Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse: Special Issue of the Journal of Interpersonal Violence

By Marcus Erooga &Keith Kaufman (Co-Editors)


Evidence suggests that child sexual abuse remains a significant public health concern across the world. For example, the World Health Organization (2018) reported in 2018 that 20% of women and 8% of men worldwide report having been sexually abused as a child. At the same time, it is widely understood that these and other prevalence estimates represent underestimates of the true incidence of abuse (Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, 2017). Of concern are the short- (Beitchman, Zucker, Hood, daCosta, & Akman, 1991) and long-term (Beitchman et al., 1992) adverse effects that are associated with many victims of child sexual abuse. Despite the prevalence and the significant consequences, there has been a relative paucity of prevention efforts to address child sexual abuse.

As part of the efforts to address this, we were invited to edit a designed to highlight a broad international sampling of cutting-edge child sexual abuse prevention articles, in the hope of both spurring additional prevention research and sharing these creative approaches to prevention. The following is a brief synopsis of the content.

In 2017, the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) published a final report detailing its 5-year investigation process, which represents the most comprehensive public inquiry of its kind ever conducted. The Journal opens with an article based on findings from co-principal investigators’ Professor Keith Kaufman (USA) and Marcus Erooga (UK) comprehensive international literature review examining risk and protective factors related to CSA in institution settings for the Commission (Kaufman et al., 2016), with additional material from Professor Ben Mathews (Australia) and supported by Erin McConnell from Portland State University. This provides suggested preventive directions to address the safety risks identified in the authors’ review of more than 400 publications and reports garnered from research literature in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australasia.

Second is a study authored by Billie Jo Grant, Ryan Shields, Joan Tabachnick, and Jenny Coleman examining data from Stop It Now!’s U.S. helpline over a 5-year period. This offers insights into the needs of the hidden population of individuals who are at risk to sexually abuse, those who have abused, as well as offenders’ and potential offenders’ friends and family members seeking support.

On the related topic of services for those seeking preventive treatment, Sarah Beggs Christofferson’s New Zealand study explores whether such provision is viable in a discretionary reporting context, that is, in jurisdictions without mandatory reporting, but where risk-related disclosures to authorities are permitted at therapists’ discretion. Based on a survey of New Zealand health professionals, she concludes that if policies and expectations are clearly defined, this could be the best way forward for viable preventive treatment.

This is followed by Professors Jill Levenson and Melissa Grady’s report on a U.S. pilot study to investigate whether it is possible to improve the provision of clinical services to individuals who self-identify as sexually attracted to minors, but who have not yet acted on their attraction. The authors describe the use of an innovative prevention approach designed to alter the knowledge and attitudes of mental health professionals to increase the pool of competent practitioners willing to provide services to this challenging population.

The subsequent article, by Professors Richard Wortley, Benoit Leclerc, Danielle Reynald, and Stephen Smallbone (from the United Kingdom and Australia, respectively), takes a different approach to the prevention of child sexual abuse. It focuses on strategies intended to alter situational dynamics in ways that make CSA less likely to occur, rather than attempting to treat individual factors in the offender (e.g., to change their inappropriate motivations and behavior). The authors suggest that by considering the perspective of the offenders themselves, they can identify significant situational safety risks that can guide the design and implementation of more effective offense-focused CSA prevention approaches.

Finally, the Special Issue concludes with a report detailing a national survey of CSA prevention education programs in Australian primary schools conducted by Professor Kerryann Walsh, Donna Berthelsen, Kirstine Hand, Leisa Brandon, and Jan Nicholson. The survey was distributed to all providers of child sexual abuse prevention programs in Australian primary schools and provides new information about the nature and scope of school-based education programming for the prevention of child sexual abuse. It also provides a template for the development of similar prevention programs in other settings internationally.

It was a real pleasure to be able to work with such highly experienced and knowledgeable authors, each an expert in their respective field and we are excited by the breadth and depth of prevention perspectives reflected in their contributions.

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