Child sexual abuse is preventable, not inevitable

Jon Brown discusses how timely help and support is important in preventing child abuse

girl against garageChild sexual abuse robs children of their childhoods. If left unaddressed and untreated, the effects can endure in adulthood and become lifelong. But together we can prevent sexual abuse from happening.

At the NSPCC, we recognise that the causes, as well as the consequences, of child abuse need to be identified and addressed.

Since 2009, we've had a specific focus on evidence-based practice and have worked to answer key questions in child protection through a combination of service delivery, policy development and research. 

Understanding the challenges

Seeing and understanding the challenge of child abuse as a preventable public health problem helps to organise thinking and services across the prevention continuum.

Primary prevention

Primary prevention has a focus on before abuse has occurred, such as parents talking to their children about The Underwear Rule, or primary schools children taking part in the NSPCC's Speak out Stay safe programme.

Secondary prevention

Secondary prevention is for higher risk individuals, families, areas and communities. An example would be the Protect and Respect service which includes work with young people who are at risk of child sexual exploitation.

Tertiary prevention

After the event interventions and programmes, tertiary intervention aims to address and mitigate the effects of abuse, like the NSPCC's Letting the Future In sevice.

Child abuse doesn't 'just happen'

With Letting the Future In, children have a chance to talk about their abuse experiences and to express themselves through creative therapies. These sessions enable the children to safely work through past experiences and come to understand and move on from what has happened.

The evaluation found that the proportion of children receiving the service who experienced the highest levels of trauma reduced from 73% at the start of the programme to 46% after six months.

At the tertiary prevention stage, when sexual abuse does occur, we must be ready to provide the expert help that children need to deal with trauma. With high-quality therapeutic support, children and young people can rebuild their lives. Where we have already failed to protect children from abuse, we cannot fail them again by ignoring the impact that abuse has on their lives. 

Timely help and support is important preventative work because it can also increase resilience and break the cycle of abuse. If left unaddressed and unrecognised, abuse can be perpetuated. It can become tacitly accepted and seen as something that ‘just happens’ in some families or communities. 

We know that child abuse is not inevitable; we can prevent child sexual abuse before it occurs. It will require effort from all areas of society, and it is up to all of us to help prevent child sexual abuse from happening.

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Letting the Future In helps children who have been sexually abused.
Letting the Future In service