Statewide action overdue amid new data showing continuing sexual exploitation of children in residential care

News 5 April 2023

Tuesday 4 April 2023 – embargoed until Wednesday 5 April 2023

New data show that Victoria’s most vulnerable children in state residential care are continuing to be harmed by organised and opportunistic sexual exploitation almost two years after an inquiry by the Commission for Children and Young People made recommendations to the Victorian Government to tackle it.

‘It’s clear that without stronger action, children in residential care remain at extreme risk of harm due to criminal activity by adults. In the lead up to next month’s State Budget, we are sharing this data to make clear the continuing consequences of under-investment and limited action,’ said Liana Buchanan, Victoria’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, today.

Data released today show that since July 2021 until the end of March 2023, 423 incidents of sexual exploitation in residential care were reported to the Commission, involving a total of 165 children. Of these, 64 per cent, or 241 incidents, involved sexual exploitation and abuse of children under 16, and 11 incidents involved nine children under 12.

‘Behind these figures are 165 of Victoria’s most vulnerable and victimised children – children who have already suffered trauma, been removed from their families and are now in the care of the state,’ Commissioner Buchanan said.

Reports received by the Commission indicate perpetrators are targeting children in residential care and offering drugs and/or money if the children leave care to meet up with them in cars, homes or hotels. Sexual abuse and assaults are common occurrences for these children.

‘Every day that government and the responsible agencies fail to act on our recommendations to protect these children is a day they face further serious, and possibly lifelong, harm,’ said Meena Singh, Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People, today.

‘These harms are compounded for Aboriginal children and young people, who remain over-represented in residential care and the broader child protection system,’ Commissioner Singh said.

In June 2021, the Commission’s report, Out of sight: Systemic inquiry into children and young people who are absent or missing from residential care was tabled in the Parliament of Victoria. It found an alarmingly high number of children and young people who are absent or missing from residential care are sexually exploited, abused and assaulted, often by adult men. This exploitation, abuse and assault can continue over long periods, and has devastating and long-term consequences (Finding 19).

The Commission’s inquiry also concluded that sexual exploitation was significantly under-reported in a fragmented and inconsistent approach across the state.

In its June 2021 report, the Commission called on government and Victoria Police to commit to and maintain a joint, targeted response to child sexual exploitation (Recommendation 5), noting a previous pilot, the 2016 Child Sexual Exploitation Enhanced Response Model, was discontinued despite a positive evaluation in 2017. The model piloted a consistent, coordinated approach to tackling sexual exploitation of children in residential care.

‘It is sad enough that we continue to see children in state care sexually abused and victimised. It is worse still for me as Commissioner to have seen state agencies step away from a concerted, joined-up effort that was helping to protect these children,’ Commissioner Buchanan said.

The Commission is also calling for stronger action on other recommendations from Out of sight, including better reporting and monitoring of sexual exploitation and government funding for a complete overhaul of the residential care system.

Repeated Commission inquiries have found that residential care is not adequate to meet children’s needs and too often means children experience further trauma and harm in the system.

Following recommendations in its previous In our own words inquiry (2019), Out of sight recommended a therapeutic residential care model that addresses and heals trauma and provides children with safe, stable homes. (Recommendation 2).

‘We’ve simply seen too little progress. Numerous inquiries have highlighted that there is a dire and urgent need to improve the quality of care. This is a crucial part of keeping children in placement and safe from exploitation.

‘It is also clear that action to better identify and protect children at risk of sexual exploitation and abuse is overdue and that children are suffering as a result,’ Commissioner Buchanan concluded.

Download the Out of sight report

Relevant findings and recommendations:

  • Findings 18, 19 and 31
  • Recommendations 2, 5 and 6

For interview:

Liana Buchanan
Principal Commissioner for Children and Young People

Media contact:

Darren Lewin-Hill
0437 046 360