Community misconceptions about child sex abuse can lead to the vilification of parents who have fallen victim to abusers' manipulative grooming techniques, a new report says.
The report, published on Tuesday by the sex abuse Royal Commission, said the misconceptions about abuse included wrong information such as "the majority of perpetrators are strangers to the victim", that "the child can be a 'willing' actor in the abuse" and "that most grooming occurs online".
Among the report's key findings were that grooming -- a complex, commonly incremental process -- can involve three main stages: gaining access to the victim, initiating and maintaining the abuse and concealing the abuse.
There is consensus in the research literature that children are more vulnerable to being sexually abused if they:
- are socially isolated
- have mental health or behavioural difficulties
- have low self-esteem
- have one parent who is continually absent
- have been a victim of bullying
- live in a situation of domestic violence
- identify as non-heterosexual or transgender
- have a history of physical, emotional or sexual abuse
"Potential victims of child sexual abuse are not the only targets of grooming techniques," the report said.
"Grooming can target those involved in gaining access to the child's life, including parents and other caregivers, colleagues and other staff in an institutional setting.
"Grooming does not inevitably lead to sexual abuse. Child sexual abuse can also commence in the absence of grooming, particularly for situational or opportunistic offenders."
Perpetrators not only target potential victims with grooming techniques but also people who might be involved in gaining access to a child or who can be manipulated in order to conceal abuse, including parents and other caregivers.Royal Commission Report
People fall victim to the Hindsight bias, which refers to the inclination of a person to perceive an event as being predictable 'after the fact', said the report, titled Grooming and child sexual abuse in institutional contexts.
"Community misconceptions can lead to the vilification of parents as being inattentive or not adequately protective, based on the idea that attentive parents will instinctively detect grooming and know their child is in danger."
"In reality, it is difficult for people to process relevant information and reach accurate conclusions at the time of the event.
Royal Commission CEO, Philip Reed, said the research shows that grooming can involve a range of behaviours that target not only children but also others involved in gaining access to the child's life including parents and caregivers and staff in institutional settings.
"What makes grooming harmful is that the perpetrator's motivation is to facilitate or conceal child sexual abuse," he said.
For the past three weeks the Royal Commission investigated the Catholic Church heirarcy in Australia about its response to Child sexual abuse amid data showing 4,445 allegations were made against priests and members of religious orders between 1980 and 2015.
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