Child safety and protection

Guidance on how to identify and report child abuse, and how to keep your child safe.

As a parent or carer, you play a crucial role in keeping all children and young people safe and protected from abuse. You also play a critical role in identifying and responding to suspected abuse within the community. In fact it may amount to a criminal offence if you fail to report suspected child sexual abuse.

I think my child is a victim of abuse - what do I do?

Child abuse can be difficult to speak about with your child. Your child may be very reluctant to share information and disclose details about the abuse.

When listening to your child make a disclosure about potential abuse, including sexual exploitation, it is important to avoid asking leading or intrusive questions.

Your role is simply to receive the information in an unbiased way and to reassure your child that they no longer have to deal with the abuse alone. It is the role of the Victoria Police and other relevant authorities to investigate the concerns and identify the details of what exactly happened.

Some tips to remember when talking to your child:

  • listen to your child and allow them to speak
  • stay calm and do not display expressions of panic or shock
  • use a neutral tone with no urgency and where possible use the child’s language and vocabulary
  • be patient and non-judgmental throughout
  • highlight to your child that they are doing the right thing in telling you about what happened and that it is not their fault
  • do not ask leading questions, but instead, gently ask 'What happened next?' rather than 'Why?'
  • be patient and allow your child to talk at their own pace and in their own words
  • do not pressure your child into telling you more than they want to
  • reassure your child that you believe them and that disclosing the matter was the right thing to do
  • use verbal facilitators such as 'Okay, I see', restate your child’s previous statement, and use non-suggestive words of encouragement, designed to keep your child talking in an open-ended way
  • avoid going over the information time and time again (you are only gathering information to help you form a belief on reasonable grounds that you need to make a report to the relevant authority)
  • tell your child you will need to seek support from the authorities to help stop the abuse, and explain the role of these authorities if appropriate

Questions you could ask your child are:

  • Can you tell me a bit more about that?
  • How do you feel when this happens?
  • What do you mean by that?

How to report child abuse

If you form a reasonable belief that your child (or another child) is or is at risk of being sexually abused or exploited you must immediately report this to Victoria Police on 000.

You should act even if you are unsure and have not directly observed the abuse. It is the role of the authorities to investigate, and your report may be critical in protecting the safety and wellbeing of the child or young person.

Your obligations

There are laws in place to protect children.

If an adult fails to report suspected child sexual abuse, they can be charged with a criminal offence if it includes a:

Failure to disclose

Where an adult (applies to all adults not just professionals who work with children) who has a reasonable belief that a child under the age of 16 years has been, or is at risk of being sexually abused by an adult, but fails to disclose this reasonable belief to the Victoria Police.

Failure to protect

Where a person with requisite authority or control within an organisation (e.g. school) knew of a risk that an adult associated with the organisation may subject a child of the organisation to sexual abuse, and they negligently failed to reduce or remove the risk.

Mandatory reporting

Various professionals including principals, teachers, doctors, nurses and police must report any reasonable belief that a child has been physically abused or sexually abused to the Department of Health and Human Services (Child Protection) if the parents/carers of the child are unable or unwilling to protect the child from harm of that type.

This is known as the Mandatory Reporting obligation and arises whenever these professionals form a reasonable belief in the course of carrying out their duties or engaging in their profession or employment.

Report to us

​​Parents, students and school staff can be confident that if a concern of sexual assault is reported in a school, it will be dealt with in a timely and sensitive manner.

If you are concerned that your child has been subjected to abuse at a Victorian government school, or you are worried that they may be at risk of abuse or otherwise in danger you should:

  • contact Victoria Police on Triple Zero (000) if the risk is immediate
  • in other cases, contact your local police station.

Please also report your concerns to your school principal or regional office. For information and raising concerns or making complaints, including information about contacting regional offices, see: Parent Complaints

How schools respond

The Department has guidelines for school staff and principals on what to do when a student discloses that they have been sexually abused, assaulted or harassed.​

For more information, see: 

Sexual exploitation

What is sexual exploitation?

Sexual exploitation is a real threat for all children and young people. Your child is not too young to be a victim and it can happen to children of any background. All members of the community including parents and carers share a moral obligation to protect children and young people from harm.

Child sexual exploitation is a form of sexual abuse where offenders (acting as themselves or under a false identity), use their power, be that physical, financial or emotional, over a child or young person, to sexually or emotionally abuse them.

It often involves situations and relationships where young people receive something (food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, affection, gifts, money etc.), in return for participating in sexual activities. Child sexual exploitation can occur in person or online, and sometimes the child or young person may not even realise they are a victim.

Child sexual exploitation can be hard to identify, however there are warning signs. It is critical that you are able to recognise the signs of sexual exploitation, as you may be the only adult in a position to identify and respond to suspected abuse.

How does sexual exploitation happen?

Child sexual exploitation can take many forms but some of the common situations in which it can occur include:

Inappropriate relationship

This usually involves an individual who exercises inappropriate power or control over a young person. There may be a significant age gap. The victim may believe they are in a loving relationship or friendship initially, but the relationship then changes. The offender uses their power over the young person to coerce, intimidate and continue the abuse.

Partner

Another young person befriends and grooms the victim into a sexual relationship by presenting as an ideal partner. They then force or coerce the victim into having sex with them, friends or associates, for social status, financial or other gain.

Organised exploitation and trafficking

Organised sexual exploitation is the most sophisticated form of child exploitation. There are often links between abusers, and victims are moved between networks (internal trafficking). Young people (often connected) are passed through networks, possibly over geographical distances, between towns and cities where they may be forced into sexual activity.

Forced marriage

Forced marriage is where a child or young person is subject to a marriage without their consent, arranged for by their immediate or extended family, is also a form of sexual exploitation and constitutes a criminal offence.

How can I protect my child from sexual exploitation?

In general, children and young people are less vulnerable to sexual exploitation and abuse if they are engaged in school or training or employment and have strong connections with their parents or carers. To protect your child you should:

Know the signs and be alert

Acting early on warning signs can prevent abuse from happening or escalating. Be observant, listen to your child and look out for physical or other non-verbal signs that may indicate things that the child or young person cannot put into words.

Communicate and be available

Foster relationships where children and young people in your care are comfortable sharing all sorts of information, even on embarrassing or uncomfortable topics. Talk to them often about their day, their experiences and their relationships. Children are more vulnerable to sexual exploitation and abuse if their emotional needs are not being met and they feel like they have no one to talk to. Regular conversations give children the opportunity to share concerns and give you the opportunity to recognise worrying signs earlier.

Know their friends

Become familiar with your child’s friends so that you can monitor positive and negative influences. Knowing your child’s friends may also lead to them being able to share any concerns they have with you about your child.

Educate yourself

Get to know what children and young people are learning about sex and relationships at school and become familiar with the ways your child communicates with others (including social media and other online and mobile forms of communication). Get to know about warning signs of child sexual exploitation, different social media tools and cybersafety.

Educate your child

Take time to discuss with your child issues around cybersafety and respectful relationships. Consider what strategies you and your child could use to seek assistance with any questions or concerns about an individual’s behaviour.

Talk to your child about online safety

The internet and social media give offenders a way to ‘target’ their victims. Children and young people often make poor decisions about allowing people into their online lives, which can make them more vulnerable to sexual exploitation and abuse. To improve your child’s safety online you can:

  • ensure your child uses computers in public areas of the home such as the living room
  • ensure you are able to access your child’s email and let them know that you may randomly check the contents
  • check your phone bill for unusual outgoing calls
  • make sure children and young people are aware of how to use social media safely and what to do if they see or experience something that makes them uncomfortable
  • install filtering software on computers used by children and young people
  • friend your children on social media
  • show children and young people sites they can go to for help and talk to them about what to do if they see something that makes them uncomfortable online
  • discuss the issues and risks with your children.

Where can I get support?

If you are at all concerned about the possibility of your child being the victim of a sexual predator online or in person, please contact the Victoria Police for advice and assistance.

If you believe your child is in immediate danger, please phone 000.

If you are concerned about online behaviour involving the sexual exploitation of a child or young person, you can report it to: Australian Federal Police

Groomi​​ng

Grooming is when a person engages in predatory conduct to prepare a child or young person for sexual activity at a later time. Grooming can include communicating and/or attempting to befriend or establish a relationship or other emotional connection with the child, young person or their parent/carer.

Young people are often ‘groomed’ before they are sexually abused. At first they may be tricked into thinking they are in a safe and normal relationship, so they may not know it is happening or may feel they have no choice but to be abused.

Sometimes it is hard to see when someone is being groomed until after they have been sexually abused. Grooming behaviour may look like “normal” caring behaviour, however this is not always the case.

Groomers may rely on mobile phones, social media, and the internet to interact with children and young people in inappropriate ways and will often ask the child to keep their relationship a secret. The grooming process may continue for months before the offender arranges a physical meeting.

'Grooming' is now a criminal offence under the Crimes Act 1958. This offence targets predatory conduct undertaken by an adult to prepare a child, under the age of 16, to engage in a sexual activity at a later time.

Where ca​​n I get support?

If you are at all concerned about the possibility of your child being the victim of a sexual predator online or in person, please contact the Victoria Police for advice and assistance.

If you believe your child is in immediate danger, please phone 000.

If you are concerned about online behaviour involving the sexual exploitation of a child or young person, you can report it to: Australian Federal Police​​​

Resources for parents

Translated resources

Protecting Children from Abuse - Parents and Carers:
Feeling Safe: For Primary School Students
Feeling Safe: For Secondary School Students

More information

Where can I get support?

If you are at all concerned about the possibility of your child being the victim of a sexual predator online or in person, please contact the Victoria Police for advice and assistance.

If you believe your child is in immediate danger, please phone 000.

Crisis Line 13 12 78 (after hours, weekends, public holidays).

 

Case studies