New book reveals the organised nature of sexual abuse

As Australia prepares for the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse, a new book by a leading criminologist at the University of Western Sydney has used 21 sexual assault case studies to examine how abusive groups develop and operate in the midst of religion and ritual.

Organised Sexual Abuse, by Dr Michael Salter from the UWS School of Social Sciences and Psychology, will be launched Karen Willis OAM, Executive Officer of the NSW Rape Crisis Centre at Gleebooks, Sydney, this Saturday at 3:30pm.

By examining the existing evidence and supplementing it with further research, Organised Sexual Abuse draws on the life histories and experiences of survivors to develop a criminological model of abuse.

Focusing on cases where multiple perpetrators collude in the abuse of multiple children, it examines how abuse can occur in institutions, families and in the community.

Dr Salter says the widespread nature of sexual abuse in Australia has been kept secret for so long because of the collusion of perpetrators, and in many cases the institutions they represent.

“The socially legitimised power these abusers have over their victims as parents, teachers and other authority figures has ensured many of the most horrific cases of abuse have been kept out of the public eye,” says Dr Salter.

“Added to this, many victims may wish to come forward and seek help but are thwarted by the pressure to remain silent and maintain the comforting fiction that nothing took place.” 

The book launch comes as Australia’s Royal Commission into Sexual Abuse prepares to call hear evidence from victims to inquire into how institutions with a responsibility for children have managed and responded to allegations and instances of child sexual abuse.

Dr Salter says most of the available literature focuses on the psychological treatment of the survivors, but Organised Sexual Abuse treats the survivor not as a client but as a witness.

“Allegations of widespread sexual abuse by more than one person came to widespread public attention in the 1980s, with many of the victims that spoke out accused of lying or fantasising about abuse,” he says.

“But research has consistently found child abuse testimonies are accurate and easily corroborated. Questions over the trust of witness statements are questioned far more often in relation to sexual abuse compared to other crimes.”

“We must bear this in mind as we approach the Royal Commission, as I am sure many of the institutions named by witnesses will try to use these tactics to discredit their evidence.”
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