The Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was established on 11 January 2013 to investigate the responses of institutions to allegations of instances of child sexual abuse. The national investigation aims to identify systems which have failed to protect children in order to improve laws, policies, and practices (Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse [RCIRCSA], 2013).

This Royal Commission has resulted in the most comprehensive investigation of the problem of child sexual abuse ever conducted in Australia, and in terms of the breadth and depth of public hearings, private sessions, and research reports, the most comprehensive worldwide. The Royal Commission has released information and reports that help to increase understanding and address childhood sexual abuse, not just in institutional settings, but in familial and community settings. The information, policy and practice recommendations produced by the Royal Commission is too vast to summarise here.

Practitioners are invited to familiarise themselves with the work and publications of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

A feature of The Royal Commission is that a larger number of males than females have come forward and reported childhood sexual abuse that occurred within institutional settings. In an early report (2014), the ration of those attending private sessions to report child sexual abuse was 64% Male and 36% Female. This disproportionate number of males reporting sexual abuse in institutional settings may be influenced by a number of factors, including that males are more likely to be placed in institutional care, detention centres, be involved with sports clubs, and, in relation to Churches, have ascribed the designated role of 'altar boys' and placed in the care of the priest.

The Royal Commission Final Report - Institutional Childhood Sexual Abuse

“A commissioned review of research on the impacts of child sexual abuse in institutions described the influence of institutional culture on the severity of impacts as follows:

“‘Institutional contexts of privacy, power and control create a climate conducive to abuse that is more severe, more likely to occur over longer periods of time and more likely to involve multiple offenders, all factors known to be associated with adverse outcomes for victims/survivors.’

“In one study, victims of abuse who had lived in ‘closed’ or ‘total institutions’ reported that the sense of powerlessness, helplessness and betrayal they experienced there may have exacerbated the impacts of the abuse. These highly controlled, residential institutions were often large, densely populated and physically, socially and culturally isolated from the broader community. In effect, they were closed to the outside world. They typically exhibited hierarchical and authoritarian features, with formalised, strict rules and procedures. Children who were mandatorily kept in these institutions described feeling powerless to escape or believing that whatever happened at the institution was ‘normal’, contributing to the harm they experienced.”

Clergy abuse and child sexual abuse in faith based institutions

The extensive problem of clergy sexual abuse has been the subject of public record, enquiries, and research investigations increasing in intensity. The offence of childhood sexual abuse committed by members of the clergy and employees of Churches and faith based organisations has been a key focus on the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which provides the most comprehensive overview available of the extent of this problem and the characteristics of the offending context.

Extended reading

More information from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse can be accessed through the website here:


Clergy abuse

Royal Commission Public Hearing - Case Study 50 - Statistics of Complaints from Catholic Church
  • 4,444 Complaints of child sexual abuse (1980 - 2015)
  • 1880 Alleged perpetrators (90% Male)
  • 78% Victims male
  • Age at time of assault: Boys 11.6yrs, Girls 10.4yrs
  • 7% of all Catholic Priests alleged perpetrators
    • 595 or 32% religious brothers
    • 572 or 30% priests
    • 543 or 29% lay people
    • 96 or 5% religious sisters.

Percentage of religious brothers alleged perpetrators between 1950 and 2010
  • 40.4% of Brother St John of God
  • 22% of Christian Brothers
  • 21.9% of Salesian of Don Bosco
  • 20.4% of Marist Brothers
  • 13.8% of De La Salle Brothers

These are just the offences reported to the Catholic Church.

Royal Commission Public Hearing – Case Study 52 Anglican Church Authorities in Australia
  • 1082 Complaints of Child Sexual Abuse (1980 - 2015)
  • 569 Alleged Perpetrators (90% Male)
  • 75% Victims Male, 25% Female
  • Age at time of assault: Boys 11.7yrs, Girls 11.5yrs. Since 1980s average age to 13yrs for both males and females.
  • Role of person perpetrating
    • 247 (43%) Ordained clergy
    • 285 (50%) Lay people
    • 37 (7%) Status unknown
Breakdown of reported 1082 complaints by province and diocese
  • Queensland 420 (38%)
  • Brisbane 371 (33%)
  • Adelaide 155 (14%)
  • Melbourne 96 (9%)
Location of offending and gender of complainant
Location Percentage Male Complainants
22% Schools (47% Brisbane - 69% Non Residential, 31% Residential) 88% Male Non Residential, 83% Residential
20% Alleged perpetrator’s home 93% Male
14% Orphanages/residential homes 79% Male
14% Youth camp/recreational facilities 80% Male
12% Church 74% Male
9% Rectory 60% Male
9% Public space 40% Male
7% Complainants home 46% Male
32% Other 88% Male

Les's story

Les was sexually abused as a child in a Catholic School in the United Kingdom. In watching this video clip, it is useful to note how religious authority and discourse and the power of the clergy/teacher is utilised to justify and facilitate the sexual abuse and Les’s silence for over 50 years.

Information from investigative report completed prior to commencement of the Royal Commission

Presented here is a brief overview of information garnered from investigative reports conducted by the Catholic and Anglican Churches prior to the commencement of the Royal Commission. What has subsequently become clear is that these reports underestimate the extent of the problem of child sexual abuse committed by clergy and members of faith communities. These reports did not adequately address the systemic failures to report and investigate childhood sexual abuse by members of the Church, nor did they account for and provide redress for the deliberate efforts to silence victims and cover up the problem.

Whilst it is difficult to establish prevalence rates for clergy sexual abuse, it is apparent that, unlike familial child sexual abuse where females are twice as likely to be victimised, males are more likely to be sexually victimised by members of Churches and faith based institutions. (Parkinson, Oates, & Jayakody, 2012; Terry, Leland-Smith, Schuth, Kelly, Vollman, & Massey, 2011).

  • A study of the Anglican Church in Australia reported 75% male victims (Parkinson et al., 2012).
  • Research about the Catholic Church in the United States reported 81% male victims and 40% of these were aged 11-14 years (Terry et al., 2011).

At the Parliamentary Inquiry on the handling of child abuse by religious and other non-government organisations, Victoria Police highlighted the gendered nature of clergy sexual abuse. Victoria Police (2012), stated that over past 56 years, they had investigated 2110 offences committed by clergy and church workers against 519 victims, of which 370 were committed by Catholic priests or brothers, of whom 87% of the victims were boys aged 11 or 12 (Victoria Police, 2012).

Extended reading

Victoria Police (2012). Submission to Parliamentary Inquiry on the handling of child abuse by religious and other non-government organisations.

Abuse within Anglican and Catholic institutions

There are limitations in the available published data about the Anglican Church in Australia (Parkinson, et al., 2012) and the Catholic Church in the US (Terry, et al., 2011), because these studies relied on reports documented by these Churches about complaints, and not all dioceses or branches of each institution provided uniform types of data. For example, only 20 of the 23 invited dioceses took part in the Anglican study in Australia, and due to staffing shortages, only 75% of files could be analysed (Parkinson, et al., 2012, p. 556). Also, it is clearly apparent from the work of the Royal Commission that complaints reported to these church bodies and early investigations significantly under-represented the actual rate of abuse. Nonetheless, the key findings of each study are outlined below.

Parkinson and colleagues were invited by the Anglican Church of Australia to conduct a study of child sexual abuse complaints reported to Anglican Church professional standards units across the nation. The findings of this retrospective study related to 191 allegations of CSA which were reported by 180 complainants, and the 191 allegations were made against 135 individuals. Half of the cases were treated as substantiated by an 'authoritative decision maker such as the bishop', and just over a third (34%) as inconclusive. Of the 44 cases that were to go to court, 53% resulted in a conviction, and the allegation was considered erroneous in three cases (Parkinson et al., 2012, p. 557). A number of key findings were identified from the study, influencing is understood about clergy abuse.

Characteristics of accused persons
  • Of the perpetrators, 98% were male aged in their 20s and 30s.
  • 78% of the perpetrators were clergy members. Of the non-clergy perpetrators, most were youth workers, half being leaders of church youth groups or organisations.
  • The two females accused each had had one complaint made by other females and in both cases were treated as inconclusive by the church leadership.
  • For complaints about clergy members there were an average 12.7 years between when the individual was ordained and the first incident.
  • For 29% of the perpetrators from the clergy, the first known offence occurred within the first five years after ordination.
  • 80% of those accused had received only one complaint; the remaining 20% accounted for 43% of all cases and there was an average of 3.1 victims per offender.
Characteristics of complainants
  • Three quarters of complainants were male.
  • Of the complainants – 67% were between ages of 10 to 15 at the age of the alleged first abuse, with 51% less than 14 years, and 11% under 10.
Circumstances of abuse
  • Three quarters of cases were alleged to involve more than one incident.
  • Almost half of male complainants reported that the abuse lasted three years or longer compared with a quarter of girls.
  • Grooming activities included: showing special attention; engaging in skinny dipping with boys and buying them alcohol, chocolate, and presents; sending text messages at all hours; and inviting boys to watch videos. Boys from dysfunctional families were targeted for abuse.
Types of sexual acts
  • 26% of males and 13% of females alleged they were made to fondle the accused.
  • Vaginal intercourse was alleged by 28% of girls and anal intercourse alleged by 30% of boys.
  • Oral sex was alleged by 40% of boys and 15% of girls.
  • The accused home and church premises were the most common locations of abuse, with church camps a more common location for males (21% compared with 4% of females), and females more likely to be abused in their own home (24% compared with 7% of males) (Parkinson et al., 2012, p. 557 – 561).
Extended reading
  • The article from Parkinson, et al (2009). An older publication from the article discussed above can be accessed here: Parkinson, P., Oates, R. & Jayakody, A. (2009). Study of reported childhood sexual abuse in the Anglican Church.
  • See also Fater, K., Mullaney, J. (2000). The lived experience of men who allege sexual abuse by clergy. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 21(3), p.281-295.
Video Clip

Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse – Anglican Church case:

Findings from the United States Catholic Church study

A study undertaken in the United States, by the John Jay College Research Team, explored allegations made within the Catholic Church. Findings identified allegations of sexual abuse against 4% of priests who served in ministry during the period from 1950 through 2002 (Terry et al, 2011). The number of individual reports of sexual abuse by priests made known to US Catholic dioceses by early 2003 was 10,667 (Terry et al, 2011). Results from the study identified varying characteristics surrounding clergy abuse within the Catholic Church during 1950-2002.

Characteristics of accused persons
  • The annual number of incidents of sexual abuse by priests increased steadily to a peak in the 1970’s and early 1980’s and then declined sharply after 1985.
  • 69% of offending clergy were diocesan priests.
  • Age of offending priests ranged from mid-twenties to ninety at the time they first abused, with the largest group – 40% – abusing when they were between the ages of 30 and 39.
  • The majority of offending priests (56%) had one victim, though 3.5 % of offending priests were responsible for abusing 26% of victims who had come forward by 2002.
Characteristics of complainants
  • Of individuals abused, 81% were males.
  • Over 40% of the individuals abused were males aged between 11 and 14.
  • 51% of the abused individuals (both male and female) were aged 11-14 years; 27% were aged 15-17 years; 16% were aged 8-10 years; and 6% were aged under 7 years.
Type and location of offences
  • Offending priests were accused of committing more than twenty different types of sexual offences, ranging from touching outside of clothes to penetration.
  • Nearly all priests with allegations of abuse committed more than one type of abusive act and involved youths in explicit sexual activity.
  • The most common place for abuse to occur was in the home of the priest (41%), in the church (16%), in the victim’s home (12%), in a vacation house (10%), in a school (10%) and in a car (10%).
Diocesan action in response to reports of abuse
  • 40% of priests with allegations of sexual abuse participated in some type of treatment program.
  • Police were contacted regarding 14% of offending priests, though many incidents were reported after the statute of limitations had expired.
  • Overall, 3% of all priests with allegations were criminally convicted, and about 2% received prison sentences (Terry et al., 2011, pp. 8-10).

Other findings

The research study by the John Jay College Research Team also presented findings about the causes and context of sexual abuse by Catholic Priests in the United States. These findings are as follows:

Historical and socio-cultural context
  • A substantial delay in the reporting of sexual abuse is common (p. 3).
  • An exclusively male priesthood and the commitment to celibate chastity were invariant during the increase, peak, and decease in abuse incidents, and thus are not the cause of the 'crisis'.
Seminary education
  • Regular assessment of priests once they are ordained varies considerably from diocese to diocese. In most dioceses, pastors are not obliged to undergo regular assessment of any substance (p. 3).
  • Many accused priests began abusing years after they were ordained, at times of increased job stress, social isolation, and deceased contact with peers.
Individual psychological factors
  • Less than 5 percent of the priests with allegations of abuse exhibited behaviour consistent with a diagnosis of pedophilia (a psychiatric disorder that is characterised by recurrent fantasies, urges, and behaviours about prepubescent children). Thus, it is inaccurate to refer to abusers as 'pedophile priests' (p. 3)
  • The majority of priests who were given residential treatment following an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor also reported sexual behaviour with adult partners.
  • Priests who were sexually abused as minors themselves were more likely to abuse minors than those without a history of abuse.
  • Priests who lacked close social bonds, and those whose families spoke negatively or not at all about sex, were more likely to abuse than those who had a history of close social bonds and positive discussions of sexual behaviour.
Organisational factors
  • Diocesan leaders were more likely to respond to the sexual abuse allegations within the institution, using investigation, evaluation, and administrative leave, rather than external mechanisms of criminal law. Many of the diocesan leaders' actions were not transparent to those outside the church. (p. 4).
  • The procedures for formal canonical responses such as laicisation, or dismissal from the clerical state, were complicated, time consuming, and often avoided.
  • Some bishops were 'innovators' who offered organisational leadership to address problems of sexual abuse of minors. Other bishops, often in dioceses where the Catholic Church was highly influential, were slow to recognize the importance of the problem of sexual abuse by priests or to respond to victims.
Onset, persistence, and desistance from abuse
  • Like sexual offenders in the general population, priests with allegations of abuse show patterns of behaviour consistent with David Finkelhor's often-quoted four factor model for offending:
    • (1) motivation to abuse (often emotional congruence with the minor, as well as a blockage to [nonsexual] intimate relationships with adults);
    • (2) overcoming internal inhibitions to abuse (through the excuses and justifications that alleviate their sense of responsibility for the behaviour);
    • (3) overcoming external factors (by creating opportunities for abuse to occur);
    • and (4) overcoming the child's resistance (through grooming techniques). (p. 4-5)
  • Minors who were abused typically did not disclose their victimisation; the signs of abuse were not detected by those close to them.
  • Detection and an official report were rarely the reason for the end of the abuse incident, as reports of abuse were often made decades after the abuse occurred. The causes of desistance are complex and include a combination of factors, such as increased understanding by the victim that the behaviour of the priest was wrong, others (often peers) finding out about the abuse, the victim removing him or herself from the situation... and in some cases self-correction by the abusing priests.
Situational factors and prevention policies
  • For abuse to occur, three factors must converge: there must be a person who is motivated to commit the act of abuse, there must be a potential victim, and there must be a lack of a 'capable guardian' (p. 5).
  • Education of potential victims, potential abusers, and potential 'guardians' is essential to reduce the opportunities to abuse.
  • Continued outreach to priests after ordination is important in reinforcing the knowledge and understanding about human formation.
  • For diocesan efforts to be accepted by the community, they must be direct and transparent, and they must become part of the conscience of the community. Only when the policies about and responses to abuse are 'routine' will the community consider them to be acceptable (Terry et al., 2011, pp. 3-5).
Extended reading

John Jay College Research Centre (2011). The causes and context of sexual abuse of minors by catholic priests in the United States, 1950-2010. Washington, DC: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Video Clip

Unholy silence – ABC Documentary about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in Australia

Watch the Four Corners report on Unholy Silence here: ABC Website: Unholy Silence.

Impacts of Childhood Sexual Abuse by Members of the Clergy

Below is a collection of articles, reports and books looking at the experiences of people who experienced childhood sexual abuse by members of the church.

The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (Ireland)

The Commission was established on 23 May, 2000 to hear evidence from persons who allege they suffered abuse in childhood, in institutions, during the period from 1940 or earlier, to the present day. The report was published in 2009.

Read Chapter 7: Record of abuse (male witnesses). See section 7.109 which summarises the evidence provided by witnesses of sexual abuse. Please take care reading this as it contains content which may be triggering.

The lived experience of adult male survivors who allege childhood sexual abuse by clergy

Kerry Fater, Jo Ann Mullaney
(doi: 10.1080/016128400248095)
Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 2000, Vol. 21, No. 3: pp. 281-295
This study describes the essential structure of the lived experience of adult male survivors of childhood sexual abuse by clergy. Read more.

Child sexual abuse in the Anglican church of Australia

Patrick N. Parkinsona, R. Kim Oatesa & Amanda A. Jayakodya
(doi: 10.1080/10538712.2012.689424)
Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, Vol. 21, Issue 5, 2012: pp. 553-570.

This article reports on a retrospective study of cases of child sexual abuse complaints made against clergy, other employed pastoral staff, and volunteers in the Anglican Church of Australia between 1990 and 2008. There were 191 allegations of sexual abuse made by 180 complainants against 135 individuals. Twenty-seven of those 135 had more than one complaint made against them. Three-quarters of all complainants were male. The most likely explanation for the large proportion of abused males is that the church gives many more opportunities for abusers to be alone with boys than with girls. Prevention strategies need to focus on reducing the opportunities for abuse to occur as well strategies concerning the recruitment of professional staff and volunteers.

Child sexual abuse and the Catholic church: Gender, power, and organisational culture

Marie Keenan, PhD.
Oxford University Press, 2011
ISBN 0199895678, 9780199895670

This is a meticulously researched inside look at child sexual abuse by clergy, this exhaustive, hard-hitting analysis weaves together interviews with abusive priests and church historical and administrative details to propose a new way of thinking about clerical sexual offenders. Linking the personal and the institutional, researcher and therapist Marie Keenan locates the problem of child sexual abuse not exclusively in individual pathology, but also within larger systemic factors, such as the very institution of priesthood itself, the Catholic take on sexuality, clerical culture, power relations, governance structures of the Catholic Church, the process of formation for priesthood and religious life, and the complex manner in which these factors coalesce to create serious institutional risks for boundary violations, including child sexual abuse. Keenan draws on the priests’ own words not to excuse their horrific crimes, but to offer the first in-depth account of a tragic, multi-faceted phenomenon.

Therapeutic approaches of childhood sexual abuse: A review

Llewelyn, S.P. (1997)
Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 4, pp.32-41.

Healing the soul after religious abuse: The dark heaven of recovery

Rausch, Mikele (2009).
Westport, CT, Praeger Publishers. U.S.A.

The forgiveness myth: How to heal your hurts, move on and be happy again when you can’t - or won’t - forgive.

Egberg, Gary & Raiter, Wayne, (2008).
Original Pathways Press, U.S.A

Silenced by God. An examination of unique characteristics within sexual abuse by clergy

Farrell, D & Taylor, M (2000).
Counselling and Psychology Review, 15, pp 22-31.

Boys tears in men’s eyes: How can we help?

Thorpe, B & Barry, W., (2004, Spring).
Human Development, 25, pp.40-44.

For Christ’s sake: End sexual abuse in the Catholic church... for good.

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, (2013).
Garratt Publishing, Aust., ISBN: 9781922152602.

In this new book, Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, controversial author of Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church, pulls no punches in his effort to go beyond merely “managing” sexual abuse in the Church. He seeks to identify, uproot and eradicate abuse – and the poor response to it – by addressing the causes: without limitation.

Understanding the impact of clergy sexual abuse: Betrayal and recovery.

Mc Macklin, Robert. A; Keare, Terence, M & Kline, Paul, M (Eds) (2009).
Routledge. U.S.A.

When teachers, clergy and caretakers sexually abuse children and adolescents

Winton, Mark & Mara, Barbara. (2003).
Carolina Academic Press, U.S.A

Effects of clergy sexual abuse on adults victimised as children: A comparison with adult males victimised by a layperson.

Shea, Diane (2008).
VDM Verlag, U.S.A.

Sexual abuse in sports institutions

Faith based institutions are not the only institutions that are beginning to develop a body of public data about child sexual abuse allegations against their personnel. The Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse conducted a "Public hearing into sporting clubs and institutions" on the 16th of March, 2016. A full transcript of this hearing and the difficulties experienced can be found on the Royal Commission website.

The need for more oversight and published reports about child sexual abuse in sports institutions was made by Professor Celia Brackenridge, when she proposed the development of a UK national database of abuse-in-sports institutions statistics (Brackenridge, 2003). Parent and Demers' (2001) research in Quebec highlighted the large number of children and young people who engage with sporting clubs, and the lack of legislation and procedure guiding child protection. For example, "In Quebec, there are 63 sports federations which oversee several hundred local and regional clubs including more than 500,000 young people. It is also estimated that more than 600,000 people work as volunteers in the Quebec sports system" (Parent & Demers, 2011, p.121). Despite the very large numbers of children involved in sporting association, the prevalence and characteristics of child sexual abuse in this context has to date been under-researched.

Research into sexual abuse in sport began with prevalence studies (Kirby & Greaves, 1996 cited in Kirby, Greaves & Hankivsky, 2000; Leahy, Pretty & Tenenbaum, 2002), and qualitative studies about exploitation of adult athletes as well as children and youth (Brackenridge, 1997; Cense & Brackenridge, 2001).

“In the only national study of its type, Kirby and Greaves (1996) investigated sexual harassment and abuse among former and current Canadian Olympians and found that over 8% of respondents had experienced ‘forced sexual intercourse’ with what the researchers termed an ‘authority figure’ in their sport. Apart from this single study, research knowledge of the prevalence and incidence of sexual abuse in sport remains elusive” (Brackenridge, 1996, p. 118-119).

Although this study focused on adult athletes of both genders, it points to significant prevalence of reports of forced sexual intercourse for elite athletes.

Another study, by Leahy, Petty and Tenebaum (2002) focused on Australian club and elite level sports institutions. They found that:

“...results from the total sample (n=370) revealed that 31% of female and 21% of male athletes reported experiencing sexual abuse at some time in their lives. Of these, 41% of females and 29% of males had been sexually abused within the sports environment” (Leahy, Petty and Tenebaum, 2002, 16).

In terms of research specifically about the child sexual abuse of boys in organised sports, Hartill (2009) observed that the topic is largely absent from research literature. He notes the lack of empirical data on the subject, and the need to rely on testimonies as a valuable source of information for beginning to understand the characteristics of the abuse. Hartill (2009) identifies the book Why I Didn’t Say Anything by the ex-NHL player Sheldon Kennedy (2006) as an example of an account which demonstrates how influential norms associated with 'masculinity' were in the context of the abuse (Now a documentary 'Swift Current').

Hartill also provided a sociological analysis of how the "institutions of childhood, masculinity, and sports fit together" (Hartill, 2009, p. 225). He took the position "that the everyday practice and discourse of male sports (its cultural norms) provide an environment conducive to sexual abuse of male children" (Hartill, 2009, p. 232).

Therefore, in the absence of research literature specifically about the prevalence and characteristics of abuse of males in sports, we turn to broader literature. Although her work focused mostly on the abuse of girls in sport (and as can be seen in Hartill’s analysis, the contextual issues for boys are largely under-researched and may be different to those for girls), Brackenridge (1997) established three sets of risk factors for sexual abuse in sport associated with coach (perpetrator), athlete (victim), and sport (situation) (Brackenridge, 1997).

Coach variables include:

  • an older male coach,
  • with a high reputation,
  • trusted by the parents/carers, and
  • with many chances to be alone with the athlete at training, competitions and away trips.

Athlete variables include:

  • a young female with low self esteem but high talent,
  • a distant relationship with her parents/carers, and
  • completely devoted to her coach.

Sport variables include those with:

  • weak recruitment protocols,
  • poor climates for reporting and debating sexual abuse, and
  • many opportunities for away trips (Brackenridge, 1997).

Researchers in Australia and internationally have been faced with a lack of information about the number of allegations, and the gender of victims, of CSA by personnel of sporting institutions. Therefore, researchers have conducted analysis of events described by media reports (Brackenridge, Bishopp, Moussalli & Tapp, 2008). This study reported on an analysis of 159 cases of criminally defined sexual abuse by personnel such as coaches, teachers, or instructors directly involved with athletes, reported in national and international newspapers in the US, UK, Australia, and Canada between 1992 and 2006.

This study found that there were:

  • 108 incidents against females,
  • 45 towards males, and
  • 6 cases where perpetrators offended towards both male and female victims (Brackenridge, Bishopp, Moussalli & Tapp, 2008).

Victim age at the time of the abuse ranged between 9 – 21 years for females and 11 and 17 years for males, although some of the perpetrators with multiple victims had abused victims as young as 5 years old. The majority of the cases "fell within the hepephilic [adolescent victim] range, indicating either a particular type of sexual interest among sport offenders or a particular situational opportunity presented by sport" (Brackenridge et al, 2008, p. 396). The data about abuse contexts in this study confirmed earlier findings by Cense and Brackenridge (2001) which showed four situational factors of high risk of abuse:

The four situational factors of high risk of sexual abuse in sports institutions were:

  1. when the athlete was touring;
  2. during massage by the coach;
  3. at the coach's house; and
  4. when the athlete was driven home by the coach (Cense & Brackenridge, 2001).

The following is a video of an interview with elite athlete Sheldon Kennedy about his experience of sexual abuse in sport:

Sex abuse | Sports | Hockey | Sheldon Kennedy | Graham James

The following video montage provides examples of cases of sexual abuse of male and female athletes around the world:

Sexual abuse in sport, 2013

Extended reading

Brackenridge, C. (2011) Myths about sexual abuse in sports: Sexual abuse of young athletes underestimated, under-studied.

Sexual abuse in community associations and groups including Scouts and YMCA

The organisations in this category of institutions have been referred to as "volunteer organisations that work with children" (Lear, 1997, p. 144). For example, in the US, such organisations include "Boy Scouts/Girl Scouts of America, Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America, YMCA [Young Men's Christian Association] and YWCA [Young Women's Christian Association" (Lear, 1997, p. 144), and there are similar counterparts throughout Australia and other parts of the world.

There has been no systematic research published about of childhood sexual abuse allegations against Scouts personnel in the US. However, in 2012, Seattle Attorney Tim Kosnoff "released to the public for the first time the Boy Scouts' own internal list of 1,900 accused sex abusers, in advance of the court ordered release of the files by the Scouts itself within the next week or so. Kosnoff posted the list on his website" (PR Newswire New York, 8 October, 2012). It was also stated that the Boys Scouts of America had internal files which "document some 20,000 alleged pedophiles over the past 100 years" (PR Newswire New York, 8 October, 2012).

The Royal Commission held a public hearing in Sydney from Monday 21 October to Friday 1 November 2013. The hearing examined the responses of YMCA and police to allegations made in 2011 that Jonathon Lord sexually abused children in the care of YMCA.

Findings from Case Study 2 are now available. View the Report of Case Study No. 2 – YMCA NSW’s response to the conduct of Jonathan Lord (PDF 1.5 MB).

Recent media reported that "The Scout movement is facing serious questions over its handling of child abuse allegations after former Scout leaders in the Hunter alleged officials in the movement turned a blind eye to the activities of a paedophile who went on to work with vulnerable children in an Aboriginal foster care agency" (Callinan, 2012, p.2), and other reports that "a scout leader interfered with several children in Canberra and Sydney in the 1980s" (The Canberra Times, 25 Jan 2013, p. 1).

Extended reading

The Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has also reported on cases of sexual abuse perpetrated within Scouts and YMCA.

Go back to Characteristics of child sexual abuse: Similarities and differences in experience and contexts.



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