Royal Commission: How aspects of institutions encourage child sexual abuse

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse released a report in December 2016, this time identifying aspects of organisational culture that may encourage child sexual abuse:

The Royal Commission has released a new research report investigating the role of organisational culture in institutional child sexual abuse. The research also identifies factors that can lead to successful organisational change and prevent child sexual abuse in institutions.

The report – The role of organisational culture in child sexual abuse in institutional contexts is the first of its kind, applying existing theory on organisational culture to institutional child sexual abuse. It draws on a review of literature as well as seven case studies conducted by the Royal Commission, into schools, churches, sporting groups and providers of out-of-home care.

The report found that organisations with cultural factors associated with “total institutions” may be more conducive to the perpetration of child sexual abuse. These kinds of organisations may be resistant to fast detection of abuse, and discourage an effective response when child sexual abuse occurs. For example, these institutions may:

  • Conduct their own investigations into allegations of child sexual abuse, rather than referring alleged perpetrators to authorities;
  • Forbid children from retaining personal items and discourage the building of relationships with peers;
  • Promote secrecy and withholding of information from children, staff and others, and/or
  • Command children to engage in or refrain from behaviours that make abuse possible and reporting less likely.

The report identified a number of other types of organisational cultures which can support the perpetration of child sexual abuse, slow its detection and promote a poor response. These included “macho” cultures; cultures that do not support the discussion of matters relating to sex and child sexual abuse; and cultures of “top management” that prioritise the protection of the organisation’s public image to minimise scandal and adverse legal consequences.

Royal Commission CEO, Philip Reed, said by using theories from the highly-researched area of organisational culture and applying them to child sexual abuse, the report provided a thought-provoking analysis that extends current thinking.

“The report asks several questions about what kinds of assumptions, values, beliefs and norms within organisations help facilitate the perpetration of child sexual abuse and act to prevent the timely and effective response to such abuse,” he said.

“This research aims to assist organisations to identify these in order to effect greater organisational change that will lead to the better protection of children in institutional settings.”

The report was conducted by Professor Donald Palmer from the University of California.

Read the full report.

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