The Primary Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse
Primary prevention, not primarily reaction.

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Systemic Prevention Steps

There are many organizations that have policy recommendations. By far the most comprehensive ones are the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers, and David Finkelhor has a good article on the issue. However, many of these policy recommendations can be somewhat difficult and time-consuming to read.

Below are a few systemic changes that are related to primary prevention. These changes are primarily a concern for the United States, though the principles behind these changes are universally applicable.

Mandatory Reporting Laws

Note that this section is not applicable to individual situations and is strictly policy recommendation, and if you are aware of abuse that is occurring, visit reporting allegations to law enforcement. As mandatory reporting is still the law in many places, you must observe it if it applies in your area.

Mandatory reporting of individuals is often lauded by some victims and anti-abuser organizations, but mandatory reporting alongside draconian laws and punishments can seriously hamper the ability to hold abusers accountable because it fails to take the facts of how abuse happens into account. Because around 93% of abuse and 86% of sexual assault are perpetrated by people the victim knows, trusts, and cares about, there is less incentive for an abuser or victim to seek therapy, for fear of ruining the perpetrator's life. There is also significant fear among at-risk individuals that seeking therapy for thoughts related to sexually hurting someone could end up with a police investigation, charges, or being outed in the community as a "sexual predator." These factors hold true on an individual basis, not an institutional level.

Because Prevention Project Dunkelfeld and Help Wanted have clearly demonstrated the need for removing mandatory reporting laws applicable to individuals and therapists, and the success in treating people when these laws are absent, it is the suggestion of this site that said laws need to be repealed wherever they are present so that both victims and abusers can get the proper therapy they need. This does not hold true for institutions like schools, sports programs, and churches, and mandatory reporting should remain in place for these institutions.


Things that need work...

Harsh Penalties

Harsh penalties, despite their popularity, do not decrease or deter crime. What they do is interfere with victims reporting their abuse to the authorities, since most who perpetrate sexual offenses are people known to the victim and the victim does not always want the person who abused them to get in trouble.

Sex Offender Registration

Sex offender registration needs to be abolished. As most sex offenders never commit another sexual crime, and most sexual crime is committed by first-time offenders who are trusted in the community, any focus on sex offenders through registration or notification will be a distraction to communities. The cost is not worth the lack of benefit identified in research. 

Sex Offender Residency Restrictions

Residency restrictions need to be abolished. The research surrounding residency restrictions is nearly unanimous in saying that they do not keep the public safer, and can lead to increased homelessness. This increased homelessness has been shown to increase risk factors for further offending, as well as making it more difficult for offenders to reestablish themselves as productive members of society. A better alternative is to create systems like Circles of Support and Accountability so that offenders are supported in their reintegration into society. 

Sex Offender Notifications

The trend in research identifies several issues with publicly identifying sex offenders in the community. Many of these issues can be solved by eliminating public notifications, as these are consistently identified in research as increasing the general recidivism rate of sex offenders and generally doing nothing to prevent sexual abuse. Concerns have also been raised by law enforcement professionals. It is necessary for sex offender notifications to cease, due to this lack of effectiveness. 


Things we need more of...

Educating Families

Some funding originally directed at sex offender registration in the past must be directed to educating families about appropriate safety plans, facts around child sexual abuse and sexual assault, warning behaviors in potential abusers, resources for individualized help on a variety of topics, and normative vs. atypical sexual behavior in children and teenagers. This education plan would be created using accurate terminology, research-based factoids, and produced by experts in these areas. 

Sex education is too often limited to the biology of sex. Young people need more preparation for healthy relationships, dealing with peer pressure, negotiating personal boundaries, and seeking help from caring adults: Lessons they need to hear multiple times at home, in schools, and from community members. These lessons can be learned and taught via books, educational presentations, ordinary every-day conversations, school programming, etc. These lessons cannot come from only one source, and any messages taught in schools should supplement, not replace, what is being taught at home and in the community.

Mental Health Interventions

Mental health interventions must be available in schools, such as programs that teach sexual abuse prevention to children, programs that address adolescent relationship abuse (teen dating violence), and programs that make it easier for children and adults with concerns to seek help. Additionally, more programs for children and adults with trauma in their childhoods would be a good addition to these interventions.