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A Different Perspective for Stopping Child Sexual Abuse

A public health approach can prevent children from experiencing this harm.

What do you know about child sexual abuse? Why does it happen? How can it be stopped? Can we offer help before children become victims?

Child sexual abuse is a topic that makes most people uncomfortable, to say the least, but this is a conversation we need to have in our families and in our communities. That’s why we at the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse (a research center within the Department of Mental Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health) are so very happy to have another platform here at Psychology Today to foster these conversations and discuss the science; the cost, causes and consequences; policies and the latest news in child sexual abuse prevention. We want to offer the best information we have so that you can benefit from what we’ve been studying for over 25 years.

With so many headlines over the last few years (the long-awaited arrest of Jacob Wetterling’s offender, the Sandusky/Penn State scandal and the accusations against coaches at USA Gymnastics this summer, to name a few) it’s easy to think that child sexual abuse is inevitable, something that can’t be prevented, and to believe that our best hope for keeping our children safe is to teach them to protect themselves and for us to track offenders’ every move. Because only a monster could hurt a child, right? And monsters are unpredictable and evil.

But what if we looked at child sexual abuse from a different standpoint? What if in addition to treating it from a criminal justice perspective (punishing and monitoring offenders) and from a victim advocacy perspective (helping victims after they’ve been hurt), we also looked at child sexual abuse through the lens of public health? What if we could prevent child sexual abuse from occurring in the first place by using proven public health approaches? What if it was possible to live in a world where there are no more offenders, no more victims?

These are the kinds of conversations we’ll have during the course of this blog. We’ll discuss what it means to use a public health approach to prevent sexual violence, we’ll dig into the policies that were supposed to help keep communities and children safe and we’ll discuss topics in the news as they pertain to child sexual abuse.

Thank you for joining us, and we hope you’ll stay tuned for a post coming soon by Ryan Shields, PhD, assistant scientist at the Moore Center, who will discuss exactly what we mean by a “public health approach” and why we think that might be the key to preventing child sexual abuse.