Family relationships and the disclosure of institutional child sexual abuse

Antonia Quadara, Mary Stathopoulos and Rachel Carson

July 2016

ISBN 978-1-925289-70-1


The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was established in January 2013 to investigate how institutions and organisations have responded to allegations and instances of child sexual abuse. Through private sessions, written submissions and public hearings, the Royal Commission has received the accounts of several thousand victim/survivors and their family members. A key issue highlighted by these accounts was the impact on family relationships of disclosing sexual abuse – both in the short and long term. Disclosures of child sexual abuse have in some cases resulted in family breakdown, estrangement and social isolation.

This project was developed to explore the effect that disclosure of institutional child sexual abuse had on survivors and their families, focusing on understanding:

  • the long-term effect of disclosure on families
  • the different effects of disclosures made in adulthood compared to those made in childhood
  • implications of our findings for enhancing service responses.

The Royal Commission was particularly interested in:

  • the decision of survivors of institutional child sexual abuse to disclose to family members
  • initial responses to the disclosure (including failure to recognise a disclosure)
  • long-term impact of the disclosure on survivors and family members
  • survivor recovery.

The Royal Commission appointed the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) to undertake the project. We conducted 50 in-depth interviews with victim/survivors of institutional child sexual abuse and family members who received such disclosures (parents, children, siblings and partners). Thirty-three unique family units participated, nine of which involved multiple family members. This is a relatively large dataset for an in-depth narrative study, and is enriched by having multiple perspectives from members of the same family on the impacts of disclosure on family relationships.