This volume examines what was learned about institutional responses to children with harmful sexual behaviours. It discusses the nature and extent of these behaviours and the factors that may contribute to children sexually abusing other children. The volume then outlines how governments and institutions should improve their responses and makes recommendations about improving prevention and increasing the range of interventions available for children with harmful sexual behaviours.
In the course of the inquiry it was learned that the sexual abuse of children by adults does not represent all child sexual abuse that occurs within institutions. Children have also been sexually abused by other children. This volume examines child sexual abuse in institutions by children with harmful sexual behaviours. It looks at the nature and extent of the problem, how institutions and governments currently address it, and what can be done to improve responses to children with harmful sexual behaviours, particularly therapeutic interventions.
In public hearings and private sessions, the Royal Commission heard from many survivors about sexual abuse by children. It was learned that harmful sexual behaviour by children is an ongoing problem. The Royal Commission was told that many of the impacts of harmful sexual behaviour by children resemble the impacts of sexual abuse perpetrated by adults. These include immediate and long‑term adverse effects for victims that can be serious, and detrimental to physical and psychological health, neurobiological development, interpersonal relationships, connection to culture and sexual identity.
The Royal Commission heard from experts, practitioners and survivors about institutions that did not protect children from sexual abuse by other children, did not respond effectively to complaints from children and their families about sexual abuse by a child, and did not provide appropriate support and intervention to either the children harmed or the children who exhibited harmful sexual behaviours.
The term ‘harmful sexual behaviours’ covers a broad spectrum of behaviours. They can range from those that are developmentally inappropriate and harm only the child exhibiting the behaviours, such as compulsive masturbation or inappropriate nudity, to criminal behaviours such as sexual assault.
The spectrum of harmful sexual behaviours and the diversity of children’s backgrounds and circumstances mean that no one response or intervention is suitable for all children with harmful sexual behaviours. A range of interventions is needed, from prevention and early identification through to assessment and therapeutic intervention. For a small group of children, a child protection or criminal justice response may be necessary.
Australia’s overarching policy for protecting children is set out in Protecting Children is Everyone’s Business: National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009–2020 (the National Framework). However, the Royal Commission learned that no state or territory has a comprehensive and coordinated policy approach for preventing, identifying or responding to children with harmful sexual behaviours. This volume suggests governments should build on the public health approach embodied in the National Framework to develop a framework for preventing harmful sexual behaviours occurring, intervening early when problematic or harmful sexual behaviours first emerge, and enabling children with harmful sexual behaviours to access assessment and therapeutic intervention.
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