Characteristics of an organisation where sexual abuse has occurred

Gail Ritchie1, Professor Christine Bigby1, Emeritus Professor Jacinta Douglas1

1Living with Disability Research Centre (LIDS), La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia

While sexual abuse of people with an intellectual disability by carers is an issue of concern, research on this topic remains limited. This paper presents a subset of findings from a case study that explored the characteristics of an organisation where historical sexual abuse had occurred.

St John of God Hospitaller Order provided residential services for boys and youth with intellectual and other disabilities. Allegations of sexual abuse had been reported against 40% of the Order’s members with 4 convicted of abuse. This case study used grounded theory methods to examine documents in the public domain about the perpetrators and Order from 1947 to the current time. Documents reviewed included court and media reports, government inquiries and reviews. A timeline of allegations, events and organisational responses was constructed, and an analysis of characteristics undertaken.

Organisational characteristics fell into; lack of external governance, service leaders accused of abuse, a culture of secrecy, protection of alleged perpetrators, investment of resources for sophisticated legal defences, settlements precluding public comment or further civil action, movement of perpetrators and alleged perpetrators within the organisation’s international network.

Protection of the organisation and its members was prioritised and it wasn’t subject to external scrutiny. This type of organisation may be susceptible to individuals and groups likely to abuse vulnerable children and adults. External scrutiny and regulation of organisations is important to identify abuse and take strong actions to counter potentially sophisticated defences.


Bio to come.