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Chapter 8: Spotlight on child victims—crime and child maltreatment

This edition of Australian crime: Facts & figures introduces a new chapter, which aims to provide information on a specific topic of interest. Unlike other chapters, the information contained in this chapter will change from year to year.

While the focus this year is on children as victims of crime, statistics related to child maltreatment are also presented due to the close connection between these two issues. However, it is important to note that while police may be involved in the investigation of suspected child maltreatment, less than 10 percent of all child protection matters in Australia involve the prosecution of an offender through the criminal justice system (usually for sexual and physical assault, criminal neglect, manslaughter and/or homicide).

In most cases, child maltreatment and protection matters are dealt with by statutory child protection services in each state or territory (Reference 45) where the majority of cases are managed through health and other therapeutic interventions. Less than 10 percent of concerns reported to child protection services will subsequently involve statutory protective intervention to keep a child safe. An example of such an intervention is where a protection application is sought through the children’s courts in order to seek legally mandated supervision of the family, or the temporary or permanent removal of the child from the family because of concerns for the child’s safety and wellbeing.

Therefore, a distinction must be made between children as the victims of crime (which will include those children whose experience of child abuse or neglect constitutes a criminal offence) and the broader population of victims of child maltreatment.

The information presented in this chapter is derived from the ABS’ Recorded Crime Victims, Australia and Child Protection, Australia published by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. However, it is important to note that due availability, data from Child Protection, Australia includes the year 2010–11.

Child victims of crime

That crime can have a severe and lasting impact on its victims is especially true in the case of children. Exposure to crime and violence has been shown to impact the child’s subsequent development, influencing their physical, social and psychological functioning (Reference 29). The information in the following figures includes the incidents of crime victimisation that occurred over a period of six years to individuals aged from birth to 14 years of age.

Figure 121: Male victims of violent crime aged 0–14 years, by selected crimes, 2005–10 (rate per 100,000 relevant population)

Male victims of violent crime aged 0–14 years, by selected crimes, 2005–10 (rate per 100,000 relevant population)

Note: Does not include information from Tasmania, Northern Territory or the Australian Capital Territory

  • In line with victimisation patterns in the general population, males aged 0–14 years have consistently experienced assault at a higher rate than any other type of violent crime. Specifically, males aged 10–14 years were physically assaulted at a rate of 332 per 100,000 in 2005, compared with 361 per 100,000 in 2010. Over the past six years, the rate of assault victimisation for males aged 0–14 years has risen by nine percent.
  • Sexual assaults against males aged 0–14 years occurred, on average, at a rate of 78 per 100,000 in 2010. There was a slight increase in the rate in 2009, when it rose from 76 per 100,000 in 2008 to 84 per 100,000.
  • The rate of kidnapping/abduction was fairly stable over the seven year period, plateauing at an average of five per 100,000 each year.
  • The crimes of murder, attempted murder and blackmail/extortion all occurred at a rate of less than one per 100,000 males in 2010. This is consistent with the pattern evident in the previous years.

Source: Reference 1

Figure 122: Female victims of crime aged 0–14 years, by selected crimes, 2005–10 (rate per 100,000 relevant population)

Female victims of crime aged 0–14 years, by selected crimes, 2005–10 (rate per 100,000 relevant population)

Note: Does not include information from Tasmania, Northern Territory or the Australian Capital Territory

  • The rate of sexual assault for females aged 0–14 years was almost four times higher than for 0–14 year old males.
  • There has been some fluctuation in the rate of assault and sexual assault victimisation experienced by females aged 0–14 years. The rate of sexual assault victimisation for females was higher than that for assault for the years 2005 (274 per 100,000), 2007 (301 per 100,000), 2008 (284 per 100,000) and 2009 (309 per 100,000).
  • In 2009, the rate of assault victimisation against females was the highest it had been over the six year period at 295 per 100,000. It declined by two percent in 2010 to 290 per 100,000.
  • Kidnapping/abduction was the next most common type of victimisation experienced by females aged 0–14 years. Kidnapping/abduction peaked at a rate of 10 per 100,000 in 2008, while in 2010 it was six per 100,000.
  • For females, murder, attempted murder and blackmail and extortion all occurred at a rate of less than one per 100,000.

Source: Reference 1

Figure 123: Male victims of crime aged 0–9 years, by selected crimes, 2005–10 (rate per 100,000 relevant population)

Male victims of crime aged 0–9 years, by selected crimes, 2005–10 (rate per 100,000 relevant population)

Note: Does not include information from Tasmania, Northern Territory or the Australian Capital Territory

  • Male children aged between birth and nine years were assaulted and sexually assaulted at a higher rate compared with any other crime. Specifically, in 2010, birth to nine year olds were assaulted at a rate of 125 per 100,000 and sexually assaulted at a rate of 55 per 100,000.
  • The rate of kidnapping and abduction of males aged from birth to nine years was highest in the years 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2009 at four per 100,000 children. In 2010, the rate had fallen by 26 percent to three per 100,000.
  • Over the past two years, murder, attempted murder, robbery and blackmail and extortion of males aged birth to nine has remained less than one per 100,000.

Source: Reference 1

Figure 124: Female victims of crime aged 0–9 years, by selected crimes, 2005–10 (rate per 100,000 relevant population)

Female victims of crime aged 0–9 years, by selected crimes, 2005–10 (rate per 100,000 relevant population)

Note: Does not include information from Tasmania, Northern Territory or the Australian Capital Territory

  • The rate of sexual assault against females aged birth to nine years has fluctuated between 2005 and 2010. Specifically, the rate fell substantially between 2007 and 2008, decreasing from 162 to 133 per 100,000. It rose slightly in 2009 to 140 per 100,000 before falling by eight percent to 128 per 100,000 in 2010.
  • The rate of assault was fairly consistent between 2005 and 2008; remaining on average at 95 per 100,000. However, an unexplained peak occurred in 2009 when the rate rose to 112 per 100,000. This appears to be a one-off increase, as in 2010 the rate had fallen again to 87 per 100,000.
  • The rate of kidnapping and abduction has been in decline since 2008, when it decreased by 44 percent from six to three per 100,000 in 2009. The rates for murder, attempted murder, robbery and blackmail and extortion have remained at less than one per 100,000 over the past two years.

Source: Reference 1

Relationship to offender

The ABS’ Recorded Crime Victims, Australia collects information about the relationship between alleged offenders and victims for the recorded crimes of assault and sexual assault. The patterns of offender–victim relationships for both assault and sexual assault were discussed in Chapter 2. It was highlighted that in most cases, the offender is known in some way to the victim. The reliance that children have on others to meet their primary needs makes them particularly vulnerable to victimisation from people known or related to them (ie caregivers). There is likely to be significant underreporting given that children, particularly young children, will be unable or less likely to report such crimes, particularly those involving close family members as offenders. Therefore, physical evidence or someone witnessing the assault—often not possible with such assault matters—will be more likely to lead to a report of a crime to police, criminal investigation and the subsequent charging of an alleged offender.

Figure 125: Offender/victim relationship for child victims aged 0–14 of assault, 2010 (%)

Offender/victim relationship for child victims aged 0–14 of assault, 2010 (%)

n=12,170. Does not include Western Australian data

  • In 2010, the most common relationship between child victims of assault and their offenders was of known, non-family members (43%). Thirty-four percent were victimised by a family member, while only 19 percent were reportedly victimised by a stranger.

Source: Reference 1

Figure 126: Offender/victim relationship for child victims aged 0–14 of sexual assault, 2010 (%)

Offender/victim relationship for child victims aged 0–14 of sexual assault, 2010 (%)

n=6,484. Does not include Western Australian data

  • Eleven percent of child victims of sexual assault reported being assaulted by a stranger. However, the offender was reported as a known, non-family member for 45 percent of child victims of sexual assault, with a further 40 percent victimised by a family member.

Source: Reference 1

Figure 127: Offender/victim relationship for child victims aged 0–9 of assault, 2010 (%)

Offender/victim relationship for child victims aged 0–9 of assault, 2010 (%)

n=2,876. Does not include Western Australian data

  • Children aged birth to nine who were assaulted were primarily victimised by family members (61%). This compares with 23 percent who were assaulted by a non-family member and 13 percent assaulted by strangers.

Source: Reference 1

Figure 128: Offender/victim relationship for child victims aged 0–9 of sexual assault, 2010 (%)

Offender/victim relationship for child victims aged 0–9 of sexual assault, 2010 (%)

n=2,397. Does not include Western Australian data

  • In 2010, 52 percent of child victims of sexual assault aged birth to nine were victimised by a family member, 37 percent by a non-family member and eight percent by a stranger. In three percent of cases, the victim offender relationship was unknown.

Source: Reference 1

Child maltreatment

It is generally agreed that modern professional (and subsequently societal-level) interest in child abuse and neglect (often known collectively as child maltreatment) was prompted by research conducted in the early 1960s in the United States by a group of medical professionals led by Dr Henry Kempe (Reference 37). After the publication of Kempe et al.’s work, child abuse was also ‘discovered’ in other countries, including Australia (Reference 38).

In the decades following Kempe et al.’s work, the definition of what constitutes child abuse and neglect has greatly expanded and it has become one of the primary social ills targeted for action by governments and communities across the western world. Since the 1960s, legislation and policy developments regarding child maltreatment in Australia have produced significant and lasting changes, particularly in relation to the development of statutory child protection services set up in each state/territory jurisdiction and an increased focus on the reporting of, and response to, incidents of child abuse and neglect (for more information see Reference 31).

The term maltreatment is an umbrella term that refers to the various forms of child abuse and neglect. The four main types of child abuse and neglect are defined by AIHW as:

  • Physical abuse—any non-accidental physical act inflicted upon a child by a person having the care of a child.
  • Sexual abuse—any act by a person having the care of the child which exposes a child to, or involves a child in, sexual processes beyond his or her understanding or contrary to accepted community standards.
  • Emotional abuse—any act by a person having the care of a child that results in the child suffering any kind of significant emotional deprivation or trauma.
  • Neglect—any serious omissions or commissions by a person having the care of a child which, within the bounds of cultural tradition, constitute a failure to provide conditions which are essential for the healthy physical and emotional development of the child.

Source: Reference 30

It has been argued that the exposure of children to domestic violence (also known as ‘witnessing’ domestic violence) should be classified as a fifth main form of child maltreatment (Reference 39) rather than being subsumed under the existing child maltreatment types.

Cases of suspected child maltreatment are generally dealt with outside the criminal justice sphere, primarily falling under the jurisdiction of each state and territory’s government child welfare or child welfare department (Reference 40; eg NSW Department of Family and Community Services and the Department for Child Protection in Western Australia). As noted above, although the two issues are related, it is important to distinguish between children who are the victims of abuse and neglect, and children who are the victims of crime. The majority of child maltreatment victims are not considered to be victims of crime, despite the physical, emotional and psychological harm they can suffer through the various forms of child maltreatment.

The AIHW’s Child Protection Australia reports (Reference 30) provide the latest available annual and trend data on children who come into contact with statutory child protection agencies. When brought to the attention of the relevant agency, a report of suspected child maltreatment progresses according to the following stages:

  • Notification—initial contact is made to a relevant agency to report an incident of suspected child maltreatment. Multiple children can be the subject of one notification. All jurisdictions now have legislation that makes it mandatory for various professions (eg police, doctors)—and in the case of the Northern Territory, all persons—to report matters where they suspect a child is being subjected to specific forms of child abuse and neglect.
  • Investigation—the notification may then be investigated by child protection services to determine the validity of the claim—many cases are not deemed to be serious enough to require a formal investigation and no further action is taken, or they are referred to therapeutic services for follow-up.
  • Substantiation—refers to cases where, as a result of the investigation, the initial notification has been validated (confirmed) as a case of maltreatment. Once substantiated, appropriate action can be undertaken in relation to the child’s continuing protection. In cases where the child has been, or is, at risk of significant harm, the child protection agency may apply to legally supervise the family to ensure the child is kept safe from harm, or may apply to have the child removed temporarily or permanently from the family because the risk of the child being significantly harmed is high.

The criminal investigation of physical or sexual assault, or neglect allegations may be conducted separate to, or in conjunction with statutory child protection action.

Source: Reference 30

The AIHW’s Child Protection Australia series has reported on child protection data since 1989–90. However, because of significant changes to legislation, policy and practices in statutory child protection services in each jurisdiction over time, the AIHW generally does not currently compare statistics gathered prior to 2003–04.

In 2010–11, 237,273 notifications of child maltreatment regarding 163,767 children were received by relevant agencies across Australia. This represents a decrease of 17 percent from the number of notifications received in 2009–10 (n=286,437).

Figure 129: Notifications received by Australian child protective agencies, 2005–06 to 2010–11 (n)

Notifications received by Australian child protective agencies, 2005–06 to 2010–11 (n)

  • Despite peaking in 2008–09, the trend in child abuse and neglect has been in decline for the past two years.
  • Specifically, in 2005–06, 262,094 notifications of child maltreatment were received by child protection agencies in Australia compared with 339,454 in 2008–09. This equates to a total increase of 30 percent between 2005–06 and 2008–09, or approximately 7 percent per year.
  • However in 2009–10, the number of notifications dropped by 16 percent and in 2010–11, fell again by a further 17 percent. It is unknown whether this decrease is a result of legislative, policy or practice changes in jurisdictions, or represents a genuine decrease in the number of suspected child maltreatment cases identified in Australia. While the former is more likely, more data is necessary to determine the cause of this change and to determine if it will continue over the long term.

Source: Reference 30

Figure 130: Notifications received by Australian child protection agencies, by investigation action, 2005–06 to 2010–11 (n)

Notifications received by Australian child protection agencies,  by investigation action, 2005–06 to 2010–11 (n)

  • In 2008–09, Australian child protection agencies undertook the greatest number of investigations into notifications of maltreatment compared with any other year. Specifically, in 2008–09, 203,225 investigations were conducted into allegations of child abuse—60 percent of all notifications received. In 2010–11, 54 percent of notifications resulted in formal investigation.
  • The number of notifications that were dealt with by other means varied over the six year period, ranging from 124,265 in 2005–06 and 136,827 in 2006–07 to 109,514 in 2010–11.
  • In 2010–11, of the 127,759 investigations instigated by Australian child protection agencies, 78 percent were finalised.

Source: Reference 30

Figure 131: Source of notification, 2010–11 (%)

Source of notification, 2010–11 (%)

n=127,759. Total reflects the source of investigated notifications

  • The greatest proportions of notifications reported to child protection services originated from police (23%), followed by schools (15%) and hospital/medical professionals (14%).
  • The child who was the subject of the report was also the source of the notification (ie self-reports) in one percent of cases.
  • Family members made a notification in 13% of cases.

Source: Reference 30

Figure 132: Substantiated notifications of child maltreatment, 2005–06 to 2010–11 (n)

Substantiated notifications of child maltreatment, 2005–06 to 2010–11 (n)

  • Over the past six years, despite a considerable number of notifications of child maltreatment received each year, on average, only 18 percent of notifications were substantiated between 2005–06 and 2010–11.
  • In 2008–09, there was an increase in the number of notifications of child maltreatment, rising from 317,526 in 2007–08 to 339,454; a total increase of seven percent.
  • In 2010–11, 17 percent (n=40,466) of notifications of child abuse and neglect were substantiated. Therefore, despite a drop in the overall number of notifications in 2010–11, the proportion of substantiations increased by one percentage point on that recorded in 2008–09 and 2009–10.

Source: Reference 30

The Child Protection Australia report presents a breakdown of substantiated cases by type of maltreatment. While many cases of maltreatment involve children suffering more than one form of maltreatment, the AIHW report the primary form of maltreatment determined by each child protection department.

Figure 133: Substantiated notifications, by type of abuse or neglect, 2005–06a to 2010–11 (%)

Substantiated notifications, by type of abuse or neglect, 2005–06 to 2010–11 (%)

a: data from 2005–06 to 2008–09 aggregated from all jurisdictions

  • Across all years, a large proportion of substantiated claims involved emotional abuse—many of these matters involve children who have been exposed to parental domestic violence. The proportion of emotional abuse cases ranged from 37 percent in 2007–08 and 2009–10 to 45 percent in 2008–09.
  • The smallest proportion of substantiated claims involved sexual abuse, remaining between 10 and 11 percent for all years except 2009–10 and 2010–11. For the last two years 13 percent of substantiated claims involved sexual abuse.
  • Neglect was identified in slightly more substantiated notifications than physical abuse, occurring in 28 percent of cases in 2005–06 compared with 20 percent of cases involving physical assault. In 2010–11, 29 percent of substantiated notifications involved neglect, compared with 22 percent involving physical abuse.

Source: Reference 30

Types of orders

Once a notification has been substantiated, the appropriate course of action to protect the child from harm is determined. In the majority of cases, child protection services will refer the child and family to professional supports, such as health care providers, family support and child welfare services, drug and alcohol counselling, and financial counsellors. The families attend these services on a voluntary basis (Reference 41).

In cases where the child protection agency feels the risk of harm to the child is significant and not suitable for management though the parents or caregivers voluntarily attending services, a protection application can be lodged with the Children’s court in each jurisdiction to seek a legal mandate to force family compliance to a range of actions designed to ensure a child’s risk of harm is reduced (Reference 42). The following are the broad categories of care and protection orders that currently exist in Australian jurisdictions:

  • Guardianship or custody orders—involves the relevant state or territory department or non-government agency assuming complete legal control over the child’s welfare. A custody order often involves the child being placed in the care of the relevant state or territory department or non-government agency.
  • Supervisory orders—involves the child’s parent or guardian being required to meet conditions related to the welfare of the child, specified by the relevant state or territory department or non-government agency. The parent still exercises some level of control over the child’s welfare and the child remains in the home.
  • Interim and temporary orders—refer to instances where the care and protection order is not finalised. It may involve a finite period of supervision and/or external placement of the child by the relevant state or territory department or other agency.

Source: Reference 30

Figure 134: Number of children subject to protective orders, by type of order, 2005–06 to 2010–11 (n)a

Number of children subject to protective orders, by type of order, 2005–06 to 2010–11 (n)a

a: data presented does not include information related to third party parental responsibility orders and administrative arrangements.

  • The most common type of protective order over the six year period was a guardianship or custody order. The number of children under guardianship or custody orders has risen by 51 percent since 2006–07 when 18,876 children were on this type of order, compared with 28,543 in 2010–11.
  • Significantly fewer children have been placed on interim and temporary orders and supervisory orders. The number of children on both of these types of orders peaked in 2007–08. Specifically, the number of children on interim and temporary orders rose from 2,591 in 2006–07 to 4,106 in 2007–08. In 2010–11, there were 3,555 children on temporary and interim orders.
  • Similarly, the number of children on supervisory orders rose from 1,783 in 2006–07 to 3,235 in 2007–08. In 2010–11, there were 2,239 children on supervisory orders, a decrease of 31 percent from 2007–08.

Source: Reference 30

Figure 135: Children subject to protective orders, by length of time spent on order prior to discharge, 2005–06 to 2010–11 (%)

Children subject to protective orders, by length of time spent on order prior to discharge, 2005–06 to 2010–11 (%)

  • On average between 2005–06 and 2010–11, 28 percent of children were subject to a protective order for less than three months before discharge.
  • Since 2006–07, there has been a rise in the proportion of children who have spent between two and less than four years under a protective order—from 11 percent of children on orders in 2006–07 to 18 percent in 2008–09. In 2010–11, 23 percent of children on orders had been on an order for between two and four years.
  • In 2005–06, the proportion of children who were subject to a protective order for eight years or more before being discharged was six percent. In 2010–11, the proportion had risen by five percentage points to 11 percent, the highest on record for the six year period. This information indicates that children are being placed on orders for significantly longer periods of time.

Source: Reference 30

Indigenous children

Compared with non-Indigenous children, Indigenous children are significantly overrepresented in recorded child abuse and neglect matters. A number of possible underlying causes for this high rate of maltreatment have been identified, including social issues related to the impact of colonisation, current states of socioeconomic disadvantage and substance abuse problems (for more information see References 32–34).

In 2010–11, of the 31,527 substantiated child maltreatment notifications where Indigenous status was recorded, 26 percent (n=8,231) involved an Indigenous child—yet Indigenous children comprise less than three percent of the Australian population. This equates to a notification rate of 35 per 1,000 Indigenous children compared with a rate for non-Indigenous children of five per 1,000 non-Indigenous children; the rate for Indigenous children is seven times higher than the non-Indigenous rate.

Source: Reference 30

Figure 136: Notifications of child maltreatment, by Indigenous status, 2005–06 to 2010–11 (rate per 1,000 children)

Notifications of child maltreatment, by Indigenous status, 2005–06 to 2010–11

  • The rate of child abuse and neglect notifications has been substantially higher for Indigenous children compared with that of non-Indigenous children. Over the past six years, the rate of Indigenous child maltreatment notifications has been, on average, 34 per 1,000 Indigenous children compared with five per 1,000 non-Indigenous children (6.8 times higher).
  • However, the rate of notification for Indigenous children declined by nine percent between 2008–09 and 2010–11; from 38 to 34 notifications per 1,000 Indigenous children. It is unknown if this decrease is a fluctuation or the beginning of a decreasing trend in notifications of child abuse and neglect involving Indigenous children.

Source: Reference 30

Figure 137: Care and protection orders, by Indigenous status, 2005–06 to 2010–11 (rate per 1,000 children)

Care and protection orders, by Indigenous status, 2005–06 to 2010–11 (rate per 1,000 children)

  • Indigenous children were the subject of care and protection orders at a rate of 51 per 1,000 Indigenous children. This is especially significant given that the rate of care and protection orders for non-Indigenous children in 2010–11 was five per 1,000 non-Indigenous children (ie almost 10 times lower).
  • The rate of care and protection orders being issued for all children (Indigenous and non-Indigenous) has increased by 36 percent; from six to eight per 1,000 over the six year period. The rate of Indigenous children who were the subject of a care and protection order has increased by 72 percent; rising from 30 to 51 per 1,000 compared with the rate for non-Indigenous children which has remained around five per 1,000 between 2005–06 and 2010–11.

Source: Reference 30

Out-of-home care

Out-of-home care involves the placement of the child in either a residential or family group home or into a family-based placement (eg with a foster family).

Figure 138: Out-of-home placement orders, by Indigenous status, 2005–06 to 2010–11 (rate per 1,000 children)

Out-of-home placement orders, by Indigenous status

  • The rate of placement in out-of-home care for Indigenous children has increased substantially over the last six years; rising from 30 in 2005–06 to 52 per 1,000 Indigenous children in 2009–10. This equates to an average annual increase of 15 percent per year.
  • By comparison, the rate of non-Indigenous child placement in out-of-home care remained below the rate for all children at, until 2008–09 when it rose from five to eight per 1,000 non-Indigenous children. In 2010–11, it had returned to five per 1,000 non-Indigenous children, and may be an isolated fluctuation.

Source: Reference 30

Aboriginal Child Placement Principle

The Aboriginal Child Placement Principle (the Principle) currently in place in Australian jurisdictions aims to ensure that Indigenous children are placed with Indigenous carers wherever possible, to avoid a repeat of the wholesale removal of Indigenous children and their placement with non-Indigenous carers which occurred as part of the ‘stolen generation’ in the twentieth century.

The Principle provides a hierarchy of placement options that are used by child protection services to place Indigenous children, in circumstances where they can no longer remain with their primary caregivers. The Principle is underpinned by a preference for the placement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children with other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people when they are placed outside their family. According to the Principle, an Indigenous child should be placed according to the following hierarchy of options:

  • with the child’s extended family;
  • within their Indigenous community; or
  • with other Indigenous people.

Source: Reference 30

Where an Indigenous child cannot be placed in a suitable Indigenous placement, the child may be placed in an alternative, non-Indigenous care arrangement; however, this should be done only after consultation with Indigenous individuals and/or organisations (Reference 28).

In 2010–11, 69 percent of placements were made in accordance with the Principle (Source: Reference 30). Such placements maintain the familial connection and reduce the trauma of removal on the child (for further information see Reference 35–36).

Figure 139: Placement of Indigenous children in out-of-home care, 2010–11 (%)

Placement of Indigenous children in out-of-home care, 2010–11 (%)

a: the category of other caregiver refers to instances where an Indigenous child was placed with caregivers who were not relative/kin or other Indigenous caregivers.

  • In 2010–11, while 39 percent of Indigenous children in out-of-home care were placed with Indigenous relatives or kin, 31 percent were placed with other caregivers.

Source: Reference 30