4906.0.55.003 - Personal Safety Survey, Australia: User Guide, 2016  
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 08/11/2017   
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ABUSE BEFORE THE AGE OF 15

POPULATION

Information regarding abuse before the age of 15 was obtained from men and women aged 18 years and over in the 2016 PSS.

DEFINITION

The definition of child abuse can vary across the different sectors of government, criminal justice systems, service providers and research organisations, depending on the perspective and interests of the organisation that have created it. The PSS collects selected information about a person’s experience of sexual and/or physical abuse before the age of 15 years by any adult (male or female), including the person’s parents. An adult for this module is classified as someone aged 18 years or over.

The 2016 PSS definitions of sexual and physical abuse are outlined below:

Sexual abuse

Any act by an adult involving a child (under the age of 15 years) in sexual activity beyond their understanding, or contrary to currently accepted community standards.

  • Excludes:
    • Emotional abuse
    • Sexual abuse perpetrated by someone under the age of 18

Physical abuse

Any deliberate physical injury (including bruises) inflicted upon a child (under the age of 15 years) by an adult.
  • Excludes:
    • Emotional abuse
    • Discipline that accidentally resulted in an injury
    • Physical abuse perpetrated by someone under the age of 18
    METHODOLOGY

    The abuse module asks respondents if they were sexually and/or physically abused by an adult before the age of 15. Questions for sexual abuse are asked following the sexual threat questions in the violence topic, and questions for physical abuse are asked following the completion of the violence topic.

    Due to the sensitive nature of the module, respondents have the option of declining to answer these questions.

    If a respondent answers that they have experienced sexual or physical abuse before the age of 15, they are asked to identify all of the adult perpetrator types that abused them.

    Information about the characteristics of the first incident of abuse is collected separately for sexual abuse and physical abuse. If the respondent indicates that they have been sexually/physically abused more than once, they are asked to focus on the first time they were sexually/physically abused in order to answer further questions about the characteristics of the first incident of abuse including:
    • Age at the time of the incident
    • Their relationship to the perpetrator
    • Whether more than one perpetrator was involved

    If the respondent is unsure of their age at the time of the first incident, they are instructed to make their best guess.

    DATA ITEMS

    The data items and related output categories for this topic are contained within the SPS Level – ABU tab in the data item list which is available in Excel spreadsheet format from the Downloads tab of this product

    DATA USES

    The abuse module was primarily designed to be used in conjunction with information collected in other parts of the survey – that is, to analyse the relationship between experiences of child abuse before the age of 15 and later experiences of violence as an adult. It was not designed to measure the extent of child abuse, in order to do this a separate survey would be required.

    Abuse data can be used to examine:
    • The relationship between experiences of sexual and/or physical abuse before the age of 15 and later experiences of violence as an adult.
    • The estimated number and proportion (rate) of persons aged 18 years and over that have experienced sexual and/or physical abuse before the age of 15.
    • The prevalence of sexual and/or physical abuse by specific adult perpetrator types.
    • The characteristics of the first incident of sexual and/or physical abuse, including the respondent’s age at the time, their relationship to the perpetrator, and whether more than one perpetrator was involved.

    Abuse data cannot be used to examine:
    • Prevalence rates for physical and sexual abuse perpetrated by another minor.
    • The characteristics of all incidents of abuse. Characteristics information is only collected for the first incident of sexual abuse and first incident of physical abuse, and is therefore not necessarily representative of all incidents of abuse that may have occurred. Users should avoid generalising these findings to all abuse incidents when evaluating the data.
    • Current rates of child abuse, and whether rates have increased or decreased over time.
    • Whether the abuse occurred in an institutional setting. Although perpetrator information is collected, this is insufficient to determine whether the abuse occurred in an institutional setting or not.

    INTERPRETATION

    Points to be considered when interpreting data for this topic include the following:
    • The experience of physical abuse as a child is particularly difficult to measure, given changes in what is generally perceived as acceptable behaviour towards children in relation to discipline. For example, while caning was practised at schools in the past, this is no longer an accepted practice. In order to minimise the level of interpretation by respondents, standard definitions were included in the survey question. However, one limitation of collecting data in this way is that the response given by respondents would reflect their own interpretation of the question and what constitutes abuse.
    • The prevalence of sexual and physical abuse before the age of 15 as published in the PSS is likely an underestimate of the true value, as the scope of the survey does not include persons aged less than 18 years. Similarly, there is not enough coverage to collect data from discrete population groups such as persons from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. As these population groups are considered to be at higher risk of experiencing abuse before the age of 15, it is quite likely that the national prevalence rates may be understated compared to the true value.
    • Where a person has experienced both sexual and physical abuse, they are counted separately for each but are counted only once in the aggregated abuse total.
    • Characteristics of abuse information is only collected for the first incident of sexual abuse and first incident of physical abuse, and is therefore not necessarily representative of all incidents of abuse that may have occurred. Users should avoid generalising these findings to all abuse incidents when evaluating the data. For example, a respondent may have first experienced physical abuse by a parent and then later experienced physical abuse by a carer. Details about the second incident, such as age and whether more than one perpetrator was involved in the incident were not collected in the survey.
    • Characteristics of the first incident data for sexual abuse and physical abuse cannot be added together in order to produce an aggregated total, as this would double count respondents that have experienced both types of abuse. As a result, characteristics of the first incident data can only be understood in the context of the specific type of abuse experienced.
    • Respondents who reported that the abuse occurred more than once were asked to report the relationships of all of the adults that abused them. Where the respondent only selected one perpetrator type (e.g. family friend) they were not asked whether more than one person abused them in the first incident, as it was assumed that only one person was involved. However, it is conceptually possible that the respondent was abused by more than one perpetrator (e.g. two different family friends), though it is estimated that this would be a small number given that most abuse perpetrator types are a single person (i.e. father, mother).
    • Respondents had the option of choosing ‘don’t know’ when asked about their relationship to all of the adults that had abused them. Some respondents may have deliberately selected the ‘don’t know’ category as a result of not wishing to reveal the details of the relationship, rather than not knowing who perpetrated the abuse. There may also be cases where the respondent genuinely did not know who the perpetrator was (e.g. if the incident occurred in a dark environment and the respondent could not see the perpetrator’s face). In addition some respondents selected specific relationship types as well as also selecting the ‘don’t know’ category. This data has been left as reported as this combination is considered to be legitimate, for instance where there was more than one perpetrator of abuse.
    • Another limitation with collecting abuse data is that it is retrospective and relies on the respondent being able to accurately recall and interpret experiences from the past, and on their willingness to report them to an interviewer. For example, when being interviewed respondents may not remember incidents that occurred during their early childhood years.
    • In previous cycles, the option to refuse to answer the abuse questions was not identified to the respondents, but was recorded by the interviewer if the respondent refused to answer. With the introduction of the CASI in the 2016 PSS, respondents were able to select a response of ‘Don’t wish to answer’ which has therefore led to an increase in the amount of refusal’s reported. Analysis of 2012 and 2016 PSS data shows an increase in refusals of 1.1% for both sexual and physical abuse. Data users should therefore consider whether this refusal population is included in data tables.
    • It should also be noted that where respondents refused to answer sexual abuse questions but responded to physical abuse questions, the physical abuse data was used in data items that had a combination of both sexual and physical abuse e.g. Whether experienced physical and/or sexual abuse before age 15.

    COMPARABILITY WITH PREVIOUS SURVEYS

    Information about experiences of abuse before the age of 15 was collected in the 2005 and 2012 editions of the PSS. The following should be noted when making comparisons:
    • Previous cycles did not specify that an ‘adult’ is someone aged 18 years and over. For the previous surveys, the term ‘adult’ was left to the respondent’s interpretation. This added clarification has not seen a significant change in the overall data reported in categories such as brother/sister.
    • For the first time, the 2016 PSS asks respondents to identify all perpetrator types that have abused them before the age of 15, whereas previous editions of the survey only asked about the relationship to the perpetrator of the first incident of abuse. This means there is no earlier comparable data for abuse prevalence by specific perpetrator types.
    • Changes to perpetrator response categories have occurred over the cycles, this should be taken into consideration when making detailed comparisons of categories between cycles.

    COMPARISONS WITH OTHER CYCLES

    1996 Women's Safety Survey2005 Personal Safety Survey2012 Personal Safety Survey2016 Personal Safety Survey

    Population



    N/A



    Men and women aged 18 years and older


    Men and women aged 18 years and older

    Men and women aged 18 years and older

    Relationship to perpetrator N/A
    First incident of physical/sexual abuse only

    Adult perpetrator as interpreted by respondent
    First incident of physical/sexual abuse only
    Adult perpetrator as interpreted by respondent
    First incident of physical/sexual abuse only
    Adult perpetrator as interpreted by respondent
  • Father
  • Mother
  • Brother
  • Sister
  • Step Father
  • Step Mother
  • Step Brother
  • Step Sister
  • Other male relative
  • Other female relative
  • Family friend
  • Acquaintance/neighbour
  • Doctor
  • Teacher
  • Minister/priest/clergy
  • Stranger
  • Other known person
    • Father
    • Mother
    • Brother
    • Sister
    • Step Father
    • Step Mother
    • Step Brother
    • Step Sister
    • Other male relative or in-law
    • Other female relative or in-law
    • Family friend
    • Acquaintance/neighbour
    • Doctor
    • Teacher
    • Minister/priest/rabbi
    • Stranger
    • Other known person
    • Relationship unknown
    • Father
    • Mother
    • Adult brother
    • Adult sister
    • Step Father
    • Step Mother
    • Adult Step Brother
    • Adult Step Sister
    • Other male relative or in-law
    • Other female relative or in-law
    • Foster carer or other person associated with care placement
    • Family friend
    • Acquaintance/neighbour
    • Doctor or other health professional
    • Teacher
    • Other school related staff
    • Childcare worker
    • In-home care educator or carer
    • Recreational leader
    • Minister/priest/rabbi/nun/other person associated with place of worship
    • Staff in a children's home/orphanage
    • Corrective services personnel
    • Stranger
    • Other known person
    • Relationship unknown
    ComparabilityNot collected2005 data is generally considered comparable with 2012 and 2016 data. 2012 data is generally considered comparable with 2005 and 2016 data.2016 data is generally considered comparable with 2005 and 2012 data.