Survivors, perpetrators and statistics

Continuing our series of blogs commenting upon the final report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (the RC) this blog considers by reference to numbers and statistics the information obtained about survivors and perpetrators.

The survivors

At the time of issuing its final report the Royal Commission (RC) had spoken with more than 8,000 survivors in private sessions and received more than 1,000 written accounts.

In compiling its final report, it analysed the experiences of the 6,875 survivors as told to them in private sessions up until 31 May 2017.

From those survivors, the RC learned that:-

  • the majority of survivors (64.3 %) were male
  • more than half of survivors reported they were aged between 10 and 14 years old when they were first sexually abused
  • female survivors generally reported being younger than male survivors reported when they were first sexually abused
  • 4.3% of survivors said they had disability at the time of the abuse
  • 93.8% of survivors were abused by a male
  • 83.8% of survivors said they were abused by an adult
  • the average duration of child sexual abuse experienced in institutions was 2.2 years
  • 36.3% of survivors said they were abused by multiple perpetrators.

People attending private sessions ranged in age from nine to 80+ with the largest proportion of being between 50 and 59 years (29.3%).

More than one in three survivors (36%) said they were sexually abused in pre-1990 out-of-home care, primarily in residential institutions, such as children’s homes, missions or reformatories.

Just under one-third (31.8%) said they were abused in a school, and 14.5% said they were abused while involved in religious activities, such as attending a church or seminary.

More than one in five survivors (21%) said they were sexually abused in more than one institution.

Of those survivors who identified the types of institution where they were abused, 58.6% said they were sexually abused in an institution managed by a religious organisation.

Almost 2,500 survivors told of experiencing sexual abuse in an institution managed by the Catholic Church. This was 61.8 % of all survivors who reported sexual abuse in a religious institution.

Survivors came from diverse backgrounds and circumstances for example 10.4% of survivors were in prison at the time of their private session. Many had grown up in out-of-home care, some were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people, others came from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and some had been child migrants. Some had disability at the time of the abuse.

The perpetrators

People in religious ministry and teachers were the perpetrators the RC heard about most commonly.

Institutional factors that facilitated or enabled perpetrators, whatever the institutional context, to sexually abuse children included:-

  • unsupervised, one-to-one access to a child, such as travelling alone with a child
  • provision of intimate care to a child or an expectation of a level of physical contact
  • the ability to influence or control aspects of a child’s life, such as academic grades
  • authority over a child, particularly in situations with significant control such as a residential setting
  • spiritual or moral authority over a child
  • prestige of the perpetrator, resulting in the perpetrator being afforded a higher level of trust and credibility
  • opportunities to become close with a child and/or their family
  • responsibility for young children, such as that held by preschool carers
  • specialist expertise, as in the case of medical practitioners, that enabled perpetrators to disguise sexual abuse.

The RC reflected on ‘why do some adults abuse children?’ It found that there is no typical profile of an adult perpetrator. People who sexually abuse children have diverse motivations and behaviours. A range of adults sexually abuse children and the RC found that attempting to predict the likelihood of someone being a perpetrator based on preconceptions/stereotypes should be avoided. The strategies used to sexually abuse children are often specific to the individual context of the adult and the child involved. Adult perpetrators are overwhelmingly male, although women do sexually abuse children in institutional contexts.

Risk factors that have been associated with adult perpetrators include:-

  • adverse experiences in childhood, such as physical, emotional and sexual abuse and neglect
  • interpersonal, relationship and emotional difficulties, including difficulty connecting with other adults, intimacy problems and poor social skills, and emotional affiliation
  • with children
  • distorted beliefs and ‘thinking errors’ that may facilitate child sexual abuse
  • indirect influences, such as contextual or ‘trigger’ factors.

Research suggests that four pre-conditions must be met before an adult will sexually abuse a child.

They are:-

  • motivation to sexually abuse
  • overcoming internal inhibitions the perpetrator may have about sexually abusing a child
  • overcoming external barriers to accessing a child
  • overcoming the child’s resistance.

These pre-conditions help us to understand why and how an adult perpetrator commits child sexual abuse, and the role an institution plays in facilitating or preventing abuse.

To effectively prevent child sexual abuse, each of these pre-conditions must be addressed and the report of the RC is a timely reminder to us all that these pre-conditions should be considered in the very many individual contexts where adults have access to children.


moohan_sharonv2 Written by Sharon Moohan, partner at BLM

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