Similarities in modi operandi of institutional and non-institutional child sexual offending: Systematic case comparisons

Ms Natalie Martschuk1, Prof Jane Goodman-Delahunty1, Prof Martine Powell2, Dr Nina Westera2

1Charles Sturt University, Manly, Australia, 2Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia


Little is known about the extent to which institutional child sex offending differs from non-institutional offending.  Strategies to secure the compliance of child victims were systematically compared to focus on the modi operandi (prior to, during and following abuse), and the type of power (intimate, aggressive, coercive) applied by child sexual offenders in institutional versus domestic non-institutional settings.  A sample of 59 of the most recent child sexual abuse cases referred for prosecution in three Australian states was manually reviewed and coded.  Of these, six cases involved institutional abuse, one of which involved cross-over offending.  Based on the age and gender of complainants, and patterns in offending behaviors, institutional cases were matched with cases of non-institutional abuse.  Complainants of both genders ranged in age from 5-16 years at abuse onset.  Offenders were male family members or friends, priests, an employer and one female school teacher.  Results demonstrated commonalities in the modi operandi and grooming methods applied in institutional and non-institutional contexts. Implications for abuse prevention are summarized.


Natalie Martschuk, Dipl-Psych, is a Research Associate at Charles Sturt University. Her research interests are jury decision-making, procedural justice, investigative interviewing practices, and advanced statistical methods. She is trained in legal psychology and is finishing her PhD  at the University of Giessen on the reliability of older eyewitnesses. Previously, she practiced at the State Hospital for Forensic Psychiatry in Stendal, where she interviewed suspects and offenders, and provided expert evidence in court.

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