New research finds adolescents most common perpetrators of child sexual abuse

Adolescents are now the most common perpetrators of child sexual abuse, according to new Australian research published in the International Journal of Child Abuse and Neglect.

The study, Child sexual abuse by different classes and types of perpetrator: Prevalence and trends from an Australian national survey, found that while child sexual abuse by adult perpetrators has declined, child sexual abuse by adolescents has increased.


Using information from the Australian Child Maltreatment Study – a nationally representative sample of more than 8500 people aged 16 and over – researchers found the overall prevalence of child sexual abuse was an alarming 28.5 per cent. Girls were significantly more likely than boys to be sexually abused by all perpetrator classes except institutional caregivers.

Ten per cent of respondents reported the perpetrator was an adolescent known to them who was not a current or former romantic partner, while 2.5 per cent said their adolescent perpetrator was a current or former partner.

Perpetrator classes according to prevalence

Other known adolescents (non-romantic) – 10%
Parents/caregivers at home – 7.8%
Other known adults – 7.5%
Unknown adults – 4.9%
Adolescents (current or former romantic partners) – 2.5%
Institutional caregivers – 2.0%
Siblings – 1.6%
Unknown adolescents – 1.4%

Violent porn identified as a contributor

The authors theorised that one factor in the rise in adolescent sexual offending could be sexualisation of adolescence in popular media, which may increase expectations and pressure to have sexual experiences and influence potential perpetrators.

The report also cited widespread access to and consumption of pornography as an explanation for the increase in young men perpetrating sexual abuse. The researchers noted that many boys are first exposed to porn as pre-teens, and that adolescent porn consumption can influence adolescent sexual violence – particularly when the content is violent (which it overwhelmingly is.) 

“Adolescent consumption of pornography, especially when violent, may lead to distorted sexual scripts that legitimise sexual coercion and abuse, enhance its likelihood in lived experience, and undermine sexual activity with full, free and voluntary consent,” the report said.

The study follows previous research documenting the rise in sexual offending by young men. In 2020, the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that males aged 15-19 had the highest rates of sexual assault offending of any age group.

This is why we’ve been campaigning for an age verification system to protect children from exposure to pornography. Unfortunately the Federal Government rejected eSafety’s recommendation of a pilot, putting the vested interests of the industry before the wellbeing of young people. We refused to settle for this.

We organised an open letter calling on the Federal Government to re-think its irresponsible decision, signed by 48 leading authorities in the domestic violence and child safeguarding spheres.

Among the impressive line-up of names (some pictured below) were Robert Fitzgerald AM (former Child Abuse Royal Commissioner), anti DV campaigners Jess Hill, Jon Rouse, Grace Tame, Chanel Contos, Katherine Berney (National Women's Safety Alliance), Nicole Lambert, (National Association of Services Against Sexual Violence), leading child protection advocacy groups the Australian Childhood Foundation, Bravehearts, the Daniel Morcombe Foundation and well-known parenting experts Steve Biddulph, Maggie Dent and Rebecca Sparrow.


We will continue to fight for the wellbeing of children, and urging the Government to re-evaluate its decision and proceed with an age verification pilot program.

See also

Open Letter: Women’s safety and child protection experts call for age verification pilot

Kids Exposed 

I was a child abuse detective. And even I couldn’t protect my child from porn

French equality watchdog finds 90% of online pornography abuses women

Add your comment

  • Caitlin Roper
    published this page in News 2024-01-15 18:49:04 +1100

You can defend their right to childhood

A world free of sexploitation is possible!

Fuel the Movement