Sunday, September 18, 2016

Primary Prevention Tactics

Controversial And Emotional

Primary prevention is an extremely controversial and emotional area for most people to handle. In order to calm that controversy and dull the passions aroused from the subjects involved in primary prevention, it is necessary that facts and research around the primary prevention take priority, as well as observing a number of tactics in making the focus on facts and research as effective as possible. It is also necessary for there to be credibility. These tactics are not only observable by advocates, but by researchers, educators, and ordinary people who wish to contribute to furthering preventing child sexual abuse before it happens.

Make It Real

Many people wish to believe that child sexual abuse could never impact them or anyone they care about. They would prefer not to get involved. However, the reality of that is very different. Advocates, researchers, and most involved in sexual abuse prevention know that the true horror of child sexual abuse is how secret it stays for most people. The goal of advocating is to drive home the point that this issue is a real issue that affects real people, and that is why people need to be prepared to prevent it, handle it, and engage their communities over the epidemic of child sexual abuse. Personal stories, anecdotes, plays, books, questions, and discussions can all play a role in making the issue of child sexual abuse real for people.

Answer The Trolls

This goes against the conventional wisdom of the internet, which is to ignore trolls and let them have their bridges. However, your goal is not to convince individual people of facts, and when a troll rears their ugly head, it is a perfect opportunity to convince not the troll, but the onlookers reading the exchange. Most rational people can spot a troll, so your ability to remain calm and collected while bringing facts and reason to an otherwise emotionally charged exchange will be a noticeable contrast. This brings me to my next point.

Fact And Reason, Over Passion And Insults

One of the first and foremost necessities in primary prevention is to never, ever insult someone no matter what they say. Taking the higher road gains you instant credibility. Calling out logical fallacies, such as ad hominem attacks, as you see them rather than attacking the person who is insulting or questioning you is far preferable. Everyone who is anyone insults someone on the internet. Politicians do it. Teenagers do it. College students. Researchers. Cops. Lawyers. Anyone who can hide (or not hide) behind an internet account to insult, mock, belittle, or bully people can and will do it. It is extremely tempting, completely ordinary behavior to insult in return someone who is insulting you.

That is why not doing so, and sticking exclusively to the argument being made and attacking the argument, or what the other person is saying, is so noticeable. When you ignore the jab or call it out, you stand out.

The best course of action that is both noticeable and noble is to ignore the insult, and call it what it is: A logical fallacy, an error in reasoning, or an off-topic attempt to undermine the facts or arguments being presented. Some examples:

Example 1:
Troll: "Well, Mr. TNF 13, you are quite the arrogant jerk, thinking you can tell us that abusers should be pitied. Abusers should be hung from a tree by their balls, and anyone who defends them by their toenails."
TNF 13: "Ad hominem attacks do not make your argument stronger, and the death penalty costs money. Would you like to be the one to suggest raising taxes for your vengeance?"

Example 2:
Troll: "You are only saying that because you are a sex offender. Will we find your name on the registry?"
Advocate: "Who I am does not add or reduce credibility to the facts I have presented, and the sex offender registry does not protect children before they are abused, it punishes those who have already done so."

Example 3:
Troll: "You must be a pedophile to defend pedophiles like that."
Advocate: "A logical fallacy that fails to address the facts I have presented does not make the facts less factual. Perhaps you could remain on topic?"

Use Studies, Not Lists

Lists of statistics can be valuable. But the simple fact of the matter is, people do not buy statistics. Some do, if they have taken the time to see where the statistic is coming from and how valid the source is. Statistics, in most people's minds, can be presented for either "side" of any issue (of course, this is a false dilemma, assuming that all issues have only two sides). The use of studies can trump the use of statistics. For example, if I am talking about the low recidivism rate for sex offenders, it is highly valuable to cite a link supporting my statement. Which of these three says more?

Option 1: Sex offender's sexual recidivism is 11.5%.
Option 2: Sex offenders re-offend sexually at a rate around 11.5%, according to Hanson and Morton-Bourgon (2009).
Option 3: The average sexual offender repeats their sexual crimes at a rate around 11.5% (Hanson and Morton-Bourgon, 2009: DOI: 10.1037/a001442 : Sample size: 45,398 offenders across 16 countries).

Obviously, I just asked a leading question, and the first and third option will be more believable. Not only did I cite the low recidivism rate, I explained what re-offense type is being studied, what the sample size was, and where to find the study. Anyone can copy-paste the DOI into Google and read the study, with all of its methods, references, and data. Not every site can accommodate links, so a clear reference to the study where the statistic or fact can be found is preferable. Anyone can likewise click the link and see the study for themselves, and for forums of communication that allow links, they can be essential.

Know The Facts

It is not enough to have a casual knowledge of the subjects pertaining to child sexual abuse. You have to know your material, so that when people question you, you can provide answers. It is also useful for some of the cruder suggestions for how the issue of child sexual abuse can be solved (death penalty, castration, or some variation on the two). These suggestions easily be countered by the fact that over a third of sexual abusers are juveniles, or that around 90% never repeat sexual crimes. No one listening to such a conversation is likely to condone shooting or castrating children who engage in sexually abusive behaviors, and knowing that fact and using it, while it may not change the mind of the person making the suggestion, will bring more attention to the issue for the average listener.

While some people may think it is creepy for someone to know the facts about child sexual abuse, such knowledge is essential to being able to educate and advocate. While it is obviously impossible to know everything about the subject, the level of knowledge you have gives credibility to your statements, both with and without citations and studies. People would be hard-pressed to rationally argue that I have no idea what I am talking about if I can cite sources or statistics at the drop of a hat.

Have A Mission Statement

Having a mission statement can help deflect some of the vitriol and trolls that might otherwise be attracted to some of the topics surrounding primary prevention, and it will show people that you are serious about preventing sexual abuse. While a mission statement is a recent addition to this blog, it is nonetheless essential for anyone wanting to put themselves in the public sphere. It can also help clarify what your specific target area is within prevention. Do you advocate? Are you a political activist? Do you protest? Defining yourself can also help deflect some criticism.

Be Passionate

The best thing you can do to show people you are sincere about something is to spend time on it and add a tone of urgency. People need to do something, sure, but it is best for the children if they do it now. If you start a discussion, and then remain silent, people will question just how important the issue is to you. This passion needs to show, and people have no idea how much time you spend on advocating against sexual abuse if you make it an infrequent project. That is partly why I have something in the works, amidst a family emergency, that will be announced sometime next year. Look forward to that announcement!

Summing It Up

The best thing you can add to the voices for changing the systems that allow child sexual abuse to happen is your voice. Speak up. You do not need to make advocacy a part time job in order to make a difference. For each person that reads your contributions and decides to look more into the issue, you make a difference. And while you may not know how many people you are reaching, you can know that you are making a difference. For each person that disagrees with you, you are making one person think harder about the issues.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Areas Of Concern In Sexual Abuse Prevention

Introduction

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.

Terminology

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.

Disgust

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.

Policy

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.

Politics

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.

Wrap-Up

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.