Research reveals prevalence of gender and sexuality diverse Australians, and finds greater risk of child maltreatment

Australians with diverse sexualities or genders are three times more likely to experience child maltreatment than heterosexual Australians, or cisgendered males, new Australian Catholic University-led research shows.

The research also reveals that 9.5 per cent of Australians do not identify as heterosexual, and 0.9 per cent identify as gender diverse. The proportions are higher among 16–24-year-olds where 18.9 per cent do not identify as heterosexual, and 2.3 per cent are gender diverse.

Those with diverse gender and sexuality identities are significantly more likely than cisgendered and heterosexual Australians to experience multiple forms of child maltreatment as well as being most at risk of all five types – physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, neglect, and exposure to domestic violence.

Sexual abuse carries the greatest risk for Australians with diverse genders, making them almost five times more likely to experience sexual abuse than cisgendered males, and more than twice as likely as females. When compared with heterosexuals, sexuality diverse Australians are also 3.4 times more at risk of sexual abuse.

ACU Institute of Child Protection Studies director Professor Daryl Higgins, who led the new research, said the figures were based on the findings from the landmark Australian Child Maltreatment Study (ACMS) of which Professor Higgins was also a chief investigator.

The ACMS survey of 8500 Australians found 62.2 per cent of those aged over 16 experienced child maltreatment, with almost 40 per cent experiencing multiple types.

Professor Higgins and his team of fellow researchers used the ACMS data to determine maltreatment rates among sexuality and gender diverse Australians, which revealed a significant association.

“For the first time, we can see the increased likelihood of Australians with diverse identities having experienced any of the five separate forms of child maltreatment and multi-type maltreatment,” he said.

“This significant association may explain some of the health disparities including mental health challenges that have been found for gender and sexuality diverse people.”

The research, published in Child Maltreatment, showed 81.5 per cent of those aged 16 and above who identified with a diverse gender experienced child maltreatment, compared with 65.5 per cent of females, and 58.4 per cent of males. In the 16-to-24-year age group, the number of respondents with a diverse gender who experienced maltreatment rose to 90.5 per cent.

For those who identified as sexuality diverse, 83.9 per cent aged 16 and above experienced child maltreatment, with the figure climbing to 85.3 per cent among those aged 16 to 24. However, for heterosexual respondents, the figures were 61 per cent for those aged 16 and above, and 56.2 per cent among those aged 16 to 24.

Professor Higgins said the increased likelihood of gender and sexuality diverse Australians being subjected to maltreatment as children highlighted the need for targeted preventions and supports.

“The significant over-representation of gender and sexuality diverse Australians experiencing child maltreatment shows we need to develop more targeted policies and services along with greater acceptance and recognition of this diversity,” he said.

“Knowledge about gender and sexuality diversity and this strong association to child maltreatment needs to be integrated into prevention and response strategies including parenting skills and organisational safeguarding.”

Read the study

Have a question?

We're available 9am–5pm AEDT,
Monday to Friday

If you’ve got a question, our AskACU team has you covered. You can search FAQs, text us, email, live chat, call – whatever works for you.

Live chat with us now

Chat to our team for real-time
answers to your questions.

Launch live chat

Visit our FAQs page

Find answers to some commonly
asked questions.

See our FAQs