Exploring the role of opportunity in recidivist child sexual offending

Photo of person in handcuffs

Using data from four states—New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia— we explore the characteristics of contact child sexual offences involving an alleged offender who has a prior recorded history of alleged child sexual offences of any kind.

These offenders accounted for a very small proportion of alleged child sexual assault offenders known to police. Almost all were male. A significant minority engaged in both contact and non-contact offences, and these offenders were more likely to target multiple victims and be involved in multiple incidents. Most offenders targeted new victims—acquaintances and family members—in residential settings. Transitions between victims of different ages and genders were relatively common among alleged offenders following their contact with the criminal justice system, as were transitions between intra-familial and extra-familial victims. Overall, by transitioning between victims of different genders or ages, or from family members to acquaintances or strangers, two-thirds exhibited some degree of versatility in their sexual offending against children.

Results suggest these offenders represent a small group of motivated, persistent offenders who are willing to adapt their offending to target new and different victims in different contexts. Understanding the role that opportunity plays in incidents that occur following contact with the criminal justice system, and considering the potential intervention options for recidivist offenders, offers a promising avenue of investigation.


  • Acknowledgements
    • Disclaimer
  • Abstract
  • Executive summary
    • Offender, victim and incident characteristics
    • Transitions
    • Implications
  • Introduction
  • Method
    • Inclusion criteria
    • Data and definitions
    • Analytic approach
    • Limitations
  • Results
    • Offender, victim and incident characteristics
    • Transitions
  • Discussion
  • References