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How to report suspected child sexual abuse

Child sexual abuse is most often perpetrated by family members, close relatives, or good acquaintances. In addition, religious, school, and other institutional settings also account for an impressive proportion of child sexual abuse (see Australian Government’s Royal Commission on Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, 2017).

The law in Australia regarding the protection of children from sexual abuse varies and differs from state to state and territory. Each jurisdiction has its characteristics. There are contrasts in who must report when child sexual abuse is suspected, the basis for the duty to report (concern, suspicion, or reasonable belief), what types of neglect and abuse must be reported, and to whom the report should be made.

A person is least likely to have a reasonable belief that a child has suffered or is likely to suffer significant injury due to child sexual abuse or maltreatment to report a known issue of child sexual abuse, including institutional child sexual abuse. Moreover, the person should believe that the parent has not guarded or is unlikely to guard the child against harm of this type. 

Because sexual abuse must always create a fear of significant harm to the child, most jurisdictions require reporting all suspicions of sexual abuse. 

Types of child sexual abuse disclosure responsibilities

In his 2019 study “A taxonomy of duties to report child sexual abuse,” Ben Mathews identified seven types of legal duties to disclose information and facts about child sexual abuse. Among them:

Obligation for all adults in criminal law to report known child sexual abuse;

A general duty imposed on all adults to report known offences that may indirectly include child sexual abuse offences;

The obligation for a person in a position of leadership related to the failure to protect a child from sexual abuse;

Duty of designated professionals who work directly with children to disclose cases of known or suspected child sexual abuse;

The duty for designated persons in child and youth facilities to report cases of institutional child sexual abuse to an independent oversight body;

Civil law duty for caregivers to report suspected or known incidents of child sexual abuse;

Duty of practitioners to disclose information they know about child sexual abuse. 

For which professions is reporting child abuse mandatory?

Mandatory reporting legislation generally contains a list of people in specific professions who are required to report suspected child sexual abuse, including institutional child sexual abuse. Such a list of people varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. It consists of a limited number of professions (e.g., Queensland), an expanded list (e.g., Victoria and Western Australia), an even more extensive list (New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory, Tasmania, and South Australia), and as far as every adult (e.g., Northern Territory). The list of professions most commonly referred to as mandated reporters consists of the people most likely to be working with children:

  • nurses, 
  • teachers, 
  • ministers of religion,
  • doctors, 
  • dentist,
  • psychologist,
  • a person who is an employee or volunteer of an organization established for religious or spiritual purposes,
  • early childhood education and care professionals, 
  • police,
  • and others.

These individuals have unique responsibilities that society assigns them when working with children. Therefore, their burden to prevent child sexual abuse, especially institutional child sexual abuse, is higher.

Where to go if you suspect child abuse?

A person does not require absolute certainty that sexual abuse of a child has taken place. You should contact the authorities if you suspect that someone may have harmed a child.

Suppose you believe a child is in immediate danger of being sexually abused. In that case, it is best to report your suspicions by phone rather than online or via email. It will expedite the situation and help prevent child sexual abuse effectively.

Other than a possible 000 call, check out the different options:

  • The Department of Communities Tasmania exists to protect Tasmania’s children from the risk of sexual abuse. You can report known or suspected child sexual abuse to Child Safety by calling 1800 000 123 (24 hours).
  • Anyone must report any case or suspected child sexual abuse in the Northern Territory. You can do it using, among other things, the hotline of the Department of Territory Families, Housing and Communities at 1800 700 250 (24 hours). 

Koffels can help.

A culture of fear and silence sustained for decades has resulted in victims of institutional child sexual abuse not reporting their experiences, with grave consequences for their current and future lives. Suppose you have been a victim of child sexual abuse or have reasons to believe that someone is experiencing child sexual abuse right now, or it may be possible in the future. In that case, contact Koffels at 02 9283 5599 to prevent such facts or minimize the impact on the survivor’s life.

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