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Some gains but fresh difficulties in combating child sexual abuse

Child sexual abuse is common in Australia. The best evidence of this comes from the 2023 Australian Child Maltreatment Study (ACMS), which surveyed 8,500 Australians aged 16 and over. The ACMS found 28.5% of the national population has experienced sexual abuse before age 18 by any person (adult or adolescent). Women were twice as likely as men to have experienced sexual abuse (37.3%-18.8%). Among 16-to-24-year-olds, prevalence was slightly lower (25.7%), but again with a massive gender disparity (35.2%-14.5%).

Despite all the attention given to the issue, there has not been high-quality research on who the main perpetrators are, their relationship to the victim, and whether strategies put in place to end such abuse have been effective. Recent research, led by Professor Ben Mathews, offers the best evidence to date of important trends. While there are signs that adult perpetration of child sexual abuse is declining, new research shows adolescent perpetration is rising.

Ben Mathews and Chanel Contos (Chair of Global Youth Commitee for Global Institute for Women’s Leadership, ANU) discuss the findings, and what more can be done, in a recent article in The Conversation.

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