Safeguarding organisations from child abuse

On average it takes a survivor of institutional child sexual abuse 23.9 years to disclose the abuse. Some never report the abuse.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse Final Report contained concerning statistics regarding the delays in survivors disclosing the abuse that they had endured. On average it was reported that it takes 23.9 years for survivors to disclose the abuse. Even longer for men. Some never report the abuse.

This article focuses on what organisations can do to better promote a child safe environment which encourages victims of abuse to disclose at an early stage and why this is important.

Why does it take so long for survivors to report abuse, and for some never report the abuse?

There were a number of barriers identified by the Royal Commission that prevent survivors from disclosing the abuse. The barriers are complex and do not relate to one single barrier but often multiple barriers which are interrelated.

When working with adult survivors of historical child sexual abuse, the most common comment they make to me is “I thought I wouldn’t be believed”. Often this is because the perpetrator has told them this, after a period of grooming both the survivor and the people around them, including the organisation. Survivors have also told me that they felt the organisation wouldn’t take action and would focus on protecting the perpetrator over the victim. Historically, and even now, some organisations attempt to protect their reputation before ensuring that the organisation is child safe and survivors are properly supported. Some organisations have vastly improved their child safeguarding function. Some organisations are still evolving.

What can organisations do to support survivors report abuse earlier and why is it important that organisations take action?

We know now, more than ever, how important it is for survivors to disclose abuse at an early stage. Once survivors disclose they can be provided with the support they need to help them heal. Disclosure also ensures that perpetrators can be held accountable for their actions and prevents the perpetrator from abusing others. Early disclosure is also likely to aid in a criminal conviction as witness memory will be more accurate and a forensic disadvantage from delay is unlikely to be an issue in the prosecution. By ensuring that there are proper processes in place to deal with the abuse, it can also deter other potential perpetrators from abusing children within the organisation.

There are a number of ways organisations can and should reduce barriers to disclosure. These include:

  • Complying with the Child Safe Standards which are a requirement under the Child Wellbeing and Safety Amendment (Child Standards) Act 2015 (Vic) and equivalent child safe standards in other states and territories;
  • Educating children and adults who support children about what constitutes abuse and inappropriate behaviour. Organisations can do this through training and publications. Organisations should provide examples of what constitutes abuse or inappropriate behaviour and make it abundantly clear that abuse of any form is not acceptable within the organisation and will not be tolerated;
  • Educating adults to recognise the signs of harm in children. It is not enough to rely on children reporting abuse. Adults need to be able to identify signs of harm and trauma in children so that appropriate enquiries and support can be provided, and suspicious behaviour reported;
  • Informing children and their families that if they report abuse, their report will be taken seriously, properly dealt with, and they will not receive negative treatment for reporting;
  • Having clear policies and procedures outlining the pathway for reporting abuse and inappropriate behaviour, and encouraging not only the victim of the abuse but anyone who suspects abuse to speak up;
  • Keep accurate and timely records of any reports or information that is received to ensure that disclosures can be properly investigated and reported to police and CCYP;
  • Conducting independent investigations outside of the institution so that is free from bias and conducted in a legal and forensic manner, with a person who is trauma informed so that the victim is supported through the process.

We welcome you to contact us to discuss how your organisation can provide a Safe Space for survivors of abuse to make a disclosure and respond to disclosures.

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