A report from the national inquiry into child sexual abuse says Australia does not have the basic rigorous research evidence to help it tackle child abuse.
Australia lacks the most basic research evidence about the prevalence of child sex abuse necessary to produce sound policy to fight the crime.
The finding has been made in a research report on mandatory national reporting laws published by the ongoing federal royal commission into institutional responses to child abuse.
Author Ben Matthews from the Australian Centre for Health Law Research at the Queensland University of Technology looked at reporting approaches in states and territories across Australia and found inconsistencies.
There was also no rigorous overarching research evidence which could be used to bring about a decline in the abuse of children, he found.
“On a broad level, Australia lacks even the most basic rigorous evidence about the national prevalence, incidence and characteristics of child sexual abuse,” Prof Matthews said.
In an accompanying review of international crime health data Associate Professor Matthews said a substantial decline in the US, declared in 2012, was identified after “assiduous analysis of seven different sources of data” which took in state and community incidence studies and self report surveys.
He said this represented a significant advance in child welfare because the research showed what was working and what was not, and led to an increase in intervention.
” … population-based incidence and prevalence studies, repeated over time, provide jurisdictions with evidence on which to inform sound policy and intervention approaches,” he noted.
Prof Matthews said the different approaches taken in Australian states and territories to mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse lead naturally to important questions “which must be answered by robust evidence to inform sound social policy”.
Among the questions which he said needed to be answered were the consequences of each method of mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse in Australia.
He also questioned whether different penalties affect reporting, and if so, how they were affected.
The Matthews report is yet to be considered by the commission. It has already indicated it will look at whether a uniform national approach is needed.