Responding to children displaying problematic sexual behaviour

What is it?

On the 15 December 2017, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (RCIRCSA) presented a final report to the Governor General detailing the culmination of a five year enquiry. We are now almost at the two year anniversary of this landmark report.

As the South Australian Commissioner for Children and Young People, I want to understand what South Australia is doing in response to harmful or problematic sexual behaviour post the RCIRCSA.


RCIRCSA defines ‘harmful sexual behaviour’ as the full spectrum of sexual behavioural problems in children.  This includes juvenile sexual offending, child sexual abuse by children and problematic sexual behaviour.  ‘Problematic sexual behaviour’ can be described as behaviours that fall outside the normal age-appropriate range for younger children, and which may only harm the child exhibiting the behaviours.

Inadequate responses that the RCIRCSA identified included responses by individuals and institutions:

  • Struggling to recognise when a child displays harmful sexual behaviour.
  • Not understanding when any behaviour displayed by a child or children on another is ‘appropriate’ in relation to their development.
  • Institutions not believing children and/or parents that their child has been abused.
  • Not knowing how to respond to the behaviour.
  • Not having any clear guidelines on how to respond to children displaying harmful sexual behaviour.

At a systemic level, the RCIRCSA highlighted the lack of appropriate primary, secondary and tertiary interventions to prevent the development of harmful sexual behaviour as well as appropriately responding, in a therapeutic way to address children’s harmful sexual behaviour. It recommended that there be timely assessments for individual children with problematic or harmful sexual behaviours, adequate funding for therapeutic interventions and clear referral pathways.

Project Overview

After two years I am concerned that the recommendations that could create real, systemic change have not been adequately implemented in South Australia. To be confident that these recommendations have been systemically addressed, it is important to understand the responses currently provided in South Australia across the broader health and community systems.

My inquiry will involve:

  • undertaking an audit on South Australia’s current responses.
  • reviewing the most up-to-date evidence on what is currently happening in South Australia
  • reviewing successful therapeutic programs
  • talking to stakeholders about what South Australia needs to do to address gaps in services, as well as appropriately respond to incidents of harmful sexual behaviours.

Find out more about children displaying problematic sexual behaviour