Monday, September 12, 2016

Areas Of Concern In Sexual Abuse Prevention


There are a great many challenges to tackling sexual abuse prevention, and these challenges must be addressed so that sexual abuse prevention can even be effective.


This may be obvious to anyone who has read much in this blog, but people just do not use words right. The incorrect use of terminology can lead to people believing myths about child sexual abuse that simply are not true, sometimes dangerously so. Some obvious examples:
Child pornography (instead, use child sex abuse images or child sexual exploitation material
Pedophile (instead, use sex abuser, child rapist, preferential offender, etc.)
Pedophilia (pedophilia is a condition, a noun, not the act of child sexual abuse)
Child sex worker (children cannot consent, use sexual exploitation victim)
Sexual predator (most do not really fit the category of a true predator, and seems to imply that all abusers are the dangerous recidivists when most are not)
Sex offender (most people who abuse children are not on any registry)

For a full list, check my specificpost on the subject. The media is notorious for using improper terminology, because they attempt to bring pertinent facts about a very wide range of subjects… which means their knowledge in any one subject is extremely limited.

Underreporting... And Methods That Seek To Correct It

The bottom line is that most children do not disclose when they are sexually abused. It is estimated that for every one child that does come forward, another eight do not. In the United States, there has been a big push to pass Erin's Law (predictably named after a sexual abuse survivor named Erin). The idea of Erin's Law is that children are taught fire drills, tornado drills, car safety, water safety, etc... but not about body safety and how to get away from a sexual abuser. The message to children is to get away and tell an adult.

The problem with these educational methods is that it puts the responsibility on children not only to stop abuse, but to overcome the fear and confusion enough to tell an adult. It is a method that I do not endorse or agree with. It is one thing to teach boundaries and body safety, to teach children that they have a right to their bodies and they and only they can decide what is okay and what is not (be it hugs or anything else, the ability to set healthy boundaries is a great thing). But teaching a child, directly or indirectly, that it is their job to get away from an abuser will add to the confusion of sexual abuse.

Any methods involving the education of children must be well-researched and based in factual research, not feel-good methods that sound like a good idea. Plus, it relies on abuse to be occurring to be effective, which makes it a tertiary prevention method, not a primary prevention method. Teaching junior high and high school students about consent, the availability of mental health help for sexuality and sexual issues, and how to find resources to help them with a variety of topics would go a long ways when integrated with a sexual education program.


This may be another obvious factor, but most people refuse to touch the subject of child sexual abuse with a ten-foot pole, never mind talk about it. This means that myths abound, no one is aware that it is a serious issue even in their community, and the veil of secrecy that enables abuse to happen is firmly in place.

People are also disgusted by anything related to pedophilia, because the mere idea of people finding children sexually attractive is enough to make people run away from any meaningful discussion. This means that the people remaining to discuss abuse, instead of being average, concerned citizens who could do good, are academics, ethicists, researchers, prevention advocates, activists, and those directly affected by the issue like sex offenders and survivors. This is all fine and good, but when the majority of people are not discussing a serious issue that affects 10-20% of children, all the laws in the world will make a very limited difference.

Mental Health Stigma

This is a vast subject all by itself, but the stigma against mental health issues still persists, and it drives people away from seeking a psychologist, therapist, or psychiatrist that could help them. This stigma is create not only by bullies, but by people in everyday speech through the language they use to refer to people with mental health issues. People use challenged, touched, disabled, retarded, nutcase, and many other terms to describe people with mental illness, and often, people with mental illness are defined by their mental illness.

What this means is that the myriad of factors that can contribute to mentally unhealthy people can also contribute to crimes like child sexual abuse. People with pedophilia do not seek help because of the stigma against them, and if they have no support system, their lives can turn into a spiral of depression, suicidal thoughts, and desperation that can make it feel like the only way out is to act out sexually. This potential is not limited just to those with pedophilia, and a great many people act out sexually as a way to cope with the internal strife that their lack of mental health can cause. A great many crimes could be avoided if people were readily able to get mental health help without fear of judgment, stigma, and ridicule. Thus, the stigma against mental health is a barrier to primary prevention.


Many of the laws that aim to prevent child sexual abuse are ineffective in doing so because they are based not in the facts and figures that experts and researchers know and trust, but by the opinions held by politicians, interest groups, and average parents. These groups largely are unaware that the policies they are pushing are ineffective. Why are they ineffective? They target people who have already acted and are unlikely to do so again, or they target children who are unlikely to be able to stop an abuser. They miss the majority of abusers, those we know and trust who have not yet acted or have not yet been caught.

The rights of sex offenders, while certainly relevant to the concerns about policies that seek to address child sexual abuse, are besides the point. The simple fact of the matter is that many of the sex offender laws and policies in place either do not have evidentiary support, or the evidentiary support for them indicates that they make the problems worse and not better by making it more difficult for sex offenders to engage in the sorts of activities that can keep them from re-offending (like starting a family, getting gainful employment, or finding a decent place to live). If our focus is truly the protection of children, then we must look exclusively at the facts and put policies that are based in these facts in place. In much of the United States, Canada, and Europe, we have not done this.


This may be another obvious area, but primary prevention is an area that is laden with politics. Not every single group supports initiatives that are based in fact, and some support initiatives and laws that have been shown to have an adverse affect on prevention efforts. In other words, not all prevention groups have done their research to know what works, and many prevention groups support initiatives that do not support prevention. Not everyone is on the same page, and there is often a divide between interest groups that aim to prevent, aim to educate, or aim to help survivors of sexual abuse. Not only this, but there are Republican efforts to prevent sexual abuse, and most of these efforts are tertiary prevention methods, while Democratic efforts tend to lean more towards softer approaches like rehabilitating and making resources available. These efforts appear to be as opposed as the rest of the two-party system is. As long as this divide remains, children will continue to suffer.


Primary prevention can prevail, and is a serious trend among many prevention agencies. While it may remain foreign in the minds of most people, it will eventually win out over the "punishment first" mentality that many of our current laws were written with. I believe these challenges will eventually be overcome, particularly if people continue discussing these hard issues.