Wednesday, December 1, 2021

‘You never forget the knock on the door’: why the families of child sex abuse material perpetrators need more help

Due to technological advancements and lack of effective action by Internet companies and governments, child sexual abuse material is widely available online.

Last year, authorities in the United States received a record-breaking 21.7 million reports of child abuse material.

This year, a similar report to Australia’s eSafety Commissioner was the highest ever filed, and a nearly 70% increase in arrests and charges for child sex abuse offenses by the Australian Federal Police.



Read more: What’s in a name? Online child abuse material is not ‘pornography’


In a recently launched National Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Child Sexual Abuse, the federal government provided additional funding for child sex abusers, with additional funding targeting criminals who use technology to exploit children. Pledged $24.1 million to enhance the Commonwealth’s capacity to investigate and prosecute.

As the number of arrests increases, so does the number of partners and families of people accused of these crimes. According to the Australian Institute of Criminology, up to 65% of offenders in treatment have an intimate partner and up to 47% have at least one child.

The partners, families and children of the perpetrators are described as “secondary victims”. However, this group is not well recognized or supported, despite their significant need for psychological and practical help.

our study

In 2020, we evaluated PartnerSpeak, a non-governmental organization in Victoria that provides peer support and advocacy for (non-abusive) family members of people who use child sexual abuse material.

With increasing arrests for child sexual abuse material, more families are falling prey to the consequences of this abuse.
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It is the only specialist support service in Australia.

As part of the study, we surveyed 53 PartnerSpeak customers and interviewed seven customers. It provided important insight into the needs of this often neglected group.

‘knock at the door’

For 83% of our research participants, the person who used child abuse material in their lives was a partner or ex-partner. For others, the perpetrators were parents, children, or siblings. Most of these perpetrators had seen or accessed the abused material, but some had also committed other crimes, including the sexual abuse of children and the production and distribution of the material.



Read more: New research shows that parents are the leading producers of child sexual abuse material


Needless to say, the discovery of a loved one’s guilt was life-changing, awe-inspiring and deeply painful. When police came to search his home, an interviewer discovered his partner’s guilt:

[…] Something you’ll never forget or put out of your mind is a knock on the door […] the way they [the police] Presented and when he initially talked to me, I didn’t know. And then when they said that was for the warrant – I thought it was for fraud, initially, I couldn’t put the two together. And the fear was that they would label me like colluding with him.

This quote also highlights the interfaith crises that begin with the discovery of a partner’s humiliation. This includes the setback of the investigation, and the potentially disastrous implication that she may be an accomplice.

where to turn

For most participants, the discovery of the objectionable was the beginning of a frightening journey. This included a police investigation of his partner and home life while managing the emotional and practical consequences of separation under sudden and shocking circumstances.

Participants felt that they were judged by others in the community for their partner’s behavior. They talked about feeling isolated, even though friends who tried to help didn’t have a “frame of reference.”

Many of my friends – because this is territory unknown to many of my peers – just didn’t get what I was going through […] I didn’t want a pity party, but I wanted to talk to other people who had similar experiences with mine.

Other interviewees also reported having difficulty deciding what to do next and how to get help.

We all have this illusion in our mind and we desperately need to take care of our kids. And where to go from here, what do I do next? […] There are so many things that initially you don’t even think about yourself because you are very worried about your kids and where you are going to live and what you are going to do.

Similarities with Domestic and Family Violence

Our study showed a significant overlap with domestic and family violence. In interviews, participants described their relationship with the child sexual abuse material offender as being characterized by control, confidentiality, and domestic abuse.



Read more: Does the government’s new national plan to tackle child sexual abuse go a long way?


This can include physical assault but also financial abuse and coercive control. One interviewer described how difficult it was to leave the relationship:

I didn’t know how I was controlling the marriage until I went to try to open a bank account […] I was hysterical. I was just screaming in fear in the car. And you go, where is this fear coming from? I am not able to understand.

Currently, child sexual abuse material is not recognized as abuse against an abusive non-abusive partner, despite the associated patterns of manipulation and control, along with physical violence in some cases.

Many women did not recognize that they were in an abusive relationship until a case of child abuse came to light, and did not know that they were eligible for assistance for housing, child support or paid leave to attend court cases. Where to go

our recommendations

As the number of non-abusive partners and family members of perpetrators of child sexual abuse continues to grow, our study made three key recommendations:

  1. Specialist support for non-abusive partners and families of child sex offenders needs to be appropriately funded and available nationally. A recent national strategy has set aside $10.2 million for the next four years for this type of support service. This is a good start but mainstream services also need to build their capacity to support this group.

  2. Violating child abuse content represents one area in which domestic and family violence services can expand their current offerings, to include explicitly identifying themselves as points of contact for non-abusive partners.

  3. There is a clear need to increase public education and awareness about the scale and effects of child abuse material. Our interviewees often felt misunderstood and isolated, which clearly had a major impact on their ability to move on with their lives.

Christian Jones contributed to the research study in this piece.


For support or advice about someone using online child sexual abuse material, you can contact PartnerSPEAK.org.au or call PartnerSPEAK Peerline on 1300 590 589.

The Blue Knot Foundation provides telephone counseling for survivors of childhood trauma on 1300 657 380.

If this article has raised an issue for you, please contact 1800 RESPECT through their national counseling hotline 1800 737 732. If you think you are in immediate danger, call 000.

This article is republished from – The Conversation – Read the – original article.

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