The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has released a report that has found the social, institutional and cultural context in which a family operates deeply influences disclosure of child sexual abuse. The report, Family relationships and the disclosure of institutional child sexual abuse, examined the long-term effects of disclosures of institutional child sexual abuse on families and was prepared by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS).
It included 50 in-depth interviews with survivors of institutional child sexual abuse and family members who received such disclosures. Thirty-three unique family units participated, nine of which involved multiple family members.
Royal Commission CEO Philip Reed said this research was the first time comparisons have been made between child and adult disclosures. “It challenges the dominant perception that adult disclosures are generally planned and purposeful,” Mr Reed said. The report found that many adult disclosures were triggered by crises such as relationship difficulties, job loss or work pressures, anxiety and depression.
Disclosures by young adults (aged 18-23 years) occurred in the context of key life transitions such as finishing high school, beginning university study, leaving home or entering into an intimate relationship. Disclosures by younger children were more likely to be indirect, non-verbal or the result of direct questioning or discovery by primary carers. The report noted that disclosures of child sexual abuse had in some cases resulted in family breakdown, estrangement and social isolation.
Survivors who disclosed in childhood described long-term resentment and conflicted feelings towards family members who responded poorly to the disclosure. Adult survivors sometimes described feeling responsible for shattering the world of their parents or partner by revealing previously unknown information. Mr Reed said the report filled an important gap in the existing evidence base about the long term impacts of disclosures of institutional child sexual abuse on families. He said it was also hoped the research would better inform service planning and development.
“In particular the report shows there is a need for delivery of therapeutic and non-therapeutic support services to survivors and their families, not just in the aftermath of disclosure, but as their needs change throughout their lives.”
The Royal Commission’s final report will be handed to government in December 2017.