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April 2018Vol. 19, No. 3Review of Child Sexual Abuse Primary Prevention Strategies

A recent report from Prevent Child Abuse Iowa reviews child sexual abuse (CSA) primary prevention strategies based on three target audiences: children, parents and caregivers, and communities.

Child-focused prevention programs are the most prevalent and are primarily administered in schools. These programs focus on educating children about CSA, teaching them how to stop it, and reporting abuse when it occurs, as well as teaching children that CSA is never their fault. Child-focused prevention efforts are usually centered on the following six outcome measures on which programs evaluate themselves:

  • Knowledge of CSA prevention concepts
  • Protective behaviors
  • Retention of protective behaviors over time
  • Retention of knowledge over time
  • Children's experience of anxiety or fear as a result of the program
  • Disclosure of CSA to an adult as a result of the program

Parent-focused prevention programs usually fall into two categories: CSA-specific education programs and parenting programs. These programs work in conjunction with school-based programs and allow parents to discuss CSA with their children at an early age, create opportunities for children to receive repeated exposure to prevention information at home, enable parents to notice the warning signs of CSA, and help them respond appropriately to disclosures of abuse. Parent-focused strategies are evaluated based on three categories:

  • The degree to which adults impact their children's prevention knowledge and skills
  • Parents' own knowledge of CSA
  • The degree to which these programs improve parents' communication

Community-level interventions are collaborative, work across all sectors of the community, are able to locate programs community wide, change community conditions to increase safety and decrease stress on families, and work toward reducing community rates of maltreatment.

Two community-level interventions have been evaluated:

  • Enough Abuse of Massachusetts: This intervention implemented a state-level framework for CSA prevention, assessed public opinion and perceptions of CSA, developed local frameworks that provided training for community leaders and professionals in youth-servicing organizations, and made changes to local systems involved in CSA services. An evaluation of the program shows that those who believed adults had a responsibility to prevent CSA increased from 69 percent to 93 percent.
  • Stop It Now! of Georgia: This intervention provided statewide training in CSA prevention, disseminated CSA prevention messages and materials, and operated a statewide helpline that gave the public a place to ask questions and report warning signs and incidents of abuse. An evaluation of the intervention found that after the first 3 years of implementation, the incidence of maltreatment dropped from 102 substantiated cases per 100,000 children in 2004 to 57 cases per 100,000 in 2007.

The use of evidence-based practices, continuous quality improvement strategies, and program evaluation can help to build on the strengths of these strategies to educate children, parents, and communities about preventing CSA.

Child Sexual Abuse Primary Prevention Strategies: A Literature Review is available at (1,460 KB).