This information is addressed to the caregiver of the child who has been sexually abused, but other family and friends will still find it useful.
Where the child sexual abuse is historical, it may be more relevant to consider the legal and medical information under Adult Sexual Assault.
If these pages do not answer your question, please contact us and we will do our best to provide the relevant information.
I don’t know if what happened was a crime.
Crimes of a sexual nature are legislated under the Crimes Act 1961, section 128, which uses the term sexual violation.
Basically, any contact of a sexual nature with a person under the age of 16 years is a crime. If the survivor is aged over 16 years it will still be a crime if the sexual contact was non-consensual.
The offender says the child consented, has a crime still been committed?
The law basically says that a person under the age of 16 years does not have the capacity (maturity) to give consent to sexual contact. Also, if the offender is a family member it may still be considered a crime if the child is aged between 16 and 18 years, irrespective of consent.
Who do I need to contact to report child sexual abuse?
You can contact either the police or Child Youth and Family. Both agencies work together to investigate and assess abuse of children.
What role does Child Youth and Family Services have in child sexual abuse cases?
Child Youth and Family Services (CYFS) receive and assess reports of suspected child sexual abuse. They will refer all cases of suspected abuse to the Police and will work co-operatively with the Police to investigate and assess the case. CYFS will also work with other agencies, as appropriate, to ensure the safety and protection of the child and to provide ongoing support to the child and their family.
The child sexual abuse happened some time ago, can I still report it?
There is no statute of limitation on sexual offences. Child sexual abuse can be reported to the police at any time, no matter how long ago the abuse took place.
Should I report the sexual abuse?
Ask yourself the question: ‘Is the child safe?’ If you answer ‘No’, then you need to consider that Child Youth and Family and the police may be able to help to keep the child safe.
Even if you answer ‘Yes’ you may still want to make a report to Child Youth and Family or the police to receive support and have the abuse investigated.
Often people don’t report sexual abuse at first because they are numb and embarrassed and may not wish others to know. It is common to feel some guilt, to blame yourself or to fear that the offender may harm your family.
On the other hand, reporting the abuse to the police or Child Youth and Family may help you to accept the reality of a crime that has been committed against your child and to realise that it is NOT your fault.
It may not be the first time the offender has abused a child and it probably will not be the last.
What if the police or Child Youth and Family blame me for what happened?
The police and Child Youth and Family have staff that are specially trained to talk to families and investigate child sexual abuse. They will take your report seriously.
Many people feel guilt about what has happened and believe they should have stopped it in some way. It is important to remember though that you are not to blame or in any way responsible for the abuse.
What will happen when I report the sexual abuse to the police or Child Youth and Family?
The police/Child Youth and Family are most likely to talk to you (or the most relevant care giver of the child) initially about the suspected abuse, including questions that may help them to identify the offender.
Whether you contact the police or Child Youth and Family first, they will then be in contact with the other agency as they work co-operatively on cases of child sexual abuse.
If they need to speak with the child, then they will be interviewed at Child Youth and Family by a specialist interviewer (this is often referred to as an evidential interview). The surroundings where the interview takes place are designed to make the child as comfortable as possible. A detective from the Child Abuse Team will monitor the interview but will not be in the room with the child.
The interview is carried out on video. This is a much simpler and quicker means of recording a child’s complaint. The tape can also form the main part of the child’s evidence if any court proceedings follow.
After the interview, the team will investigate the allegations. Both Child Youth and Family and the police should keep in contact with you to keep you up to date with the investigation.
Can a support person come with me to the police/Child Youth and Family interview?
You can take a support person with you. Your support person may not be able to stay with you during the main interview but this can be discussed at the time.
What happens after I make a police statement?
Once you have made a statement you have a choice as to what action you would like the police to take.
- You can request the statement is placed on file but no further investigation is made. If, in the future, another complaint is made against the same offender the police may contact you and ask if you now want to lay a formal complaint.
- You can request that the police speak to the offender but no other action is taken.
- You can lay a formal complaint that will then be investigated by the police with the aim of prosecuting the offender.
It is up to you which of these options you choose. The police and other support people can talk through the process with you but the final choice lies with you.
If I make a formal complaint will the case definitely go to court?
The decision to prosecute is a police decision, based upon the evidence obtained. If there is insufficient evidence, the police may choose not to proceed but this will be discussed with you. The information gathered in this case may also still help them in the future.
If the case does not go to court it definitely does not mean that the police don’t believe your child or that the child was in any way to blame for the assault.
What will happen in court?
The court provides the process whereby the offender can be prosecuted. The child may be a witness for the prosecution, as may other members of the family. As a witness, the public prosecutor and the defence lawyers can question you. There are rules as to what types of questions you may be asked in court but it can still be a very stressful process for you to go through as you will be asked questions about the sexual abuse. For children the court process can be lessened by the use of screens or closed circuit television.
How long does it take, after the initial report, for the case to be heard in the court?
Each case will be different because of the length of time it can take to gather evidence and complete the investigation.
Once the decision is made to prosecute it may take up to a year before the case will be heard in court, however, cases involving child victims are given priority.
Is there anyone who will support us through the legal process?
Your nearest Rape Crisis Centre is able to support you at all times through this process. They can work with you, the police and Child Youth and Family to ensure all of your questions are answered, you have access to all relevant services (e.g. counselling) and that you have someone to talk to whenever it is needed.
What if I do not like the way I have been treated by the Police/Child Youth and Family?
You are entitled to make a complaint if you are in any way unhappy with the way your case has been treated by the police or Child Youth and Family. While it may be helpful to raise your concerns directly with the workers involved, if you are not comfortable with this or you do not feel it has achieved anything you can take the complaint to the Independent Police Conduct Authority. You may wish to contact your nearest Sexual Assault Support Agency to discuss your concerns and receive some help with making your complaint.
Should my child have a medical examination?
There are two key reasons for having a medical examination after a disclosure of sexual abuse. Firstly, there is the child’s physical wellbeing to look after. A medical examination can check for and treat any injuries and give you an opportunity to talk about any other health concerns you may have.
The second reason is a medical examination can provide an opportunity to collect forensic evidence.
Can we see our own doctor?
If you have made a report to the Police/Child Youth and Family they will refer you to a specially trained doctor (known as DSAC – Doctors for Sexual Abuse Care) to collect any forensic evidence – but only if (in most cases) the child’s legal guardian agrees.
If you are not going to the police you should still consider seeing your own doctor to check on your child’s physical health after the abuse. However, your own doctor will not be able to collect any forensic evidence.
What if the abuse has just happened?
The police will usually arrange for the medical examination to be done as an urgent examination.
If the child has been very recently assaulted try not to let them:
- eat, drink, wash or comb their hair;
- use the toilet (if they have to go the toilet do not wipe themself);
- change their clothing; or
- wash their hands
until they have had a medical examination as valuable evidence left by their attacker could easily be destroyed.
How long after the assault can forensic medical evidence be collected?
While the chances of collecting forensic medical evidence are greatest if the examination is carried out within 72 hours of the assault, some evidence may still be collected up to 7 days after the assault.
If the abuse is not very recent is a medical examination still needed?
A medical examination is recommended for any child when sexual abuse is alleged. Most examinations are not urgent, however, and will usually be arranged with yours and the child’s needs in mind, for after the evidential interview
What does the medical examination involve?
The medical examination is like going to the doctor. There will be questions asked about general health issues and a general physical examination. The genital part of the examination should not distress the child.
It is important to understand that the examination will not necessarily ‘prove’ whether the abuse happened or not.
Can the child have a support person with them during the medical examination?
Yes, the child can have a family member or any other support person of their choosing with them throughout the medical examination.