With the release of the Final Report of the Youth Sexual Violence and Abuse Steering Committee(the report) and the Queensland government’s response to the report, this week we take a look at youth sexual violence and abuse, in which sexual contact occurs between persons under 18 years. The report proposes change across two dimensions: implementing actions that will immediately impact and prevent youth sexual violence and abuse such as addressing physical risk factors and ensuring those affected by it receive appropriate treatment and support; and actions that will support long term and generational change.
The report data show a significant downward trend in rates of sexual offending against those under 18, but a significant upward trend in the number of child pornography related offences, often between young people under 18. The report found that youth sexual violence and abuse are more prevalent in communities with higher levels of intergenerational and locational disadvantage, and that women and girls suffer drastically disproportionate rates of victimisation (362 per 100,000 in 2015–16 for females as opposed to 86 per 100,000 in 2015–16 for males), pointing to a need for change in social norms.
Noting a disconnect between current child pornography laws that can criminalise youths for consensually sharing or receiving sexually explicit images, and changing social norms in which this behaviour is increasingly becoming part of normal intimate relationships, the report recommends guidelines be developed to support police officers in getting the balance right between protecting society from the harm caused by child pornography and recognising changing social norms. Read a recent overview of what the research says about sexting.
Identifying the causes of youth sexual violence and abuse is complex, but in general, research shows children impacted by socioeconomic disadvantage, substance use and family violence are exposed to more risk factors for becoming both victims and perpetrators of youth sexual violence and abuse. Research also finds that sexual offending in adolescence is more transient than in adulthood, can often be preceded by a history of contact with the youth justice system for non-sexual offences, and that there is significant influence by situational factors such as everyday routine. These types of findings point to the merits of restorative justice models that emphasise offender rehabilitation.