New research from Charles Sturt University could help prevent parental child sexual offences by providing the first profile of parents who abuse their own children.
The research, by Professor Jane Goodman-Delahunty from CSU's School of Psychology and Australian Graduate School of Policing and Security, has been published by the Australian Institute of Criminology.
Professor Goodman-Delahunty found parental sex offenders have a distinctive profile unlike that of other child sexual offenders. On average, they are older and usually in a stable marriage or other relationship with an adult sexual partner. More than two-thirds are gainfully employed, and they are quite criminally versatile--more than half had a prior criminal record for a nonsexual offence. The NSW Police Force and the Bureau of Crime Statistics collaborated on the project by providing records of past criminal conduct.
"The research showed parental child sex offences typically involve very young, victims, on average, 8 years of age, whose vulnerablity is exploited," Professor Goodman-Delahunty said. Very few victims were in their teens.
"The offending is typically against a single child victim and, in nine cases out of 10, a girl, but is more extensive and protracted than people think. It is opportunistic and persistent. On average, the offending continued as long as 3.5 years before it was reported. Very few were one-off offenses."
The research was based on the records of 213 parental sex offenders referred to a since defunded pre-trial diversion program.
Most offenders were non-biological fathers (55 per cent), such as stepfathers, foster fathers or de facto spouses of the non-offending parent. Professor Goodman-Delahunty said the high proportion of biological fathers (45 per cent) referred for treatment showed that cultural taboos did not prevent biological fathers from abusing their own children.
"It's common to assume anyone who molests or abuses children is a paedophile, but parental sex offenders generally don't fit the diagnostic criteria of persons who are primarily sexually attracted to children. " Professor Goodman-Delahunty said.
"That has made them more difficult to identify, and the crime more difficult to prevent. But this research has shown that parental sex offenders do tend to share a unique profile and that they are amenable to treatment. Approximately 40 per cent of the offenders were themselves victims of childhood sexual abuse."
The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates 15 per cent of Australians, and 20 per cent of female Australians, have experienced sexual abuse as children and 10-15 per cent of that abuse is thought to be perpetrated by parental sex offenders.
"Although the risk posed by parental sex offenders is comparatively low in probability, the magnitude of harm perpetrated to the child by protracted and repeat offending is profound," Professor Goodman-Delahunty said.