Communicating about child sexual abuse with the public: learning the lessons from public awareness campaigns

By Hazel Kemshall, De Montfort University, & Heather Moulden, McMaster University.

How effective are public awareness campaigns about Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) and what does research tell us about the most useful approaches? In a recent review of such campaigns Kemshall and Moulden (2016) outline the key trends and research evidence.  The article looks at developments in techniques and methods since the 1990s.  Public awareness can be defined as a campaign that uses: ‘…media, messaging, and an organised set of communication activities to generate specific outcomes in a large number of individuals and in a specific period of time.’ (Coffman, 2002, p. 2). Campaigns can also be distinguished between those that: ’try to change in individuals the behaviours that lead to social problems or promote behaviours that lead to improved social well-being’, and campaigns that aim to mobilize ‘public will’ or galvanize public action for policy change (2002, p. 2). Public awareness campaigns on CSA have seen both types developed, often linked to the aims and objectives of the agency undertaking the campaign.  A perennial problem in CSA public awareness campaigns has been adequately demonstrating the connection between the activities of the campaign, particularly in raising awareness, and this awareness resulting in desirable actions.  This has partly been due to methodological limits, and lack of money for evaluations. However, consideration of the available research indicates that the following are important to effectiveness:

  • Developing and enhancing personal responsibility and the ability to take appropriate behaviour. This has largely been through Bystander programmes (Banyard, 2015; Fulu, Kerr-Wilson, and Lang, 2014; Kemshall and Moulden, 2016 for a full discussion).

 

  • Targeting of campaigns at specific groups and communities (sometimes through collaborative partnerships). This has usually been via community education programmes, for example targeted at parents, carers, and perpetrators. There are mixed research results, but more recent evaluations, particularly of perpetrator targeting, have been positive (Beier et al, 2015; Kemshall and Moulden, 2016 for a further discussion).

  • Greater use of social marketing techniques, particularly for multi-faceted large scale campaigns (Schober et al, 2012a, b; Kemshall and Moulden, 2016 for further discussion).

Overall, the growing evidence base indicates that a focus on personal responsibility, action and skill promotion are important ingredients to success.

More recent campaigning and their subsequent evaluations have indicated that multi-faceted and multi-layered approaches can improve effectiveness. Such methods aim to identify community based problems and solutions, with a focus on systematic evidence collection and the use of local collaborative partnerships.  A key campaign is the ‘Enough Abuse’ campaign in Massachusetts which was a ‘state-wide education and community mobilization effort to prevent CSA in Massachusetts’ (see http://www.enoughabuse.org)(Schober et al., 2012b; Massachusetts Citizens for Children, 2001; 2010; 2014; see Kemshall and Moulden, 2016 for full discussion).

Looking forward, evaluation would be improved by all campaigns having clear outcomes, intermediate and ultimate behaviour change, and short and long-term follow-up; plus adequate funding to carry out robust evaluation. However, research to date appears to indicate that campaigns which focus on increased self-efficacy and ‘knowing what to do’; normalization of expectations to act positively; collaborative partnerships to improve effective targeting; skill enhancement; and positive framing of victims have greater impact. Framing CSA as a social problem requiring broad, multi-faceted and multi-layered campaigns has been a significant shift, and there is both a growing evidence base on effectiveness and helpful information on how to replicate the approach (Massachusetts Citizens for Children, 2001; 2010; 2014). There has also been a subtle shift from public awareness to public action-simply being aware is not enough. The future for CSA prevention lies not in public awareness campaigns, but rather in public action campaigns.

References

Banyard, V. L. (2015). Toward the next generation of bystander prevention of sexual and relationship violence: Action coils to engage communities. New York: Springer.

Beier, K. M., Grundmann, D., Kuhle, L. F., Scherner, G., Konrad, A., & Amelung, T. (2015). The German Dunkelfeld Project: A pilot study to prevent child sexual abuse and the use of child abusive images. Journal of Sex Medicine, 12, 529–542.

Coffman, C. (2002). Public communication campaign evaluation: An environmental scan of challenges, criticisms, practice and opportunities. Communication Consortium Media Centre, Harvard Family Research Project.

Fulu, E., Kerr-Wilson, A., & Lang, J. (2014). What works to prevent violence against women and girls? Evidence Review of interventions to prevent violence against women and girls. Pretoria, South Africa: Annex F. Medical Research Council, Retrieved from http://r4d.dfid.gov.uk/pdf/outputs/VAWG/What_Works_Inception_Report_June_2014_AnnexF_WG23_paper_prevention_interventions.pdf.

Kemshall, H, and Moulden, H. (2016) Communicating about child sexual abuse with the public: learning the lessons from public awareness campaigns. Journal of Sexual Aggression, published online 6th Sept, 2016.

Massachusetts Citizens for Children. (2001). A state call to action: Working to end child abuse and neglect in Massachusetts. Retrieved from http://www.aecf.org/upload/publicationfiles/massachusetts%20state%20call%20to%20action.pdf

Massachusetts Citizens for Children. (2010). Enough Abuse Campaign: Join the movement. Retrieved from http://www.enoughabuse.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=18&Itemid=22.

Massachusetts Citizens for Children. (2014). Guide Star Nonprofit Profile Charting Impact Report. Retrieved from: http://www.guidestar.org/report/chartingimpact/499015251/massachusetts-citizenschildren.pdf;

Schober, D. J., Fawcett, S. B., & Bernier, J. (2012). The Enough Abuse campaign: Building the movement to prevent child sexual abuse in Massachusetts. Journal of child sexual abuse, 21, 456-469.

Schober, D., Fawcett, B., Thigpen, S., Curtis, A. & Wright, R. (2012). An empirical case study of a child sexual abuse prevention initiative in Georgia. Health Education Journal, Online version January 18th 2012, DOI: 1177/001786911430546.

 

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