Children and young people

Risk factors, vulnerable groups and protective factors

The Commission has identified a range of risk factors, vulnerable groups and protective factors that can have an impact on the levels of violence, harassment and bullying experienced by children and young people. These factors may also affect the level of resilience that individuals, families, schools and communities have to tackling these issues.

(a) Risk factors

The presence of risk factors can contribute to an environment where there are violence, harassment and bullying. These are interlinked and complex[45] and include socio-economic disadvantage and social exclusion, income inequality, poor educational attainment, long term unemployment, a cultural acceptance of violence and harassment, be it in sport or in the workplace, negative attitudes to vulnerable and minority groups and exposure to media violence.[46]
Some of these factors are interlinked and may increase the likelihood of parental drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence and poor mental health which are the most significant risk factors when abuse and neglect occur.[47] For example, alcohol misuse is estimated to be a contributing factor in half of domestic, sexual and physical violence cases against children.[48]

(b) Vulnerable groups

Indigenous children and young people

A range of factors, including discriminatory attitudes and government policies, socio- economic disadvantage and exclusion have been contributing factors in high rates of violence, harassment and bullying experienced by Indigenous children.[49]

Indigenous children are six times more likely than non-Indigenous children to be the victim of substantial abuse or neglect and eight times more likely to be involved with the statutory child protection system than non-Indigenous children.[50]Indigenous young people are also more likely to be a victim of violence than non-indigenous youth,[51] with one third of 15 to 24 year old Indigenous people reporting that they had been a victim of physical or threatened violence over a 12 month period.[52] In NSW the number of Indigenous children in out of home and kinship care has increased by 90% since 2002.[53] There is also evidence that Indigenous children may be more vulnerable to verbal abuse at school than other students.[54]

Girls and young women

Discriminatory attitudes towards women and girls are significant factors that contribute to gender based violence, harassment and bullying. [55]

Girls and young women are much more likely to be the victim of sexual violence. In 2003, there were 12,400 reported victims of physical assault and 7,500 reported victims of sexual assault among children.[56] Three-quarters of sexual assault victims are girls. One in seven girls and young women aged 12 to 20 have experienced rape or sexual assault.[57] In 2003, 41% of all reported sexual assault victims were aged 0-14 years.[58] Report rates of sexual assault are low. It is estimated that more than 70% of cases go unreported. This is higher for Indigenous children.[59]

Other vulnerable groups include children and young people with a disability[60], children and young people experiencing socio- economic disadvantage, children and young people who experience homelessness and lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex young people.

(c) Protective factors

Protective factors[61] can limit the likelihood of violence, harassment and bullying.

A positive home environment is one of the greatest protections against violence, harassment and bullying. This requires positive parenting practices, non violent discipline and the forming of strong relationships between children and their parents or carers. [62]

School policies and curricula that support non discriminatory and non violent behaviour can protect against violence, harassment and bullying at school.

A high level of social cohesion in the community is a protective factor even when other risk factors exist.

Equality as societies that are more equal and have less social disadvantage, exclusion and discrimination have lower rates of violence, harassment and bullying.


[45] HREOC, Social Justice Report (2007) p 17.
[46] Standing Committee on Family, Community, Housing and Youth, Inquiry into the impact of violence on young Australians, Chapter 3, Understanding youth violence, p 44-47
[47] COAG (2009) Protecting Children is Everyone’s Business: National Framework For Protecting Australia’s Children 2009 -2020. p 21. At 26 August 2010).
[48] It is important to note that the impact of substance misuse needs to be taken into consideration with other contributing factors such as socio economic disadvantage, social isolation and mental health see James Wood, (Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Child Protection Services in NSW, Volume 1 , (arts. 19; 28, para. 2; and 37, inter alia (2008) pp 98 – 103 The World Health Organisation (WHO) has identified strong links between child abuse and neglect and misuse of alcohol: WHO, Facts on Interpersonal Violence and Alcohol. Child Maltreatment. At (viewed 24 January 2010).
[49] HREOC, Social Justice Report (2007) p 17.
[50] Indigenous People’s Organisation’s Network of Australia, Submission to the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people – Australian mission, August 2009, At (viewed 22 February 2011).
[51] ABS, ‘Education of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people’, in Australian Social Trends,Catalogue No.412.0 ABS (2006).
[52] In 2007-08 Indigenous children aged 0 to 12 were the subject of a substantiation of a child protection notification at eight times the rate of other children, and were also on care and protection orders at eight times the rate of other children see ABS (2002), National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey Catalogue No4717.0, ABS, Canberra in State of Australian’s Young People
[53] James Wood (2008), Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Child Protection Services in NSW, ‘Volume 2’, p 597 < nquiry_into_child_protection_services_in_new_south_wales> at 26 August, 2010.
[54] Rigby, Ken, Addressing Bullying in Schools: Theory and Practice Trends and Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, No. 259. Australian Institute of Criminology (2003); UN Study on Violence against Children, p 3.
[55] See for example COAG, National plan to reduce violence against women and children (2011).
[56] AIHW
[57] National Crime Prevention 2001
[58] ABS 2004 Sexual Assault in Australia: A Statistical Overview, ABS Cat. No 4523.0. Canberra: ABS
[59] COAG (2009) Protecting Children is Everyone’s Business: National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009 -2020. p 31.
[60] For example, young people with a disability aged 15 to 24 years are significantly more likely to be the victim of a violent crime. (HILDA).
[61] Para 34 UN Secretary General’s Study on Violence Against Children (2006) An End to Violence Against Children, Chapter 1, At (viewed 26 August 2010).
[62] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment no.12 - The right to be heard, UN Doc CRC/C/GC/12, 20 July 2009, paras 90,120..