Sport, recreation, arts, culture, community and hobby groups
Sport, recreation, arts, culture, community
This volume examines what we learned about institutional responses to child sexual abuse in sport and recreation contexts. It examines the nature and adequacy of institutional responses and draws out common failings. It makes recommendations to prevent child sexual abuse from occurring in sport and recreation and, where it does occur, to help ensure effective responses.
This volume examines what we learned about institutional responses to child sexual abuse in sport and recreation institutions. It describes children’s sport and recreation in Australia, child sexual abuse in this context, and the nature and adequacy of institutional responses to that abuse. This volume makes recommendations to prevent child sexual abuse from occurring in sport and recreation environments and, if it does occur, to help ensure effective responses.
The activity types, institutions and contexts of sport and recreation
We have adopted a broad definition of the activities that constitute the ‘sport and recreation sector’. They include sport, recreation, exercise groups, dance, martial arts, cadets and other defence force activity for children, outdoor adventure groups, Scouts and Girl Guides, hobby groups, community groups, arts groups, crafts groups, cultural pursuits, musical pursuits, and tuition groups.
Australian children participate in a range of such activities during their lives. These activities are provided by a multitude of institutions and personnel in almost every community. Parents and volunteers join paid staff to ensure that there is a vast array of opportunities for children during out-of-school hours. Without their contribution, children’s sport and recreation opportunities would be seriously curtailed.
We have categorised the various institutional types that provide services to children into two main groups. These are:
- Federated institutions with compliance obligations – these institutions typically have well-developed management structures that operate at the national level with affiliate bodies working at the state, regional and local levels. Many of these institutions are subject to compliance obligations. Examples of these institutional types include: Football Federation Australia; Swimming Australia; Scouts Australia and YMCA Australia.
- Unaffiliated institutions with minimal compliance obligations – these institutions typically lack well-developed management structures. They usually operate in isolation from an auspice institution. They include not-for-profit institutions and for-profit institutions. Many of the latter are small businesses or sole traders providing recreational activities or private tuition for children.
Children’s participation in sport and recreation
Organised sport and recreation provide opportunities for children to develop their motor skills and physical and creative abilities. They also help children to increase their self-worth by developing life skills, such as discipline, confidence and leadership. Sport and recreation also provides benefits to the wider community which in turn provides benefits for children; healthier families and communities provide children with greater opportunities to fulfil their potential.
Children aged 0–14
A 2015–16 AusPlay survey led by the Australian Sports Commission provides trend data about the participation rates of children aged 0–14 in sport and physical activity. According to the survey, approximately 3.2 million children participated in some form of organised sport or physical activity outside school hours. The most popular activities for girls were swimming, netball and recreational dancing. The most popular activities for boys were swimming, soccer and Australian rules football.
Data on the participation rates of children in recreational, arts and cultural activity is available from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). In 2011–12 the ABS conducted a survey into the participation of children aged 5–14 in organised cultural activities. It found that 490,200 children played a musical instrument, 189,900 children participated in arts and crafts, 143,200 children participated in singing and 130,300 children participated in drama.
Young people aged 15–17
According to the AusPlay survey, about 743,200 young people aged 15–17 participated in some form of organised sport or physical activity outside school hours. Athletics, track and field was the most popular organised activity, followed by football (soccer) and fitness/gym activity.
Responsibilities to keep children safe in sport and recreation
International and national legal and policy frameworks provide guidance and regulate the many different institutions that provide sport and recreation services to children. These include:
- the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child – requires that children be free from all forms of violence or exploitation and protected from sexual abuse
- the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009–2020 – a long-term policy approach aimed at ensuring the safety and wellbeing of Australia’s children
- state and territory child safe approaches – mandatory or voluntary approaches have been adopted by jurisdictions to improve the safety of children in institutions, based on building the capacity of institutions to be child safe
- state and territory schemes for conducting Working With Children Checks (WWCC) for people seeking to engage in child-related work – these schemes aim to ensure that appropriate people are chosen to work or volunteer with children
- state and territory obligatory reporting laws – certain individuals and institutions are legally obliged to report suspicions, risks and instances of child abuse and neglect, including child sexual abuse, to an external government authority, such as the police, child protection authorities or oversight agencies
- the use of funding as a regulatory tool to promote compliance with certain child safe obligations – the Australian Sports Commission and the sport and recreation departments of Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia all tie sport and recreation funding to child safety compliance.
Children’s views about keeping safe in sport and recreation
Children and young people are important stakeholders in the sport and recreation sector. During a series of consultations with children and young people, we heard their views about keeping safe in sport and recreation. These included:
- relationships with adults – young people consider continuity of contact to be very important in facilitating trust between children and adults, and said the coach is often the person they will go to if they have a concern
- transport – young people considered transport to and from sport a safety issue and told us that most of the time they would get a lift with whomever they could, including their coaches
- staff – young women told us that they are more comfortable in sport and recreation when there are female staff, and young men said they were equally comfortable with male or female staff
- image publication – some young people told us that they did not have a problem with image publication in sports contexts on the field or in public performance spaces, provided they had been consulted and retained the right to have something removed.
The nature and extent of child sexual abuse in sport and recreation contexts
The forms of child sexual abuse we heard about in sport and recreation included penetrative and non-penetrative contact, violations of privacy, exposure to sexual acts and material, sexual exploitation, and combinations of these. In our private sessions, 408 survivors told us about child sexual abuse in sport and recreation settings. We identified 344 sport and recreation institutions across Australia where survivors told us the abuse occurred.
Information about the 408 survivors who told us in private sessions of child sexual abuse in sport and recreation institutions revealed the following:
- Of those survivors who told us about the duration of abuse (75.7 per cent), most (56.0 per cent) told us that the abuse occurred for up to 12 months. Over one-third (36.9 per cent) said that the abuse lasted between one and five years and 8.1 per cent said that the abuse lasted longer than six years.
- Most survivors (93.4 per cent) told us about the frequency of abuse they experienced. Of these, 77.4 per cent told us of multiple instances of abuse – whether by an adult perpetrator or child with harmful sexual behaviours.
- A small proportion of survivors (3.9 per cent) said the abuse occurred in more than one institution.
- Most survivors (88.0 per cent) told us of being abused by a single adult perpetrator or a child with harmful sexual behaviours, while 12.0 per cent told us they were abused by multiple persons. A small proportion of survivors (1.7 per cent) did not tell us how many people abused them.
- Most survivors (78.0 per cent) who spoke to Commissioners about the type of sexual abuse they experienced reported genital contact of a non-penetrative nature. Male survivors were more likely to report non-penetrative genital forms of abuse than female survivors (80.1 per cent compared with 71.7 per cent).
In private sessions we also heard that both adult perpetrators and children exhibiting harmful behaviours were the cause of physical abuse and emotional maltreatment in sport and recreation. Of the 128 survivors (31.4 per cent) who told us that they had experienced other forms of abuse as well as sexual abuse, most (89.1 per cent) told us of emotional maltreatment, 21.1 per cent told us of physical abuse and 9.4 per cent said they witnessed the abuse of others.
Who we heard about in sport and recreation
From the 408 survivors of child sexual abuse in sport and recreation settings we heard from in private sessions, we learned:
- Three hundred and five (74.8 per cent) were male and 102 (25.0 per cent) were female.
- Most survivors (86.0 per cent) told us when they were first sexually abused. Of these, 65.5 per cent said this occurred when they were between the ages of 10 and 14 and 10.5 per cent said they were aged 15 or older.
- A small number (2.7 per cent) of those who told us they were abused in a sport or recreation institution had a disability at the time of the abuse. We were told this abuse occurred in mainstream sport and recreation institutions, as well as in disability-specific settings.
- More than two-thirds (68.6 per cent) of accounts of sexual abuse in sport and recreation settings that we heard about in private sessions were said to have occurred in a major city, more than one in five (20.8 per cent) were in regional settings and a small proportion (1.5 per cent) were in remote or very remote settings.
While there is no typical profile of someone who sexually abuses a child in a sport or recreation setting, we heard in private sessions that some characteristics were more common than others. We learned that a range of adults sexually abused children in sport and recreation contexts. As in other institutional settings, these people had diverse motivations and behaviours and were influenced by various factors that can change over time.
Of the 408 survivors of child sexual abuse in a sport or recreation context who told us about abuse:
- Seventy-four per cent mentioned the age of the abuser. Of these, the majority, (94.4 per cent) told us of being sexually abused by an adult perpetrator.
- Most survivors (95.1 per cent) who attended private sessions provided information regarding the role of the perpetrator. More than one-third of these survivors told us they were abused by a youth group leader (36.6 per cent), most of whom we were told were Scout leaders, followed by coaches or instructors (20.4 per cent) and volunteers in the institution (6.4 per cent).
Of the 302 survivors who spoke to us about perpetrator age, most (93.7 per cent) told us they were abused by an adult male.
Children with harmful sexual behaviours
During our inquiry, we received information about children who were sexually abused by other children in an institution, including in sport and recreation contexts. Of the 302 survivors (74.0 per cent) in sport and recreation contexts who told us about the age of the abuser, a small proportion (6.3 per cent) said that they had been sexually abused by another child.
Where in sport and recreation children have been sexually abused
Our case studies revealed that children were sexually abused in a range of sporting and recreational settings and contexts. We were also told about a range of places of abuse in our private sessions. Some of the most commonly reported were camps, overnight competitions and excursions; overnight stays; billeting and hosting arrangements; travel arrangements; change rooms and concealed or obscured environments; and public environments. In addition, the internet and associated technologies create opportunities for perpetrators to groom children outside the physical boundaries of the sport or recreation institution.
Characteristics and risk factors for child sexual abuse in sport and recreation
Understanding the risk factors that are unique to sport and recreation settings is important because it helps us to better understand the reasons why child sexual abuse occurs in those settings as well as how best to prevent it and respond when it does occur. These risk factors include aspects of grooming and societal and community cultures.
Grooming in sport and recreation contexts
The forms of grooming in sport and recreation settings we were told about followed many of the same patterns reported in other institutional contexts. Although grooming is difficult to pinpoint and quantify, of the 354 victims of child sexual abuse in sport and recreation settings who gave us information in private sessions about the type of abuse they experienced, 37.0 per cent said that grooming was a factor in the abuse.
Common grooming strategies described were:
- coaching relationships – perpetrators can exploit their power and authority over children through the private and exclusive coach or instructor relationship
- inappropriate activity and adult material – survivors of child sexual abuse told us that alcohol and other enticements were used by perpetrators as a form of grooming
- erosion of interpersonal boundaries – coaches can shift the interpersonal boundaries from the acceptable (for example, legitimate touching to correct a swim stroke) to the inappropriate
- targeting vulnerability – research indicates that young athletes who are experiencing difficulties in their home life can be targets for perpetrators. We heard from significant numbers of survivors who described family conflict, family violence or family breakup at the time of the abuse
- valuing performance over child safety – some environments prioritised performance over the best interests of children and pursued winning at all costs.
Societal and community cultures that can be risk factors for child sexual abuse
Sport and recreation institutions are relatively accessible when compared to other institutions, such as schools, and are particularly permeable and open to broader cultural influences. These can create risk factors for child sexual abuse, including:
- normalised violence and harassment – in hyper-competitive sporting contexts, violent and aggressive behaviours such as bullying and hazing can become normalised
- normalised sexualised cultures – sexualised cultures can sometimes be a feature of dance environments, in part because of the role of television and social media
- valuing adults over children – when sport and recreation institutions are driven by results and the pursuit of excellence, they may overlook potential harms in valuing coaches and instructors over the wellbeing of the child
- level of involvement – children who have a high level of involvement in institutional settings may be at greater risk of abuse than other children.
The impacts of child sexual abuse in sport and recreation contexts
The impacts of child sexual abuse in institutional contexts can be devastating. The particular impacts of child sexual abuse in sport and recreation contexts include:
- disengagement – we heard examples where child sexual abuse had irretrievably damaged the passion and enthusiasm that the child once had for the sport or recreation activity
- isolation – research tells us that ‘high-level’ athletes are frequently isolated from peer groups outside their activity. Disengaging from sport ‘communities’ as the result of abuse can be severely isolating
- mental health and emotional health – commissioned research suggests a strong link between the experience of child sexual abuse and long-term mental health problems. Emotional problems that did not reach a threshold of mental illness were also debilitating
- interpersonal relationships – survivors of abuse in sport and recreation institutions told us about their difficulties with interpersonal relationships, including with intimate partners, family members and friends
- families, carers and others – the key supporters of the victim, such as parents, carers, siblings, partners and friends, can be impacted by both the abuse itself and the subsequent response of the institution
- educational and economic – survivors told us how sexual abuse affected their social and economic wellbeing, including their employment and overall economic security.
We have identified the ways in which sport and recreation institutions have not kept children safe. Many of these failings are common to other types of institutions and are summarised in Volumes 6, 7 and 8. However, certain features and risks of the sport and recreation environment have influenced how these failures manifest in these types of institutions.
Barriers to disclosing child sexual abuse in sport and recreation contexts
We were told about many significant barriers that victims had to overcome before they were able to disclose their experiences of abuse in sport and recreation. These included:
- fear of not being believed – we heard from survivors who feared not being believed because they felt the abusing adult had greater credibility and power. The elevated status and authority of a respected sports coach, Scout leader, or dance or music instructor contributed to this perception
- fear of consequences in small or close-knit communities – the particular dynamics in small towns and communities can make disclosure of abuse especially difficult
- feelings of shame and embarrassment – in sport, strength and aggression may be viewed as essential qualities of the male athlete, while the disclosure of harassment and abuse experiences may be associated with weakness
- uncertainty about what is abusive – a child may feel uncertain about what is abusive where the activity necessarily involves direct physical contact, for example, routine post-training massages in high-performance swimming
- fear of negative impacts on future success – children may fear disclosing sexual abuse if they believe it will jeopardise their potential for success or ability to continue their much-loved activity, a fear emphasised in high-performance environments.
Inadequate reporting of and responding to complaints of child sexual abuse
Not reporting complaints externally
We heard of adults associated with a sport and recreation institution not reporting known or suspected child sexual abuse to an external government authority. The reasons for this inaction are complex and varied. We heard that without legal obligations, some sport and recreation personnel did not report abuse outside the institution. We also learned that an institution’s culture, leadership and governance, personal relationships between a potential reporter and other members of a sport and recreation institution, and fears about the consequences of making a report, can also deter reporting and potential reporters.
We heard of instances where complaints of child sexual abuse were poorly or inappropriately managed. Sometimes the complaint was not adequately investigated by the institution. Where an investigation was conducted, it was sometimes initiated after considerable delay and handled in an inappropriate and insensitive manner. We heard of instances where managers did not act immediately in response to complaints of abuse, failed to adequately assess and manage risks, and enabled the alleged offender to continue to have access to children.
We heard that small sport and recreation institutions faced particular challenges in handling complaints of child sexual abuse, including limited resources and capacity to implement complaint handling procedures; closely connected groups of people, which has implications for confidentiality; or situations in which the subject of the complaint was also the owner of the institution.
Factors that enabled child sexual abuse in sport and recreation institutions
Institutional leadership, governance and culture
The common factors of institutional leadership, governance and culture that led to child sexual abuse in sport and recreation institutions included:
- unchecked and unaccountable leaders and poor leadership – some leaders had unchecked control over the culture and practices in their institutions and operated without appropriate governance structures and accountability mechanisms
- pursuit of excellence at any cost – an institution’s commitment to success may result in a lack of vigilance for, or challenge to, the inappropriate behaviour of an instructor or coach
- protection of reputation as a primary concern – leaders can be motivated to protect the institution from legal action or negative publicity following disclosures of abuse
- institutional cultures of physical abuse and bullying – these cultures can be expressed in a variety of ways, including physical aggression, verbal aggression and the use of sexualised language and homophobic taunts.
Institutional policies and procedures
We were told about a range of sport and recreation institutions without adequate child protection policies. Some institutions lacked policies and procedures for reporting and responding to abuse. Others had policies and procedures but they were not followed or understood by staff and volunteers. Some sport or recreation peak bodies did not provide appropriate guidance and support to member clubs.
Education, training and communication of policies
Sport and recreation institutions with national or statewide reach usually have centralised member protection policies that filter down to the local level. A challenge for peak sport and recreation institutions is to ensure that their member protection policies and child safety information materials are communicated and understood among all member clubs and associations, particularly at the local grassroots level and where there is a high turnover of personnel.
Recordkeeping and information sharing
We heard about sport and recreation personnel who did not appropriately record or share information in a timely and effective manner. We also heard from leaders of sport and recreation peak body associations who explained that many sport and recreation institutions have limited or no recordkeeping and information sharing practices. We were told about the consequences of this lack of recording and information sharing, such as perpetrators being able to continue their involvement with an institution, or move to another institution and continue to abuse children.
Sport and recreation institutions are important bodies that could play a significant role in the prevention and detection of child sexual abuse. Because of their large and broad audience and prominent place in the community, they present an opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of child protection and to promote child safety.
Our recommendations for improving the safety of children in sport and recreation institutions, outlined in Chapter 5, seek to address the risks and the failures of institutional responses we describe in this volume. They build on and supplement recommendations made elsewhere in this Final Report, particularly in Volume 6, Making institutions child safe, Volume 7, Improving institutional responding and reporting and Volume 8, Recordkeeping and information sharing, which discuss ways to make institutions safer for children, and in our Criminal justice and Redress and civil litigation reports, which discuss our criminal and civil liability recommendations.
Initiatives to improve children’s safety
Child Safe Standards
We have developed 10 Child Safe Standards that articulate the essential standards of a child safe institution. The Child Safe Standards are the foundation of our proposed nationally consistent approach to child safety in institutions. In this volume, we recommend that all sport and recreation institutions, including arts, culture, community and hobby groups, that engage with or provide services to children should implement the Child Safe Standards (Recommendation 14.1). Volume 6, Making institutions child safe has more information on the importance of the Child Safe Standards. Appendix B in this volume provides practical guidance for implementing the standards.
The Child Safe Standards are principle-based to enable them to be implemented by sport and recreation institutions in a flexible way. The implementation of the standards should not deter or prevent sport and recreation institutions from providing services to children. Sport and recreation institutions should be supported to implement the standards through independent oversight.
The 10 Child Safe Standards that would make institutions safer for children are:
- Standard 1: Child safety is embedded in institutional leadership, governance and culture
- Standard 2: Children participate in decisions affecting them and are taken seriously
- Standard 3: Families and communities are informed and involved
- Standard 4: Equity is upheld and diverse needs are taken into account
- Standard 5: People working with children are suitable and supported
- Standard 6: Processes to respond to complaints of child sexual abuse are child focused
- Standard 7: Staff are equipped with the knowledge, skills and awareness to keep children safe through continual education and training
- Standard 8: Physical and online environments minimise the opportunity for abuse to occur
- Standard 9: Implementation of the Child Safe Standards is continuously reviewed and improved
- Standard 10: Policies and procedures document how the institution is child safe.
National leadership, capacity building and support
National leadership, coordination and capacity building can maximise collaboration and the efficient use of resources across jurisdictions. This is particularly important for sport and recreation institutions with limited resources and a high reliance on volunteers.
In Volume 6, Making institutions child safe, we recommend that the Australian Government establish the National Office for Child Safety to provide leadership for all institutional contexts and for all matters related to child safety. In this volume, we recommend that a new sport and recreation advisory committee be convened to advise the National Office for Child Safety on sector-specific child safety issues (see Recommendation 14.2).
The advisory committee would be an information conduit between the different institutional types of the broader sport and recreation sector and the National Office for Child Safety. It would provide opportunities for representatives to share knowledge, insights and experience to influence better child safe policy and practice.
Expanding Play by the Rules
Smaller or less regulated institutions told us that they value online training and templates that are authoritative and developed by experts in child safety.
Non-government organisation Play by the Rules develops free online materials to assist sporting clubs to create safe environments for children. In its current form, the focus of Play by the Rules is limited to sports sector stakeholders in the government and not-for profit domains. The materials are not specifically tailored to the needs of small business and sole traders providing recreation, sports, arts, and various hobby or cultural activities.
In this volume, we recommend Play by the Rules should be expanded and funded so that its resources are relevant to a more diverse range of sport and recreation institutions, including those delivered by the private sector (see Recommendation 14.3).
State and territory support and guidance
In Volume 6, Making institutions child safe, we recommend that the Child Safe Standards be mandatory for all institutions that engage in child-related work and that a new or existing independent state or territory oversight body be appointed to support institutions to implement them. This would include sport and recreation institutions.
The state and territory oversight bodies need to strike the right balance between ensuring that the Child Safe Standards are implemented effectively and not over-burdening institutions with compliance requirements. We recognise this is not an easy task, however, such a balance is essential for sport and recreation institutions, which often rely heavily on volunteers to provide their services to children. Any efforts to enforce child safety should not deter or prevent sport and recreation institutions from providing services to children. Any oversight of child safety practices in the sport and recreation sector must focus on capacity building and support.
Improving communication to the service delivery level remains one of the significant challenges for the sport and recreation sector. In this volume, we recommend that a simple, voluntary and free email subscription process for all sport and recreation institutions be established by the independent state and territory oversight body responsible for implementing the Child Safe Standards to help communicate child safe information to service providers (see Recommendation 14.4).
Improving communication is important as sport and recreation institutions have an important community awareness raising role. Improved communication would assist these institutions to disseminate information to parents and children, and inform them about the rules and responsibilities on child safety. Children may be more likely to take information about child safety home to parents because of the positive role these institutions have in their lives.
Child safety officers in local governments
We believe there is scope for local governments to play a key role in assisting their local areas’ institutions to comply with child safety requirements. In Volume 6, Making institutions child safe, we recommend that local governments designate child safety officer positions from existing staff profiles to assist community-based institutions in their area to become child safe, with support from governments at the national, state and territory levels.
Child safety officers would have a particularly important role in the sport and recreation sector. They could perform several child safety functions, including developing messaging in sport and recreation venues to improve safety in change rooms, clubrooms and sports grounds. A child safety officer who is proximate to services and local industries would be especially important in regional and remote areas, and could also coordinate other government services relevant to child safety.
Legal responsibilities of institutions and their personnel
In our Redress and civil litigation report we have made a number of recommendations to reform aspects of civil litigation. We recommend that states and territories introduce legislation to impose a non-delegable duty on some types of institutions for child sexual abuse committed by members or employees of the institution. We recommend that this non-delegable duty be placed only on any facility operated for profit which provides services for children that involve the facility having the care, supervision or control of children for a period of time. This could bring some sport and recreation institutions that provide services to children under the scope of this duty.
We do not believe that liability should be extended to not-for-profit or volunteer institutions generally. To do so may discourage members of the community from coming together to provide or create facilities that offer opportunities for children to engage in valuable cultural, social and sporting activities.
We also recommend that the onus of proof be reversed for claims in negligence against any institution relating to child sexual abuse committed by the institution’s members or employees so that the institution bears the onus to prove that it exercised reasonable care to prevent abuse. We recommend that the reverse onus of proof apply to all institutions, including those that we recommend be excluded from the non-delegable duty.
The recommendations are intended to prevent child sexual abuse in an institutional context by encouraging leaders of institutions to facilitate a child safe environment, at risk of the institution being liable for the abuse if they do not. An aspect of facilitating a child safe environment would be through implementation of the Child Safe Standards in institutions.
In our Criminal justice report we recommend that states and territories introduce legislation to enact a failure to protect offence. This offence would require an adult within the institution who knows there is a substantial risk that another adult associated with the institution will commit a child sexual offence, and who has the power or responsibility to reduce or remove the risk, to reduce or remove the risk. If they negligently fail to do so, they would commit the offence.
We recommend that relevant institutions be defined to include institutions that operate facilities or provide services to children in circumstances where the children are in the care, supervision or control of the institution. This could bring some sport and recreation institutions that provide services to children under the scope of this offence.
This offence is designed to require adults within institutions to take responsibility for preventing child sexual abuse in institutional contexts.
Improving institutional responses to and reporting of child sexual abuse
In Volume 7, Improving institutional responding and reporting, we make recommendations to improve the reporting of child sexual abuse in institutions to external authorities and improve institutional complaint handling. Sport and recreation institutions should be provided with adequate support and assistance with building their capacity to report child sexual abuse and respond to complaints. This would assist with guarding against overburdening these types of institutions.
Reporting to external authorities
In our view, suspected crimes – including child sexual abuse – should be reported to police. In our Criminal justice report we recommend that each state and territory government introduce legislation to create a failure to report offence targeted at child sexual abuse in institutional contexts. We recommend this offence should apply to institutions that operate facilities or provide services to children in circumstances where the children are in the care, supervision or control of the institution. This could bring some sport and recreation institutions that provide services to children under the scope of this offence.
We also consider it important to make clear that persons who know or suspect that a child is being or has been sexually abused in an institutional context should report this to police – not necessarily as a legal obligation enforced by a criminal offence but because it is moral and ethical to do so. In our Criminal justice report we recommend that any adult associated with an institution who knows or suspects or should have suspected that a child is being or has been sexually abused by another adult associated with the institution should report the abuse to police.
Child-focused complaints process
To support the implementation of the Child Safe Standards, in Volume 7, Improving institutional responding and reporting, we recommend that all institutions have a clear, accessible and child-focused complaint handling policy and procedure that sets out how the institution should respond to complaints of child sexual abuse.
Complaint handling processes in sport and recreation institutions should include appropriate contact information and referrals, linking complainants and others to organisations or personnel who would be able to assist in handling a complaint or manage sensitive information.
Codes of conduct
To support implementation of the Child Safe Standards, in Volume 7, Improving institutional responding and reporting, we recommend that all sport and recreation institutions providing services to children have a code of conduct for staff, volunteers, parents and carers to identify and understand concerning or unacceptable behaviour, understand their responsibility to raise and report any concerns, and foster a culture that encourages reporting and handles complaints responsibly. Codes of conduct should be widely distributed, including by institutions and peak bodies.
Oversight of institutional complaint handling
Independent oversight is important in addressing some problems that arise in the way institutions handle complaints about child sexual abuse, and encourages improvements in institutional complaint handling through training, education and guidance.
In Volume 7, Improving institutional responding and reporting, we recommend that reportable conduct schemes should cover, at a minimum, institutions that provide certain services, activities or supports for children, such as accommodation and residential services, childcare services and education services. This could bring sport and recreation institutions that provide such services under the scope of our recommended scheme.
The oversight body that administers the scheme should provide sport and recreation institutions with training, education and guidance on how to identify, report, handle and investigate reportable allegations and convictions.
In future, reportable conduct schemes may cover a broader scope of sport and recreation institutions. We recommend that state and territory governments periodically review the operation of such schemes to determine whether they should cover additional institutions that have a high degree of responsibility for children and a heightened risk of child sexual abuse.
Recordkeeping and information sharing
Good recordkeeping is an important part of creating child safe institutions. The creation and maintenance of accurate records and ongoing recordkeeping practices play a critical role in identifying, preventing and responding to child sexual abuse. Records are also important in alleviating the impact of child sexual abuse for survivors.
In Volume 8, Recordkeeping and information sharing, we recommend that all institutions that engage in child-related work implement five principles for records and recordkeeping, responsive to the institution’s risks. This would include sport and recreation institutions.
Information sharing is an important aspect of creating child safe institutions. The sharing of information can assist institutions to identify the risk of child sexual abuse and to take preventative action in response. The implementation of the Child Safe Standards would work to create a positive institutional culture where the importance of information sharing is recognised by institutions, their staff and volunteers.
In Volume 8, Recordkeeping and information sharing, we recommend that Australian governments implement a nationally consistent information exchange scheme for intra-jurisdictional and inter-jurisdictional sharing of information related to children’s safety and wellbeing, including information relevant to child sexual abuse in institutional contexts. We suggest that sport and recreation institutions that provide or are responsible for accommodation and residential services for children, including activities that involve overnight accommodation, be considered for inclusion in the scheme.