As parents and carers of children, there a number of key steps we can take to build resilience and protect our kids against sexual harm. With 1 in 5 Aussie kids experiencing some form of sexual harm before their 18th birthday, the good news is that for the most part, child sexual assault is preventable. With 85 – 95 percent of offenders being known to the family, parents are uniquely placed to protect their children.
By educating and empowering yourself, your children and their carers, we can minimise the risk of harm and make Australia the safest place in the world to raise a child.
Easy steps you can take to empower your child with personal safety skills.
Tips and strategies to protect your child online.
Find out the fact from the fiction about child sexual assault.
Information sheets and resources for parents and caregivers.
Information about Bravehearts’ acclaimed personal education show.
1 in 5 children will be sexually harmed in some way before their 18th birthday.
As with most statistics in this area, there are few that are definitive. We have taken the 1 in 5 statistic from a number of different studies over the years. It is important to note that this includes the continuum of sexual behaviours – from non-contact offences such as grooming, online offences and exposure through to the contact such as fondling and penetrative offences: Some of the research we base this statistic on include:
- In Australia, approximately 1 in 3 females and 1 in 7 males report having experienced some form of child sexual abuse (Quadara & Miller, 2014, Sexual abuse and exploitation prevention: Effective responses, Australian Institute of Family Studies).
- Price-Robertson, Bromfield and Vassallo’s (2010) summary of Australian prevalence studies estimates that up to eight percent of males and up to 12 percent of females experience penetrative child sexual abuse and up to 16 percent of males and up to 36 percent of females experience non-penetrative child sexual abuse (Price-Robertson, Bromfield & Vassallo, 2010. The prevalence of child abuse and neglect. Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies).
- Adult retrospective studies show that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men were sexually abused before the age of 18 (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, 2006. Adverse Childhood Experiences Study: Major Findings. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centre for Disease Control and Prevention).
- Research has estimated that up to 45 per cent of females and up to 19 per cent of males have been victims of sexual abuse during their childhood. (Queensland Crime Commission and Queensland Police Service, 2000, Project Axis: Volume 1. Brisbane: Queensland Crime Commission).
- It is estimated that 1 in 4 girls and between 1 in 7 and 1 in 12 boys are victims of sexual abuse. (James, 2000, Trends and Issues Series (no. 146). Child abuse and neglect: Redefining the issues. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology).
A child may choose to disclose or not disclose, and their reasons for doing so can be very complex, due to the complicated relationship between a victim and the offender.
Bravehearts recommend speaking to children and young people about relationships, private parts and other personal safety education to provide them with the knowledge and confidence to disclose if they ever need to.
Bravehearts also recommend that parents and carers pay attention to their child’s emotions, behaviour and routines. Changes may be gradual or sudden, and any changes in a child’s behaviour should be monitored. Some common indicators in children that they may have experienced child sexual assault include:
- Unusual or new fears, sometimes around touch
- Difficulty concentrating or with memory
- Eating or sleeping changes
- Fear of being alone with a particular person
- Sexual themes in artwork, stories, play etc.
- Showing a knowledge of sexual behaviour beyond their years
- Bedwetting or soiling after being toilet trained
- “Acting out” behaviours (aggression, destructive behaviours, truanting behaviour)
- “Acting in” behaviours (withdrawal from friends, depression)
- Vaginal, penile or anal soreness, discharge or bleeding
- Problems with friends and schoolwork
- Vague symptoms of illness such as headache or tummy ache
- Self-harm (cutting, risky behaviour)
- Zoning out or not listening
Short term effects may include:
- Increased illness, body aches or other physical complaints
- Poor attendance or performance at school
- Difficulty concentrating or memory loss
- Mood changes
- Regressive behaviours
- Sleeping and eating disorders
- Lack of self-esteem
- Self-harm or suicidal thoughts
- Self-hatred or reduced self esteem
- Promiscuous behaviour
- Zoning out or not listening
Long term effects may include:
- The development of violent behaviour
- The development of criminal behaviour
- Suicidal ideation
- Post-traumatic stress
- Sexual difficulties
- Inability to form lasting relationships
- Identity difficulties
- Marital problems
- Poor parenting skills
- Alcohol and substance misuse
It is really important to understand that the impacts and effects of child sexual assault can be minimised. Children, young people and adults who are supported and believed when they speak out are less likely to endure long terms negative impacts.