Reconceptualising the role of guardianship in preventing child sexual abuse

Dr Nadine McKillop1, Danielle Reynald, and Susan Rayment-McHugh
1University Of The Sunshine Coast, Maroochydore DC, Australia

The role of guardianship in preventing crime has received significant international attention. Although initially applied to property crimes, interest in its utility for understanding and preventing crime of an interpersonal nature (including child sexual abuse; CSA) has increased in recent years. Guardianship plays an important role in responding to CSA and disclosures, as well as preventing it occurring in the first place. However, the personal nature of these crimes brings layers of complexity that requires more elaborate analysis of the elements that underpin guardianship. Reynald’s (2010) exploration of the dimensions of guardianship is useful for engaging in a more detailed examination of the capacity for guardianship as an effective tool for prevention of CSA, and how perceptions of capable guardianship may influence perpetrator and guardian behaviour. Using empirical data (n = 200+) from adjudicated male youths and adults, we identified micro-situational and contextual factors that serve to promote or impede effective guardianship and likelihood to intervene. In the presentation we consider why the simple presence of another may not be adequate for preventing CSA incidents, particularly in the riskiest contexts and relationships (i.e., domestic settings and affiliative relationships) and propose a (re)conceptualisation of the role of guardianship in the context of CSA.  From our findings, we suggest that a more nuanced understanding of guardianship dimensions will help to better inform primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention efforts to enhance the effectiveness of guardianship action.


Dr. Nadine McKillop’s research concentrates on understanding and preventing sexual violence and abuse, the assessment and treatment of youth and adult sexual offenders, and factors associated with the onset of youth and adult offending to reduce the extent and impacts of sexual violence and abuse in the community. Nadine is an adjunct Research Fellow with the Griffith Criminology Institute and Honorary Research Fellow with the Centre for Advances in Behavioural Sciences, Coventry University. She is an Associate Editor for the Journal of Sexual Aggression: An international, interdisciplinary forum for research, theory and practice.


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