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Institutional Child Sexual Abuse is not Just a Historical Problem

“Almost every day” PCA Principal Consultant, Brad Poynting said. “It happens almost every day” he reiterated, clearly frustrated.

“Almost everyday I am presented with the opinion that child sexual abuse in an institutional setting is a problem of the past – a historical problem.”

PCA is of the firm belief that ‘protecting children is everyone’s business.’ This is the tagline which is promoted by NAPCAN for National Child Protection Week and it is an important statement. However, even for people who do accept this message as their personal responsibility, their ability to act protectively for children is diminished if they also belief that child sexual abuse in an institutional setting is not a contemporary problem. Afterall, why would anyone put effort in to preventing something they do not believe will occur?

This view of institutional child sexual abuse as purely historical is also in direct opposition to the research and findings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. As early into the Final Report as the Preface and Executive Summary it states:


“While we heard of child sexual abuse in institutions that spanned the past 90 years, it is not a problem from the past. Child sexual abuse in institutions continues today. We were told of many cases of abuse that occurred in the last 10 to 15 years in a range of institutions, including schools, religious institutions, foster and kinship care, respite care, health and allied services, performing arts institutions, childcare centres and youth groups. We heard in private sessions from children as young as seven years of age who had been recently abused. In some of our case studies into schools, the abuse was so recent that the abused children were still attending school. We learned that cultures and practices in some institutions allowed this more recent abuse to occur and continue.” – Final Report: Preface and Executive Summary, p6.


Even the most superficial reading of the Final Report would ensure the reader still encountered this statement. The statement reflects that the risk children and young face around being exposed and subjected to sexual abuse in an institutional setting is, in addition to being a historical one, also a real and current one for children and young people today.

Despite this risk, PCA is also of the view that abuse and neglect in an institutional setting, especially sexual abuse in a contemporary institutional setting, is also entirely preventable. However, this cannot be true in organisations where leaders do not recognise and accept that children and young people are exposed to this risk through their association with the organisation. To minimise the risk, leaders must first accept that the risk exists.

Bradley Poynting