Identification and disclosure of child abuse

Identifying child sexual abuse especially in an institutional setting is the first and often most important step in protecting children and preventing its re-occurrence.

It is not sufficient just to educate children to recognise behaviours that constitute sexual abuse, and instruct them to tell someone if they are abused. Instead, adults also need to be attuned to signs of harm in children and equipped to identify signs of possible sexual abuse. Adults and the wider community need to better understand the dynamics of sexual abuse and how to recognise grooming tactics, and to notice emotional and behavioural changes in children.

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Impacts of child sexual abuse: the ripple effect

Volume 3 of the final Report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (the RC) considers and explains the impacts of child sexual abuse in institutional contexts on survivors and often on their family members, friends, and entire communities.

The impacts of child sexual abuse are different for each survivor, for many it can have deep rooted and lasting impacts while others do not feel that they have been profoundly harmed by the experience.

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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.

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Review – Volume 15: Contemporary detention environments

Chapter 15 of the Royal Commission (RC) final report focuses on the risk of child sexual abuse in detention environments since 1990, as well as the responses of governments and institutions to the abuse. In particular it considers youth detention and immigration detention and recognises that children are generally safer in community settings than in closed detention.  It also makes 15 recommendations to prevent child sexual abuse from occurring in detention environments and, where it does occur, to help ensure effective responses.

Lawful detention and detention-like environments include physically ‘closed’ and community-based detention environments, and otherwise ‘open’ institutions in which children are subjected to restrictive practices, such as physical restraint.

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Royal Commission recommendations for advocacy, support and therapeutic treatment services

Volume 9 of the Final Report of the Royal Commission (RC) examines what the commission has learned about the advocacy and support and therapeutic treatment service needs of victims and survivors of child sexual abuse in institutional contexts, and outlines recommendations for improving service systems to better respond to those needs and assist survivors towards recovery.

There is a continuing need and demand for advocacy and support, and therapeutic treatment services. However there are barriers to help-seeking and effective service responses and it is noted that inadequate service responses can re-traumatise survivors of child sexual abuse. The Final Report seeks national leadership to reduce stigma, promote help-seeking and support good practice. To these ends, there are nine recommendations, many of which require additional Australian government, state or territorial government funding:

  1. Dedicated community support services.
  2. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander healing approaches.
  3. Support services for victims and survivors who are disabled.
  4. A legal advice and referral service for victims and survivors.
  5. A national website and helpline as a gateway to accessible advice and information on childhood sexual abuse.
  6. Existing sexual assault service gaps to be addressed.
  7. Primary Health Networks to facilitate joined up, collaborative care and support services.
  8. Government, state and territorial government agencies to ensure relevant policy frameworks and strategies recognise the needs of victims and survivors and the benefits of implementing trauma-informed approaches.
  9. A national centre to raise awareness and understanding of the impacts of child sexual abuse, support help-seeking and guide best practice advocacy and support and therapeutic treatment.

Whilst some of these are jurisdiction specific many are likely to be similarly recommended by the IICSA and the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry.

As ever the potential block on ensuring these recommendations are actioned will be the availability of government funding.


Hughes_Frank Written by Frank Hughes, partner at BLM

Royal Commission – Residential homes, missions, reformatories and hospitals prior to 1990

In our last blog we commented upon the conclusions of the Royal Commission (RC) in respect of out-of-home care after 1990. Volume 11 of the RC report considers out-of-home care in the period spanning the end of World War II to 1990 and covers what was learnt about survivors’ experiences of, and institutional responses to, child sexual abuse in residential homes, missions, reformatories and hospitals.

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Royal Commission – Out-of-home care

The Royal Commission’s (RC) final report includes a volume specifically dealing with institutional responses to child sexual abuse in contemporary (post 1990) out-of-home care.

The out-of-home system in Australia is similar to the UK in that when a child is considered to be unsafe living with their family or in an informal care arrangement, they are placed with alternative carers on a short or long term basis. These placements usually occur after there has been some statutory intervention.

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