Guardians key in reducing sexual offences against women

Guardians are instrumental in helping to prevent sexual offending against women a new Griffith University study has found.

Using self-reported crime data collected from 138 adult men convicted and incarcerated for a sexual offence against a woman, researchers from the Griffith Criminology Institute found the presence of any guardian (i.e, a person nearby or witness) was twice as likely to disrupt or stop the offenders than in those cases where there was no guardian.

Benoit Leclerk

“Guardianship is a fundamentally important factor in sexual offence disruption,’’ says chief investigator Associate Professor Benoit Leclerc.

“Through their presence guardians discourage offending by increasing an offender’s risk of detection or apprehension and manipulating the perceived costs and rewards associated with the criminal opportunity.”

“In our study, however, because guardians were also present in some completed offences the impact of guardianship is not guaranteed, rather its effectiveness relies on context. The most important factor is who the guardian is and what they’re doing.

The study found adults were the main guardians present during disrupted offences while the majority of guardians present during completed offences were children. No children in the study disrupted or stopped the offending taking place.

The ‘child guardians’ were always nearby (not close enough to witness), always indoors (the offender of victim’s home) and always known to the offender and/or victim.

By comparison, the adult guardians were often in a position where they could witness and intervene, with these actions typically occurring in outdoor settings (ie, park or street).

“Very few studies have examined the presence of potential guardians in sexual offences and not much is known about the circumstances involving the presence of guardians and the extent to which it dissuades an offender from committing a sexual crime,’’ Associate Professor Leclerc said.

“The presence of a potential guardian is monumental as it has the capacity to prevent a crime during perpetration.”

Danielle Reynald

According to Griffith Criminology Institute researcher and partner investigator Dr Danielle Reynald, adult guardians can protect against sexual crime in three critical ways.

“These are willingness to supervise, ability to detect potential offending and willingness to intervene,’’ she said.

“The results of this study show that sexual offences where the guardian witnessed and/or intervened were significantly more likely to be disrupted.

“What our results suggest is that in the context of sexual offending against women, and perhaps interpersonal crime more broadly, it is action rather than the mere presence of someone that makes them capable of disrupting opportunities for crime.

“For a guardian to make an effective contribution to sexual offence disruption, it is critical they are able to take action — in the form of either keeping an eye out or responding.”

The study was part of a larger Australian Research Council-funded study on the effectiveness of situational crime techniques to prevent sexual violence and abuse from the offender’s perspective.