Child sexual abuse in institutional contexts: The reliability of police data, nature of allegations reported to police, and factors driving reporting rates

Samantha Parkinson, Kerry Lewig, Catia Malvaso, Fiona Arney, Ilan Katz and BJ Newton

August 2017

ISBN 978-1-925622-38-6

Executive Summary

In 2014, the Australian Centre for Child Protection (University of South Australia), Social Policy Research Centre (University of NSW) and the Australian Institute of Criminology completed the research project Child sexual abuse in Australian institutional contexts: Findings from administrative data 2008–13 (hereby referred to as the ‘administrative data report’; Bromfield, Hirte, Octoman & Katz, 2017). The report used administrative data to estimate the incidence of child sexual abuse (CSA) in institutional and other contexts, focusing on ‘recent allegations’ reported to police between 2008 and 2013 and that occurred within five years of reporting. Rates of CSA differed considerably, with NSW having a much higher rate than other jurisdictions.

The administrative data report raised questions about data reliability and quality that required further exploration. For example, there was a considerable difference between the nature of contemporary institutional CSA and historical trends (Katz, Jones, Newton & Reimer, 2017).

Accordingly, the administrative data report concluded:

A follow-up study subjecting a small sample of allegations to a case file review, to determine additional details; address some of the questions pertaining to data quality; and provide greater certainty to the Royal Commission regarding the estimates provided in the [administrative data report] study. (Bromfield et al., 2017, p 215)

The purpose of the current report was to determine:

  • the accuracy and reliability of the data and proxy indicators used to categorise reports as institutional child sexual abuse (ICSA) or non-institutional child sexual abuse (NICSA) in the administrative data report
  • the nature of, and circumstances surrounding, reports to police concerning ICSA compared to NICSA
  • the factors that drive different reporting rates for CSA in Australian jurisdictions.

The project comprised three phases:

  1. a literature review to ascertain what is already known about why the number of reported allegations of CSA may vary across Australian police jurisdictions
  2. consultations (qualitative interviews) with data custodians and operational police across the eight Australian jurisdictions to determine if there are any differences in police recording practices and whether these could account for the variation across jurisdictions in rates of CSA reported to police; identify the information held by police that was most relevant for analysis in the project’s final phase; and determine the feasibility of extracting this data from the jurisdictions
  3. a case file review of a random sample of ICSA and NICSA reports to police in two large jurisdictions to establish:
    1. the accuracy and reliability of the dataset used in the administrative data report
    2. the nature of, and circumstances surrounding, reports to police concerning CSA in an institutional context compared with other contexts
    3. the factors that drive different reporting rates for CSA in Australian jurisdictions.