This project will provide essential insights into the challenges of responding effectively to the intersections of domestic and family violence (DFV) and familial child sexual abuse (CSA). DFV perpetrators are at increased risk of sexually abusing their children, however, responses to DFV and CSA are siloed and lack coordination.

This project aims to:

  1. Investigate how legal systems respond when CSA is reported in the context of DFV.
  2. Explore how the co-occurrence of CSA and DFV is managed by sexual assault (SA) and DFV services.
  3. Examine the lived experience of the intersection of DFV and CSA from the perspective of survivors.

A multiple methods approach will be implemented, including:

  • A content analysis of Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia cases in the last 10 years that mention DFV and CSA.
  • Interviews and focus groups with up to 30 SA and DFV workers.
  • Interviews with up to 10 adult CSA survivors whose mother/stepmother was also subjected to DFV and 10 DFV survivors whose children were sexually abused by the perpetrator.

This project will create new knowledge about cases in which CSA occurs in the context of DFV, how legal systems respond, and how SA and DFV services manage these cases. The project will work with key stakeholders to co-design impact pathways that may include training, resources and webinars for knowledge translation and dissemination.

Researcher Institution

A/Prof Michael Salter

University of New South Wales

A/Prof Molly Dragiewicz

Griffith University

Dr Delanie Woodlock

Monash University

Angela Lynch

Queensland Sexual Assault Network

A/Prof Cate Banks

Monash University

Kathleen Maltzahn


Prof Jan Breckenridge

University of New South Wales

Di McLeod

Gold Coast Centre against Sexual Violence

This study will use a co-designed mixed-methods approach to create new knowledge about cases in which CSA occurs in the context of DFV, including:

  • how legal systems respond to reports of co-occurring CSA and DFV,
  • how SA and DFV services manage these cases, and
  • survivors’ experiences.

There will be four phases of the project, each building on the previous one. These include:

  • Methods: Review and content analysis of Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia cases for the last 5 years that include mention of both FDV and CSA using the legal database Austlii, which provides free open access to legal documents. The method used will draw on the previous study by Salter et al. (2021), who used the Austlii database to analyse sentencing judgments pertaining to child sexual abuse material (CSAM) cases perpetrated by parental figures.

    Sample: Published cases from 2018-2023 that include mention of FDV and CSA will be identified using Austlii.  Cases will be screened to check that they are CSA and DFV cases and that adequate information is available for analysis. 

    Analysis: Screened cases will be coded to assess factors such as: the origin of disclosure of CSA, available evidence, use of expert reports, judicial attitude or view of the CSA allegation, measures that are taken to protect children, and case outcomes such as parenting time and contact requirements.

  • Methods: Professionals will be interviewed about their experience supporting mothers and their children and adult survivors where there is an intersection between DFV and CSA. Professionals are viewed in this project as an “epistemic community” (Haas, 1992) with practice-based knowledge and a depth of expertise and knowledge about this complex problem. By drawing on the expertise of professionals, we will be able to translate their practice wisdom into evidence.

    Sample: Interviews and focus groups with sexual violence and domestic violence staff will explore patterns and dynamics of CSA in the context of adult domestic violence. Sexual violence service staff will be recruited via the National Association of Services Against Sexual Violence (NASASV), the peak body for SA services. Domestic violence staff will be recruited via DFV NSW, the National Women’s Safety Alliance and other peak state and territory bodies.

    Analysis: Interviews and focus groups will be transcribed and analysed using NVivo. Thematic analysis will be applied, utilising the method by King, Horrocks and Brooks (2018). This involves finding recurrent themes within each transcript, conducting a cross-case analysis where themes are identified according to similarities and differences, and drawing comparisons across the data.

  • Methods: Survivors will be either adult children where the CSA offender also perpetrated domestic violence against their mother/stepmother or mothers who had been subjected to domestic violence where the perpetrator also sexually abused their children. Advocates interviewed in phase 2 will refer survivors to be interviewed as part of the project.

    Sample: Interviews with adult survivors of CSA that occurred in the context of adult DFV will investigate survivors’ experiences of CSA, disclosure, reporting, and support received, as well as their perceptions of the relationship between CSA and DFV.

    Analysis:  Interviews will be transcribed and analysed using NVivo. A similar thematic analysis strategy as used in phase 2 will be applied.

  • Research dissemination will occur through an iKT framework to develop research into knowledge gaps in practice and to incorporate the needs and insights of those most impacted by the research outcomes (Banner et al., 2019). We will follow established iKT principles for practice recommendation development and evaluation by:

    1. engaging the project advisory group to provide expert advice on the policy and practice implications of the study and the development of key translational resources and documents,
    2. synthesising our research findings with existing academic and grey literature,
    3. translating these outcomes into practice and policy recommendations at the state and national level, and
    4. utilising readily available impact and dissemination pathways, including webinars for professionals, plain English research dissemination via a research report, social media and short research summaries.