*The below is a chapter summary only of the Interim Report. You can download the chapter in full at the bottom of the page.

What we are learning about child sexual abuse

Chapter 3 sets out what the Royal Commission has learnt about the scope, nature and impact of child sexual abuse in institutions. It is vital that we understand the problem if we are to assess institutional responses. We are considering various issues such as:
  • What is child sexual abuse?
  • How prevalent is it in institutions?
  • What institutions and environments are particularly vulnerable to offending?
  • What laws exist to regulate the problem and oversee institutions dealing with children?
  • Who are the victims and who are the perpetrators?

Key points

Child sexual abuse covers many different behaviours. There is no single profile of a typical victim or perpetrator, nor can the impacts be easily defined or applied to all survivors. However, there are trends we can learn from, and systems that institutions can put in place to better identify risks and protect children in the future.

Nature and prevalence

  • Legal definitions of child sexual abuse are inconsistent, but we know it involves a range of sexually abusive behaviours.
  • There is no conclusive research on the prevalence of child sexual abuse in Australia, and even less is known about its prevalence in institutions. More work needs to be done.


  • Abuse happens in a variety of institutions but has occurred more frequently in some.
  • We are learning why abuse happened in institutions as they changed over time, and what needs to be done to make today’s institutions child safe.

Legal framework

  • State and territory governments address child sexual abuse through a combination of laws that include pre-employment screening, and child protection and criminal laws.
  • The laws vary between jurisdictions.


  • All children in institutions and out-of-home care are potentially at risk of sexual abuse.
  • Some children are more vulnerable to abuse, based on various factors including age, gender, ethnicity, disability, and prior abuse or neglect.
  • Some children may also be more vulnerable to abuse because of situational factors connected to where they are living or being cared for, such as extensive periods of unsupervised contact with adults.
  • Everyone’s experiences of abuse and institutional responses will differ, and these experiences will affect people differently.


  • Institutions need to understand the types of perpetrators and their characteristics so they can identify, prevent and respond to abuse.
  • Perpetrators can hold any position in an institution.
  • Biological, psychological, environmental and interpersonal factors may influence whether abuse occurs.
  • Perpetrators might use grooming behaviours and manipulate children, adults and processes to create opportunities to abuse.