Royal Commission: Child Sexual Abuse Perpetrators – a snapshot

This research paper was released in September 2016 by the Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse giving a snapshot of perpetrators of child sexual abuse:

Royal Commission releases research on perpetrators of child sexual abuse

A new research report conducted for the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has examined available evidence regarding the characteristics, motivations and offending behaviour of child sexual abuse perpetrators in both institutional and non-institutional contexts.

Royal Commission acting CEO, Marianne Christmann, said the report, Evidence and frameworks for understanding perpetrators of institutional child sexual abuse, explores the principal themes found in the literature and examines research specific to perpetrators of child sexual abuse in institutional settings.

This report demonstrates that it is possible to identify commonalities in the characteristics of studied adult perpetrators of child sexual abuse and children or young people with harmful sexual behaviours. Despite these identified commonalities, the characteristics of perpetrators are still considerably diverse.

“The report is an important contribution to the work of the Royal Commission through providing a detailed understanding of what is known from the literature about the motivations and behaviours of perpetrators of child sexual abuse. This will be valuable for informing strategies to prevent the perpetration of child sexual abuse in institutional settings in the future” Ms Christmann said.

The key findings of the study included:

  • The literature suggests that the majority of identified adult perpetrators of child sexual abuse are male, with between 6 and 11 per cent of child sexual abuse perpetrated by females.
  • There appears to be clusters of perpetrators who first commit contact sexual abuse between the ages of 11 and 15, and in their late 20s to early 30s
  • Compared to other groups, adult men who sexually abuse children tend to have experienced higher rates of physical and sexual abuse and emotional abuse or neglect as children. Male adolescents with harmful sexual behaviour also report experiencing greater rates of childhood abuse than comparison groups. However, there is a lack of evidence to support a unique association between childhood sexual abuse and subsequent sexual offending.
  • Exposure to violent pornography is a concern in relation to harmful sexual behaviour among adolescents.
  • Research on perpetrators of child sexual abuse in institutional settings is fairly limited and is most commonly concerned with patterns of child sexual abuse by clergy, with some research on perpetrators in educational, sporting and out of home care settings.
  • Descriptions of strategies used by perpetrators to gain access to children and the identification of situational factors that deter them from offending can be used to inform the prevention of child sexual abuse in institutional settings.

In seeking to understand what is known about the characteristics of perpetrators, this review does not diminish or find justification for perpetrator behaviour; there is no justification for child sexual abuse.

The Royal Commission appointed Dr Michael Proeve, Professor Paul Delfabbro, and Ms Catia Malvaso from the University of Adelaide to undertake the research.

Read the full report.

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