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Risk profiles for institutional child sexual abuse: A literature review


The Royal Commission commissioned this literature review to synthesise international evidence regarding risk and protective factors related to child sexual abuse in institutional contexts. Risk and protective factors are considered in relation to three primary review areas of institutional child sexual abuse: victims, perpetrators and institutional settings.Literature review methodology

The methodology for this review was built on the Royal Commission’s broad definition of institutional child sexual abuse as provided in its terms of reference which includes but is not limited to schools, sporting clubs, children’s services, foster care, residential care facilities, religious organisations, and government organisations. The first step in the review process was to identify a wide range of relevant search terms. The authors developed a preliminary list of search terms and circulated it among experts in the United States (US), the United Kingdom (UK) and Australia to solicit additional terms. A similar process was conducted to identify databases that would yield the most relevant articles for this review. After feedback, the authors developed final lists of search terms and databases for use in this literature review.Simultaneous, independent literature reviews of each of five identified areas were conducted using the final search terms. These reviews were conducted by the authors’ project team, the Australian Institute of Family Studies (Australia), the National Child Advocacy Center (US), the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (US) and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (UK). The reviews focused on scientific research literature as well as ‘grey literature’ such as reports, inquiries, evaluations and dissertations. Pertinent documents identified in the reviews were also closely examined for references to literature that could be included in this project.The project team created brief summaries of each pertinent article, which were used by the authors to craft the various sections of the literature review. Article summaries were also used to develop critiques for each section and recommendations for future directions related to each sub-topic, as well as to create an overall review. Royal Commission staff members reviewed the draft review document and made suggestions for revisions, which were made by the primary authors.

The nature of the reviewed literature

This review yielded more than 400 relevant documents, primarily comprising research studies from professional journals. The literature was not only distributed across the three key review areas of victim, perpetrator and institution, but also further divided across six specific types of institutional setting including faith-based settings; early childhood education, care and schools; healthcare; out-of-home care; sport; and public inquiries and case reviews. The identified documents are best described as a series of related literature with limited integration. In particular, the documents specific to victim, perpetrator and institution are quite distinct, with little overlap and minimal cross-referencing. Additionally, articles describing child sexual abuse in various types of institutional setting are also highly ‘siloed’. The separate nature of these research sub-areas is an important dimension for understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the available literature on child sexual abuse in institutions.