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New report on parental child sex abuse offender profiles

Media release

13 January 2014

The Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) has released Profiling parental child sex abuse drawing on clinical records of 213 parents who committed sex offences with their children.

“Because few sex offenders are caught, and there is a lack of specific data on parental child sex offenders, this paper provides insight into this offender cohort and helps inform clinical interventions,” author Professor Jane Goodman-Delahunty said.

Child sex abuse estimates in Australia are high with one international meta-analysis estimating a 38% rate for female victims and 13% for male, while the ABS has a more conservative estimate of 15% of the general population, with a 20% victimisation rate for females.

It is also estimated that 10-15%  of child sex offending is committed by a parent.

Most parental child sex offenders were men in a father–child relationship with their victim.

Professor Delhunty, from Charles Sturt University, said: “Through a former NSW program, 213 parental sex offenders participated in an offenders diversion program and provided a profile of offender characteristics which researchers analysed.”

During the 14 year period of observation, all referrals were men (the program subsequently had 1 female offender referral).

Although non-biological fathers (55%) predominated, the high proportion of biological fathers referred for treatment (45%) refuted notions that cultural taboos effectively inhibit biological fathers from perpetrating sexual abuse on their own children. Non-biological parents were stepfathers, foster fathers or de facto spouses of the non-offending parent.

Findings included:

  • Most victims were under 10 at the time of disclosure of abuse
  • 57% of the sample committed offences between 2 and 50 times over an average of 3.5 years
  • The majority – 61% – disclosed no personal history of childhood sexual abuse
  • 11% disclosed further victims while in treatment
  • The majority of the offences admitted (86%) were penetrative (digital or penile) irrespective of the age of the victim. Over three-quarters of the female victims (77%) experienced vaginal penetration.

As many as 55% of the group entered treatment with some history of prior offending and one in five (20%) had commenced their criminal careers as juveniles.

The picture that emerged of parental sex offenders was of a group motivated by criminal needs and some sexual deviance.

“The findings suggest that this group is more criminally versatile than previously acknowledged, both prior to the index offence and subsequently.

“In this respect, they are similar to non-parental child sexual offenders. Therefore, treatment should address their general criminal drives, in addition to sexual offending,” Professor Goodman-Delahunty said.

This further detail of the profile of parental sex offenders provides further information to support clinical practice and preventive interventions to reduce threats to the safety and welfare of young children and their families.

For Comment: Colin Campbell 0418 159 525/ 02 62609244