A national study into the disturbing extent of child sexual abuse has found one in six Australian men reported having sexual feelings towards children and teens, while one in 10 admitted to committing sexual offences against minors under 18.
More than 1900 Australian men aged over 18 were surveyed as part of the research by the University of NSW and Jesuit Social Services in what is the largest study of its kind globally.
The survey included online offending, such as viewing child exploitation material, or flirting and having sexual conversations with minors online.
Of the 10 per cent of Australian men who had admitted to committing these offences, about half of this group, or 4.9 per cent of the total number surveyed, reported having sexual feelings towards children and teens.
This group of men was more likely to be outwardly successful, married, working with children and earning higher incomes.
However, these men also reported a higher level of anxiety, depression, and binge drinking behaviours. They were also more likely to have been sexually abused or had adverse experiences in childhood and consume pornography that involves violence or bestiality.
The age of consent in Australia is 16 or 17, depending on the state or territory. However, researchers questioned participants on their feelings towards all minors aged up to 18 to align the study with international research.
“This study brings unprecedented visibility to the numbers of undetected child sex offenders in the Australian community,” the study’s lead investigator, Professor Michael Salter, said.
“This study affirms what countless survivors have said – that the men who abused them were well connected and relatively wealthy, and whose behaviour is secretive and easily overlooked.
“By shining a light on the characteristics of individual perpetrators and the broader social and technological patterns that enable their abuse, it is our hope that this research can be the catalyst for change to ultimately keep children safe.”
About 30 per cent of men who reported having sexual feelings towards children said they wanted help to deal with them.
Georgia Naldrett, who is the manager of the Jesuit Social Services’ Stop it Now! Australia service, said the report made several recommendations to address the disturbing findings from the research.
“The prevalence of abuse revealed in this report is deeply concerning,” Naldrett said.
“Our detailed and evidence-based recommendations call for investment in initiatives that address concerning behaviour before it starts, intervene earlier with boys and men who report troubling thoughts and behaviours, and reduce the reoffending risk of those who have already sexually abused children.
“Investment in these areas can help keep children safe from harm.”
Stop It Now! Australia works with adults concerned about their own, or someone else’s sexual thoughts or behaviours towards children. Call the anonymous helpline on 1800-01-1800 or access resources at www.stopitnow.org.au