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Preventing Child Sexual Abuse: Do we really use a Public Health approach?

  • Preventing Child Sexual Abuse: Do we really use a Public Health approach?

  • 04 May 2023

  • 5.30PM - 6.30PM

  • Lecture Theatre, Stephenson Building

  • Book now

Professorial lecture by Professor Nadia Wager

Following an extensive mapping exercise, exploring how all the current activities that are embarked upon to prevent child sexual abuse (CSA) fit with a public health approach to prevention, a new model of CSA prevention is proposed, and radical recommendations are made for a national strategic approach to CSA prevention.

The mapping exercise entailed identifying all CSA prevention initiatives, policies and practices in England and Wales. Then classifying each of these in terms of the level of prevention and which of the socioecological spheres they target, their empirical and/or theoretical basis and the evidence of their efficacy to prevent CSA. This exercise identified that the most resource intensive, nationally developed and managed, and government-funded interventions focus on convicted CSA offenders at the tertiary level of prevention.

That is, they attempt to prevent recidivism in a very small minority of CSA offenders who are estimated to perpetrate just 5% of all CSA crimes annually. Currently there is no primary universal intervention to prevent the onset of CSA offending, which is partly attributed to the paucity of empirical research on undetected offenders and children who have engaged in harmful sexual behaviour.

The schools-based, child-focused programmes, which until recently had not been policy mandated, offer the only primary universal solution to CSA. Although, this approach can also be criticised on a number of grounds, including; inadvertently portraying children as agents who hold power to prevent perpetrators from offending, creating precarious contexts for disclosures of CSA and the lack of evidence of their effectiveness. Indeed, my review of systematic reviews of evaluations conducted largely in the USA suggests that the efficacy of child-focused, schools-based interventions is largely confined to changes in children’s CSA-related knowledge and their anticipated use of self-protective behaviours in the short-term.

Consequently, a new model of CSA prevention is proped, referred to as the CSA Prevention Universe, that identifies who and what to target in preventative interventions, and offer suggestions for a robust CSA prevention strategy, highlights new avenues for research and ways of collaborating to conduct rigorous evaluations of existing interventions.

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