Nearly one in 10 Australian men have committed a sexual offence against children under the age of 18, finds a study led by the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Sydney. The findings of the research, which is said to be the largest study of its kind ever undertaken globally, were released on Monday (Nov 20).
The study titled ‘Identifying and understanding child sexual offending behaviour and attitudes among Australian men’ was conducted by UNSW Sydney and Jesuit Social Services and aimed to research the “prevalence of child sexual offending behaviours and attitudes”.
“The first nationally representative research…has shed unprecedented light on sexually abusive behaviours and feelings among Australian men,” said a statement released by the UNSW.
The study surveyed a nationally representative sample of 1,945 Australian men aged 18 to over 65 and found that one in 10 or 9.4 per cent said they had sexual contact with someone under the age of 18. This would be around one million men in Australia.
Out of which nearly half of them (4.9 per cent) reported having sexual feelings towards children. The figures also include online offending as 4.3 per cent of Australian men reported having had online sexual conversations with children and 2.5 per cent deliberately watched pornographic material containing people below the age of 18.
According to the study, 4.9 per cent of men with sexual feelings that have committed a sexual offence against children were more likely to be married, working with children, earning higher incomes; report anxiety, depression, and binge drinking behaviours; and have been sexually abused or had adverse experiences in childhood.
These men are also found to be active online, including on social media, encrypted apps and cryptocurrency and consume pornography that involves violence or bestiality, the report added.
At least 3.2 per cent of Australian men said they had had sexual contact with a person below the age of 18 when they were over 18. However, the study also noted that this aspect proved to be a limitation since the age of consent in Australia varies and can be 16 or 17 depending on the state.
According to the study, one in six (15.1 per cent) Australian men reported having sexual feelings towards children.
The UNSW-led study found two distinct groups of child sex offenders, “One which is motivated by sexual interest in children, and a second group who may be offending for situational or opportunistic reasons,” the research found.
Invest in prevention
“The prevalence of abuse revealed in this report is deeply concerning,” Georgia Naldrett, Manager of Jesuit Social Services’ Stop it Now! Australia service said, in a statement.
The study recommends measures like improving community understanding of the harm of child sexual abuse and challenging attitudes that support it.
It also calls for better online safety measures and safeguarding children in where they may be “deemed particularly risky, including schools, day-care, social groups, clubs and any other activity in which children are present.”
They also recommend early intervention for men with sexual feelings towards children who have not offended. The study found that out of the men who have sexual feelings, 29.6 per cent want help for their sexual feelings towards children.
(With inputs from agencies)