As a school staff member, you must act as soon there is an incident or allegation or you form a suspicion that a student is victim to student sexual offending and/or a student has committed student sexual offending.
You must act even if you have not directly observed the student sexual offending (e.g. if the victim or another person tells you about the student sexual offending).
If you are unsure whether a behaviour (or suspected behaviour) constitutes student sexual offending you should seek further advice and err on the side of caution by following the Four Critical Actions.
You must also act if you form a reasonable belief that a student's sexual offending is a result of underlying child abuse by following the Four Critical Actions.
You should make sufficient enquiries to form a reasonable belief and to determine a child's immediate needs. However, once a reasonable belief has been formed, it is not your role to investigate. This is the role of DHHS Child Protection or Victoria Police.
This section steps you through when and how to respond if you:
Witnessing an Incident
If you witness an incident where you believe a student is a victim of student sexual offending and/or a student has engaged in student sexual offending, you must take immediate action to protect the safety of students involved. If there is an immediate risk to health and safety, see:
If there is no immediate risk to health and safety, see:
Forming a suspicion
All suspicions that a student is a victim of a student sexual offending and/or a student has engaged in student sexual offending must be taken seriously. This includes an offence that is suspected to have occurred outside of school premises and/or outside school hours.
If you form a suspicion that a student is victim of student sexual offending and/or a student has committed student sexual offending, you must act, even if you have not directly witnessed the student sexual offending.
In some circumstances, you may also form a belief that a student's sexual behaviour is indicative of their own experience of child abuse. Physical or behavioural signs may be the only indication that a child is impacted by abuse.
For advice on how to recognise these signs, see Identifying Signs of Child Abuse.
If you form a reasonable belief that a student is engaged in student sexual offending and may have also been impacted by child abuse you must follow the following steps which will support you in reporting your suspicions to the appropriate authorities.
Situations where you must respond to suspected student sexual offending may include:
- witnessing an incident which you believe to be student sexual offending
- a student or another child or young person states that they are victim to student sexual offending
- a student or another child or young person states that they know someone who has been victim to student sexual offending (sometimes the student or child may be talking about themselves)
- someone who knows the student or child or young person who is the victim of student sexual offending states that the student or child or young person has been victim to student sexual offending
- someone who knows the student who has engaged in the student sexual offending discloses that the student has engaged in student sexual offending
- signs of sexual abuse lead to a belief that the student or child or young person has been victim to student sexual offending
Receiving a disclosure (current student)
If a current student discloses that they have been, or are in danger of becoming victim to student sexual offending, you must treat the disclosure seriously and take immediate action by following the Four Critical Actions For Schools: Responding to Student Sexual Offending.
If another person (child or adult), discloses that they believe that a current student has engaged, or is at risk of engaging in student sexual offending, you must treat the disclosure seriously and take immediate action by following the
Four Critical Actions For Schools: Responding to Student Sexual Offending.
Four Critical Actions For Schools: Responding to Student Sexual Offending (pdf - 462.04kb) | Word version
For further guidance on managing the disclosure, see:
Strategies for managing a disclosure
Receiving a disclosure (former student)
If you receive a disclosure that a former student of your school is a victim of historical student sexual offending, you must act.
If any student involved in the alleged historical student sexual offending is currently of school age and attending a Victorian school you must follow the
Four Critical Actions For Schools: Responding to Student Sexual Offending (pdf - 462.3kb) | Word version (docx - 34.28kb)
If all impacted students are no longer of school age or attending a Victorian school you must also still act.
Reporting abuse - current and former students
This guidance will support you to:
- report any allegations of historical student sexual offending, by contacting your local Victoria Police station and/or by contacting the SANO Task Force (SANO was established to investigate allegations of historic sex abuse). They can be contacted on 1800 1100 007 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
- respond to a belief that you or another person is at immediate risk by contacting Victoria Police on 000.
This guidance will also support:
- Victorian government schools to report to relevant areas within the Department including the Principal of the school, the regional office and the Security Services Unit.
- Catholic schools to contact their Diocesan education office
- independent schools to notify their School Board.
Unsure if a Behaviour Constitutes Student Sexual Offending?
Knowing how to differentiate between age appropriate sexual behaviour, problem sexual behaviour and sexual offending can be difficult.
Research suggests that only a small number of children and young people develop problem sexual behaviour and even a smaller amount commit a sexual offence. Most children and young people are likely to engage in some level of sexualised behaviourv as part of their development. Children and young people learn what behaviours are appropriate, and not appropriate, to exhibit at school.
Victorian law holds that students under 10 years of age cannot commit a sexual offence. For guidance on responding to problem sexual behaviour in students under 10 and other forms of student sexualised behaviours which do not constitute student sexual offending, see: Sexual Behavoiur in Children under 10 Years.
Most importantly, if you are unsure about any form of potential sexual offending or sexual behaviour, you must seek further professional advice by consulting with:
- your school leadership team (all schools)
- Victoria Police Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Team (SOCIT)
- DHHS Child Protection
- Student Incident and Recovery Unit on (03) 9637 2934 or (03) 9637 2487
Diocesan education office, specifically:
- Archdiocese of Melbourne: Student Wellbeing Information Line on (03) 9267 0228
- Diocese of Sale: Child Protection Officer on (03) 5622 6600
- Diocese of Ballarat: Child Safety on (03) 5337 7135
- Diocese of Sandhurst: Team Leader, Pastoral Wellbeing on (03) 5443 2377.
Independent schools can contact Independent Schools Victoria on (03) 9825 7200.
Strategies for managing a disclosure
When managing a disclosure of student sexual offending, it is important that you respond in an appropriate and supportive manner. All disclosures of student sexual offending must be taken seriously and addressed immediately by following the Four Critical Actions: Responding to Student Sexual Offending
(pdf - 462.3kb) | Word version (docx - 34.28kb)
It is the role of school staff members to listen and respond appropriately to a student or another person’s (adult or child) concerns. When a disclosure of student sexual offending is made you must inform the student or the other person (adult or child) that their confidentiality cannot be maintained.
This should be done in language appropriate to the person’s age and stage of development. For example:
- To a younger student: 'I am not going to be able to keep your story a secret. I really have to tell someone who is going to be able to help you/ the other person.'
- To an older student: 'The information you have given me has made me very concerned for your welfare/the welfare of other person and I need to tell you that it is my responsibility to report this information to the Department of Education and Training and Victoria Police to help you/the other person get some assistance'.
You must document any disclosures within the Responding to Suspected Student Sexual Offending template. This may be critical for further investigations and/or legal proceedings.
See: Responding to Suspected Student Sexual Offending - Template (pdf - 303.06kb) word version (docx - 192kb)