Trends in prosecutions for child sexual abuse in South Australia 1992-2012

Judy Cashmore*, Patrick Parkinson, Alan Taylor

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    This study, commissioned by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, examined the prosecution of child sexual abuse offences in South Australia between 1992 and 2012. This included offences that were reported when the complainant was still a child, as well as reports that were delayed into adulthood. Overall, 84.5% of reports were made by complainants while they were still children, and most of these were made within three months of the offence. Male complainants were more likely than females to delay reporting into adulthood.

    The highest reporting levels by both child and adult complainants of child sexual abuse offences occurred around the time when major public inquiries into child protection were occurring, and the issue was receiving considerable media attention. The rate of reporting by adult complainants was also affected by the removal of a three-year statutory limitation period for indictable sex offences in 2003. Despite a sharp increase in the level of reporting by children during the early 2000s, particularly around the time of the Layton Inquiry, there was only a very small increase in prosecutions. Rates of substantiation of child sexual abuse by Families SA, the child protection statutory authority, also fell at a time when reports to police were increasing substantially. In contrast, there has been an upward trend in arrest for adult reports.

    Overall, just over 40% of reports to police of child sexual abuse resulted in arrest and charges being laid. This is slightly higher for child reports than for adult reports. South Australia has had a high rate of matters being discontinued quite late in the prosecution process - at or just before the hearing - particularly in the Magistrates Court. We therefore need to understand better how police and prosecutors exercise their discretion in determining whether a case will proceed.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)99-123
    Number of pages25
    JournalAdelaide Law Review
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2018


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