The prevention agenda in 2017….

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:

  • 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

  1. Whilst there is much with which I agree in what you say, I would start elsewhere.
    We can give Government and statutory agencies all the excuses they need for having failed for so long to embrace the possibilities for prevention. When the UK signed up to the UN Convention on the rights of the child, including the right to be free from abuse – are we to accept that we didn’t really mean it? Not then; and not in every year since?
    And in 2015, when the Children’s Commissioner for England estimated that 400,000 to 450,000 children in England had been sexually abused over just 2 years, 2013 and 2014 – are we to overlook the violation of their rights? And its not as if we are very good in responding to their needs after abuse – we know what to do; we just don’t organise or resource services to deliver.
    This same Children’s Commissioner’s Report, written in 2015, recommended “that a strategy for the prevention of child sexual abuse, in all its forms, is developed and implemented by relevant Government departments, including the Department for Education, Department of Health and Home Office.” And at the start of 2017, we have no such national strategy. Whilst, presumably, children continue to be abused at the rates seen in 2014.
    When is it time to be outraged at this? Here in NOTA we are familiar with work done with offenders on victim empathy – to face them with the harm done to victims; to face them with the harm they have done as one of the motivators to engage in treatment and commit to a future good life. So how should we, as a society, feel that 225,000 children are estimated to be abused in England this 2017, and we don’t have a plan to prevent it?
    The primary responsibility for preventing abuse must be in the hands of adults. Yes, adults in Government department and all agencies at a national and local level, including in schools; but as important, parents and carers who can do so much to keep their children safe from abuse. With over 60% of abuse happening within the family environment, protection and prevention must start with the adults there. Which is why we set up the primary prevention website, Parents Protect, back in 2009, to ensure parents had access to sound and practical information on preventing abuse ( . I wonder if NOTA members are aware of its content or, indeed, have shared the link with other parents who might make good use of the information contained?
    This website is one of 170 interventions/programmes to prevent child sexual abuse included in the free, online toolkit, ECSA( ). Nations across the globe are grappling with the challenge of preventing child sexual abuse. Some are starting in places very different from our own – and there is much to learn from them. But the public health framework for prevention offered by Smallbone and colleagues in “Preventing Child Sexual Abuse” (2008) embraces them all.
    On a more hopeful, local note, can I add that Hounslow Local Safeguarding Children Board are using this framework and the ECSA website to construct their local prevention strategy. Next week I’m hoping Camden will do the same. Greenwich is already working with these same tools. Beginning to engage with members of local communities specifically on how to prevent child sexual abuse. Supporting schools to utilise programmes – the NSPCC’s “Pants” campaign; “Hedgehogs” and other programmes from the ECSA website. And one book – “An exceptional children’s guide to touch” by Hunter Manasco. And all part of a local, coordinated strategy.
    Where else might we start? Well, my guess is where we are, each one of us, in our personal and professional lives. Starting with ordinary things – discussion, books and…. whatever else comes to mind. Taking some personal responsibility. And having a vision for the possibilities of prevention. Because, if not me, then who? And if not now, then when?
    In 2017 we can make a big difference to whether 225,000 are sexually abused in the UK. Hopefully, very soon, the national Government will rise to the challenge of creating a strategy for prevention. But let’s not wait!

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