Preventing child sexual abuse: towards a national strategy Our call for a collaborative, coordinated and determined national response

Girl with umbrellaWe know that child sexual abuse is prevalent in the UK and the impact on a child can be devastating. As well as causing incalculable personal costs, there is a social and economic cost. But child sexual abuse is also preventable.

Framing child sexual abuse as a public health problem makes prevention a priority.

This report provides evidence and recommendations on how to prevent child sexual abuse. It provides the basis for starting a discussion about what a national public health strategy for prevention should look like in England.

Authors: Jon Brown and Aliya Saied-Tessier
Published: 2015

A public health problem

  • Child sexual abuse is a public health problem because:
    • it’s prevalent in the UK
    • it’s preventable
    • there’s an economic cost to society.
  • When we view child sexual abuse as a public health problem it becomes clear that prevention must be a priority.
  • Prevention is about changing behaviour. It’s not just about giving out information.
  • Public health approaches focused on prevention have helped to create social change before, for example reducing the spread of HIV, warning about drink driving.
  • Taking action using a public health approach will need effort across all levels of society.

Evidence for effective interventions to prevent child sexual abuse

  • Prevention programmes must be grounded in theory and evidence.
  • Evidence-based interventions will avoid programmes based on outdated, inaccurate views about the characteristics of abusers and it avoids placing the burden of responsibility for preventing sexual abuse on children.
  • Theories on child sexual abuse describe different pathways to offending and different types of offender. This implies we need different interventions to prevent individuals from committing child sexual abuse. A one size fits all approach will not be effective.
  • There is a substantial amount of knowledge about programmes that work effectively.
  • Gaps in our knowledge about prevention and areas where further investigation is needed include how to:
    • provide support and guidance for professionals about how to deal with all aspects of child sexual abuse
    • help adults and young people who have not yet committed abuse but are struggling with their feelings
    • deal with sexual abuse that occurs within the family
    • make information about staying safe easier to access for children with disabilities or learning difficulties 
    • run community level programmes – we know community engagement and local action are vital.
  • Child sexual abuse prevention programmes must include online safety.

Taking action

This report presents a starting list of actions grounded in evidence for different groups across society.

New calls for action include:

  • government to fund a 24/7 helpline for people concerned they may sexually abuse children or young people. This would be an extension of the existing Stop it Now! helpline
  • government to fund a National Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Resource Centre.
Executive Summary 4
Introduction 6
Child sexual abuse is a public health problem 8
Theories of child sexual abuse 12
Effective prevention programmes 14
What would a national strategy for England look like? 32
Appendix 35
Bibliography 42

"Educate and spread the word that this [sexual violence] is not okay."

Please cite as: Brown, J. and Saied-Tessier, A. (2015) Preventing child sexual abuse: towards a national strategy for England. London: NSPCC.

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