The characteristics of reports to the police of child sexual abuse and the likelihood of cases proceeding to prosecution after delays in reporting

By Judy Cashmore, Alan Taylor, and Patrick Parkinson


Delays in disclosing and reporting child sexual abuse to the police are common, particularly among males and those who have been abused by clergy and others in a position of trust. This study, commissioned by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, examined the patterns of timely and delayed reporting of sexual offences against children, and the likelihood of legal action commencing. De-identified unit record data for all sexual offences against children reported to the police over 20 years were obtained from official crime statistics agencies in two Australian states. While there were similarities between the two states in terms of the influence of public inquiries on reporting numbers over this period, and in the factors associated with delayed reporting, there were substantial differences in the likelihood of legal action being taken in cases reported by a child or adult complainants. In one state, legal action was more likely with increasing delay, until the delays extended to 10–20 years, after which the likelihood of legal action decreased. In the other state, the pattern was quite different – reports of sexual assault were somewhat more likely to result in legal action with immediate reporting. The least likely to proceed were cases involving young children in more recent years; long delays into adulthood were not necessarily adverse for prosecution.