Royal Commission's investigation of how institutions respond to child sexual abuse, it will conduct case studies of selected incidents to more fully understand the institutional and systemic factors involved. This report examines the responses of the Catholic Dioceses of Armidale and Parramatta to allegations made against John Joseph Farrell. The case highlights systemic issues in the management of priests accused of abuse. The case study's website also includes transcripts, opening addresses, and witness lists from the related public hearings held in September 2016. Note, the report was not released to the public until 2021 so as not to prejudice criminal and civil proceedings underway at that time.

Patterns and predictors of reoffending among child sexual offenders: a rapid evidence assessment

Dowling C, Boxall H, Pooley K, Long C and Franks C
Canberra, ACT : Australian Institute of Criminology, 2021.
Though the research base indicates that child sex offenders vary in their risk profiles and reoffending rates, many criminal justice and treatment measures are built around a high likelihood of reoffending. To help inform debates, this paper provides a new review of the research. It reviews recent Australian and overseas literature on: the proportion of child sexual offenders who have a prior history of general and sexual offending, the prevalence and nature of their general and sexual reoffending, risk factors forl reoffending, and differences between juvenile and adult sex offenders in their likelihood of reoffending and reoffending risk profile. The review found that the likelihood of reoffending increases in the first few years after the index offence, then stabilises. However, sexual reoffending was less common than general reoffending by child sex offenders: across most studies, rates of sexual reoffending were 15% or less, while rates of general reoffending were between 20-54%.

Reoffending among child sexual offenders

Dowling C, Morgan A and Pooley K
Canberra, ACT : Australian Institute of Criminology, 2021.
There is only limited research from Australia on reoffending by child sexual offenders. This paper adds to the evidence with a study of 1,092 male offenders from New South Wales. The study investigated: what proportion of offenders commit further sexual and non-sexual offences, after their first recorded child sexual offence; the time between offences; and the factors associated with a higher likelihood of committing further sexual and non-sexual offences. It also investigated whether there were differences between offenders who had committed different types of child sexual offences, being here child sexual assault, child procurement or grooming, or child sexual abuse material offences. The study found 7% of child sexual offenders sexually reoffended within 10 years of their first police proceeding for a child sexual offence, while 42% reoffended with a non-sexual offence. Child sexual assault offenders were the most likely to reoffend non-sexually, while procurement/grooming offenders were the most likely to reoffend sexually. Risk was highest in the first two years, with other factors varying by offence type.

Interventions that address institutional child maltreatment : an evidence and gap map.

Finch M, Featherston R, Chakraborty S, Bjorndal L, Mildon R, Albers B, Fiennes C, Taylor D, Schachtman R, Yang T and Shlonsky A
Campbell systematic reviews v. 17 no. 1 2021: Article e1139
This article investigates what evidence is available on the effectiveness of interventions addressing child maltreatment in institutional settings. The review found most of the current research focuses on child sexual abuse prevention programs in schools, with little research on other settings, disclosure, organisational responses and treatment interventions, or perpetrator behaviour. The findings highlight the limited evidence available on this issue, and the need for further research.

Out of sight: systemic inquiry into children and young people who are absent or missing from residential care

Victoria. Commission for Children and Young People
Melbourne, Vic. : Commission for Children and Young People, 2021.
This report presents the findings and recommendations of an inquiry into children and young people who are absent or missing from residential care in Victoria. The inquiry was established due to concern over the very high number of young people who continue to be absent or missing from residential care, and the connection with victimisation and sexual exploitation. The inquiry aimed to identify the reasons why children and young people go missing or are absent, gain insights into the harm they experience, and identify improvements to policy, practice, legislation or the provision of services. In the 18 months to 31 March 2020, 388 warrants were granted for absent or missing children - this is 75 times the rate of national missing young people reports. Though there are a wide range of reasons why children and young people leave care, a key driver is a lack of connection to carers, fellow residents and the residential care home.

Risk factors for maltreatment in siblings of abused children.

Kisely S, Strathearn L and Najman J
Pediatrics v. 147 no. 5 2021: Article e2020036004
Little is known about the siblings of abused children. Although they share the same parents and environments, are they also at risk, and do they experience similar forms or levels of maltreatment? This article adds to the evidence with a study of 520 sibling pairs in the Mater-University of Queensland Study of Pregnancy (MUSP), linked with child protection data. The participants were also asked about childhood sexual abuse when they surveyed at 21 years of age. The study found that notification for abuse of one child was associated with a 60-fold increase in the likelihood of a notification in their sibling, in particular for neglect or sexual abuse. Over half of the young adults also reported sexual abuse when their sibling had disclosed it. A young maternal age was the strongest and most consistent predictor of abuse, with some association also with Indigenous status, maternal depression, parental relationship, and poverty.

Interim Australian Government response to the final report of the second year review of the National Redress Scheme

Australia
Canberra, A.C.T. : National Redress Scheme, 2021.
A review has just been conducted of the National Redress Scheme after its second year of operation, with recommendations made to improve the processes, usage, and uptake for the survivors of institutional child sexual abuse in Australia and the organisations involved. This paper provides the Australian Government's initial response to these recommendations, and highlights the Australian Government's commitment to improving the scheme and response to a number of actions being taken that respond to the recommendations. The scheme was launched on 1 July 2018 and was a key recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Final report - second year review of the National Redress Scheme

Kruk R
Canberra, A.C.T. : National Redress Scheme, 2021.
On the 1 July 2018, the Government launched a National Redress Scheme for the survivors of institutional child sexual abuse in Australia, one of the key recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. One element of the Scheme was that it be reviewed after two and eight years of operation: this report presents the findings and recommendations of the independent review appointed after the Scheme's second anniversary. The review looked at participation by institutions, engagement with eligible applicants, assessment processes, provision of redress and counselling, funding, and reception, and submissions, consultations and a feedback study. Overall, the review concludes that a significant and urgent reset of the scheme is needed, to deliver on government commitments and ensure the scheme is survivor-centred and a less onerous option than civil action.

Engagement with support services for ethnic minority communities

Kaiser S
London : Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, 2021.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in England and Wales has found that some victims and survivors from ethnic minority communities can find it difficult to discuss or disclose child sexual abuse. This report looks into this further, with consultation with 107 community support organisations on the main barriers to discussing or disclosing child sexual abuse, as well as how better to protect ethnic minority children from child sexual abuse and how the Inquiry can better engage with ethic communities. Six common barriers emerged: mistrust of and inadequate access to services; language barriers and poor interpreting services; closed communities that restrict access to outside supports or have their own separate, internal justice system; lack of support for the cultural and religious needs of victims; shame and honour within communities; and a lack of knowledge of consent or no access to relationships and sex education.

Why did sexual assault reports spike in March 2021?

Fitzgerald J
Sydney : NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, 2021.
The number of sexual assaults recorded by New South Wales Police increased dramatically in March 2021 - up 46% from February 2021 and 65% from March 2020. This paper investigates the likely causes of this rise. It looks at trends since January 2016, trends in Google searches about sexual assault, the types of sexual assaults that increased (adult victims an assault, child victims reporting victimisation, or adults reporting historic child sexual assault), and regional differences across the state. The findings suggest the rise in reporting is most likely due to the current and significant national attention on sexual assault and gender issues. Preliminary data for April 2021 indicate that sexual assault reporting rates have already declined, but the findings highlight the public's willingness to report crime can be influenced by community events.

Factors influencing therapy use following a disclosure of child sexual abuse

Herbert J
Southbank, Vic. : Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2021.
A child's disclosure of sexual abuse to police or child protection authorities is a key time to connect with therapy services. But once they are referred, how many children go on to complete it? This paper presents a review of the literature on the factors that may influence either engagement or completion of therapy following a disclosure of child sexual abuse. The review finds mixed and inconsistent results, suggesting that services should monitor their own data on risk factors for disengagement and withdrawal to help inform their own strategies to manage attrition. However, parental involvement in therapy and more severe and frequent abuse were both associated with higher rates of therapy engagement and completion. A companion paper has also been produced, 'Rates of therapy use following a disclosure of child sexual abuse'.

Rates of therapy use following a disclosure of child sexual abuse

Herbert J
Southbank, Vic. : Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2021.
A child's disclosure of sexual abuse to police or child protection authorities is a key time to connect with therapy services. However, many barriers to access exist, and support services and referrals tend to be offered much later in the criminal justice process. So, how many children are being referred to therapy at this critical time, and how many go on to complete it? This paper presents a review of the literature on the typical rates of referral, engagement and completion of therapy following a disclosure of child sexual abuse. The review found that many children are not receiving the benefits of therapy. However, though providing referrals to therapy for all children with suspected or substantiated sexual abuse would likely increase engagement rates, this would require increased service availability. A companion paper has also been produced, 'Factors influencing therapy use following a disclosure of child sexual abuse'.

Child sexual abuse material on the darknet: a script analysis of how offenders operate

Leclerc B, Drew J, Holt T, Cale J and Singh S
Canberra, ACT : Australian Institute of Criminology, 2021.
This report adds to what is known about online child sexual abuse material offending, to help inform crime prevention efforts. It investigates the steps taken by offenders to produce and distribute their child exploitation material on the internet, using the investigative technique of crime scripting and the participation of six law enforcement officers with experience of investigating online offenders. The scripts identify 3 phases: the crime set-up phase, the crime completion phase, and the crime continuation phase.

Age of consent laws

Child Family Community Australia, Australian Institute of Family Studies
Melbourne, Vic. : Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2021.
Age of consent laws are important measures for protecting children and young people from sexual exploitation. According to criminal law in Australia, the age of consent refers to the age a person is considered to be capable of legally giving informed consent to sexual acts with another person. When a person engages in sexual behaviour with someone below the age of consent, they are committing a criminal offence (child sexual abuse). This fact sheet outlines the principles behind this law, compares the age of consent across the different states and territories of Australia, and discusses legal defences against sexual interactions with persons under age, including 'normal' sexual exploration versus inappropriate and abusive sexual behaviour. Note, this fact sheet is written for practitioners and researchers; younger readers seeking advice are advised to visit alternative websites (listed).

Effective delivery methods and teaching strategies for child sexual abuse prevention: a rapid evidence check

Trew S, Russell D, Higgins D and Walsh K
Dickson, ACT : Institute of Child Protection Studies, Australian Catholic University, 2021.
This report was commissioned to review the latest evidence on school-based child sexual abuse prevention programs, with a particular focus on online program delivery and programs aimed at children in pre-school and in the early years of primary school, that is, from aged 2-8. The review looked at what is found to be effective in terms of content and topics covered, pedagogy or instructional techniques, and delivery mode. The review found evidence that child-focused school-based programs can be an effective approach to increase children's knowledge, engagement in self-protective behaviours, and reporting behaviours, and an effective means to reach children from a range of backgrounds. However, there is no evidence yet on whether online programs are effective, or on what content and teaching method changes should be made when adapting an in-person program for delivery online.

Criminal justice responses to child sexual abuse material offending: a systematic review and evidence and gap map

Eggins E, Mazerolle L, Higginson A, Hine L, Walsh K, Sydes M, McEwan J, Hassall G, Roetman S, Wallis R and Williams J
Canberra, ACT : Australian Institute of Criminology, 2021.
There is growing research into criminal justice strategies to address child sexual abuse material (CSAM) offending. However, the research base is complicated by a range of factors, including a lack of common definitions and terminology and debate about whether CSAM offending is distinct from contact offending. Based on a systematic review, this paper identifies the strengths and gaps of the research base, presenting the findings in a visual map. The findings reveal a general lack of robust impact evaluations of criminal justice responses to CSAM offending. The current research base largely concerned policing, with no studies on correctional responses or multiagency responses involving at least one criminal justice partner.

Victims/survivors' perceptions of helpful institutional responses to incidents of institutional child sexual abuse.

Blunden H, Giuntoli G, Newton B and Katz I
Journal of Child Sexual Abuse v. 30 no. 1 Jan 2021: 56-79
This article explores the characteristics of supportive and effective institutional responses to reports of child sexual abuse. It draws on interviews with 9 survivors, undertaken as part of research originally conducted for the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Most research focuses on the failings of institutional responses, so this article adds to small body of evidence on helpful responses. It also presents a theoretical framework on how the different helpful elements relate to each other in the survivors' experiences.
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