In 2016 we started to see a growing recognition of sexual harm as a public health issue, in particular the preventative nature of child sexual abuse. In general, preventing child sexual abuse has often happened at the primary [broad societal education and messages] and tertiary levels [sex offender treatment, the good lives model, risk management and public protection]; but this is starting to change. We have heard about Project Prevention Dunklefeld, in Germany, but there has been nothing to date in the UK; this, however, is starting to change. In 2015 and 2016 we saw the roll out of Lucy Faithful foundations engage program aimed at “aim risk” viewers of child sexual abuse imagery; the Help wanted! Programme in the USA. Also, the Safer Living Foundation and Circles South West in England are now looking at an English speaking version of Dunkelfeld; the NSPCC plans to develop Together for Childhood centres which will trial and evaluate a place based approach to preventing sexual abuse; and colleagues in the Netherlands are starting to work with “non offending paedophiles”. While this encouraging and mportant work there is still more to do to embed the prevention of child sexual abuse in our national thinking and practice, including:
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- Education with all parts of society about what child sexual abuse is and how potential perpetrators can behave. Then we can start to discuss what the prevention of child sexual abuse is, how it can work and why it is important. This needs to happen at all levels, but perhaps the place to start is in schools, GP surgeries and other primary health care in the heart of our communities.
- Research and development into whether prevention and secondary prevention with at risk offending populations works, because at the moment we don’t know if it does. A lot of the research is in its early stages and relatively immature. We need to develop a robust evidence base, but that takes time, investment and pilot studies.
- Policy makers, government and organisations need to be convinced that prevention of child sexual abuse is possible and how it would be done in a practical as well as an achievable way. Pevention will never be endorsed without a developing evidence base. However, we have started to see prevention in other areas of social welfare in England and Wales recently with the Troubled Families initiative, the Better Stat programme and programmes working with perpetrators of domestic violence.
- Partnership working is central to preventing child sexual abuse; we do it post offending, post-conviction and during release so why not beforehand. We can link social workers, councils, police, businesses and charities/NGO together more effectively so that they can work together to detect, predict and respond to potential child sexual abuse situations before they occur.
- Media engagement is important to changing the social and political construction of child sexual abuse and how we respond to it. The media informs debate and shapes policy, practice and public opinion. Having a media dialogue, followed by a media buy in will help with the development and roll out of any prevention agenda or practice.
The field of child sexual abuse prevention has taken significant steps in 2016, but there is still a way to go to catch up with and learn from other areas of violence reduction, children’s health and social care.
Working collaboratively, making the case to government and focusing on these areas we can make further significant progress in the prevention of sexual abuse and violence this year.
Kieran McCartan, Ph.D, & Jon Brown, MSc