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  • Writer's pictureHelen Haydock

Who Harms Children? And why is this question so important? (Part 1/3)

This is a question that gets raised frequently in our child safe training and it is very clear from the varied, often lively, discussions that there are still some misconceptions out there about who harms children.

White van driving down a road

These are often fuelled by the ongoing media narrative of the creepy old man, driving around in a white van. Stranger danger is still emphasised in many homes and organisations, however, whilst it does happen, strangers are not the most common risk to children. In fact, the research may surprise you.

The Australian Child Maltreatment Study

The Australian Child Maltreatment Study (ACMS) used computer-assisted telephone interview surveys to interview 8500 every day Australians (including 3500 young people aged 16-24) about their historical exposure to five types of maltreatment prior to the age of 18. The study found that across the 8500 people interviewed, 28.5% disclosed experiencing sexual abuse prior to the age of 18. A recent report looked more closely at who the identified perpetrators were.

Who Were the Identified Perpetrators?

The ACMS identified 8 specific types or class of perpetrator based on reports from those interviewed.

Perpetrator Class/Type


Parents/Caregivers in the home

Includes: the person's biological or adoptive father; step-father or mother's live-in boyfriend; parent's boyfriend or former boyfriend who did not live in the home; adult male relative who lived in the home; adult male relative who did not live in the home; and the female counterparts to these categories.

Institutional Caregivers

Includes: clergy, school teachers, and sports coaches.

Other known adults

Includes other known male and female adults

Unknown Adults

Unknown male and female adults


A brother or other male child who lived in the home, and/or a sister or other female child who lived in the home.

Adolescents: current or former romantic partner

Boyfriend at the time; former boyfriend; girlfriend at the time; and former girlfriend.

Other known adolescents: non-romantic

Male or female adolescents aged under 18 who the child knew.

Unknown adolescents

Male or female adolescents aged under 18 who the child did not know

Before we go on to look at the results, which group do you think is the most prevalent perpetrator of sexual harm to children under the age of 18?

Which perpetrator type was identified the most frequently?

  • Parents/Caregivers in the home

  • Institutional Caregivers

  • Other Known Adults

  • Unknown Adults

Once you have cast your vote, read part 2 of this blog series to find out if you are correct and to explore why this matters.

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