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One in 10 Australians has been sexually harassed by a peer during their childhood, new Australian Catholic University-led research shows.

The first nationally representative figures on the prevalence of sexual harassment across childhood reveals females and those who are gender or sexuality diverse are most at risk.

The findings, based on data from the landmark Australian Child Maltreatment Study (ACMS) of 8503 Australians aged 16 years and older who were asked to reflect on their childhood experiences of maltreatment, show males were the most common perpetrators of peer sexual harassment.

Lead author and ACU Institute of Child Protection Studies (ICPS) doctoral student Gabrielle Hunt said the new research revealed peer sexual harassment – defined as saying, writing, or doing something sexual to a peer that is offensive or intimidating – was prevalent among young Australians.

“For the first time, we have figures that show a significant proportion of young Australians – one in 10 – have been sexually harassed by their peers during childhood,” Ms Hunt said.

“We need to prioritise primary prevention messages and public health campaigns to protect children and young people by addressing the cultural norms that contribute to sexual harassment and violence against women, girls, and those with diverse genders and/or sexualities.”

The study was published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence and co-authored by researchers including ICPS Director Professor Daryl Higgins and Associate Professor Megan Willis of ACU’s Faculty of Health Sciences.

Professor Higgins said peer sexual harassment was often trivialised in childhood, but it left those impacted at risk of adverse physical, social, and psychological problems.

“We must move away from a culture of normalising peer sexual harassment and treat it for what it is – unwanted and confronting behaviour that nobody should tolerate or accept,” Professor Higgins said.


One in 10 young Australians sexually harassed by peers – research (ACU)