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2018 APS Congress

The 2018 APS Congress will be held in Sydney from Thursday 27 to Sunday 30 September 2018


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Child sexual abuse

All forms of child sexual abuse are a profound violation of the human rights of the child and a crime under Australian law.

Child sexual abuse is the involvement of a child in sexual activity that he or she does not fully comprehend, is unable to give informed consent to, or for which the child is not developmentally prepared, or else that violates the laws or social taboos of society.1

Psychology has much to contribute not only in relation to the treatment and management of the impact of child sexual abuse, but also in understanding and promoting the conditions that prevent abuse from occurring.

Key points

  • Child sexual abuse can have short and medium-term negative effects on the health and wellbeing of the child or adolescent, including urinary and genital symptoms, reduced self-esteem, suicidal ideation, and lower levels of educational attainment.
  • The experience of child sexual abuse can exert long-lasting effects on brain development, psychological and social functioning, self-esteem, mental health, personality, sleep, health risk behaviours such as substance use or self-harm, and life expectancy.
  • Inappropriate responses to disclosure and management of trauma (including denial by others and institutions) can potentially re-traumatise survivors.
  • Survivors may struggle to find practitioners who have the appropriate knowledge, skills and experience to work in an effective and respectful manner. There are currently not enough services that can provide effective care.
  • Historically, child sexual abuse has been studied through the lens of the individual, whether that of the individual victim or the individual perpetrator. The cultural, religious and situational contexts that facilitate abuse have not yet been adequately researched or addressed.

How the APS is involved

In 2013 the Australian Government established a Royal Commission to investigate how institutions with a responsibility for children have managed and responded to allegations and instances of child sexual abuse. 

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse website provides extensive information, including practical details on the procedures for how people can tell their personal stories, legal information, fact sheets and FAQs, and research and reports. 

The APS was invited to provide evidence at several public hearings and contributed a series of submissions to the Royal Commission .

The APS has strongly argued for the rights of survivors to access psychological care as part of redress.

In 2014, the APS Institute coordinated a series of webinars addressing key knowledge and skills for practitioners in relation to asking about and working with issues of childhood sexual assault.


  1. World Health Organisation (2006). Preventing child maltreatment: a guide to taking action and generating evidence. Written in collaboration with the International Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect.