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Shades of PreventionChris Hartlove

Shades of Prevention

What might a comprehensive prevention-based approach to child sexual abuse look like? Elizabeth Letourneau, PhD, associate professor in Mental Health, has spent much of her career mulling over ways to answer this and other questions. “Precious little research has been done, and that means there’s probably some low-hanging fruit out there,” she says.

Letourneau describes some concepts in need of testing, study, development and implementation. With funding from private donors, some of the following suggested projects will begin later this year.


The goal is to give parents tools and knowledge to prevent children from being victimized—and to intervene quickly if abuse happens. This might include having clear, explicit rules in place with children and—especially—their babysitters and other caregivers about what kinds of touching are inappropriate. It also might include encouraging parents to limit the number of external caregivers they use since children with more caregivers are at greater risk of victimization.


Much of Letourneau’s research focuses on young people between 12 and 14—a time of peak risk for sexual misbehavior with children. Here, a public health approach might target prevention of sexual harm with strategies modeled after successful anti-bullying programs.


What makes some men pedophiles? Surprisingly little research has been done to gain even the most basic information about pedophilia. Recent studies suggest that some men might be born with sexual attraction to young children. To evaluate this hypothesis, William Eaton and Letourneau will partner with Denmark’s National Centre for Register-Based Research to use population-level data to evaluate the relationship between early risk factors such as obstetric complications and later abuse of children.


This is a growth area right now, with numerous projects under way across the country to develop policies and procedures for youth-serving organizations that can help them reduce the likelihood of hiring employees or using volunteers who abuse children.


This forum is closed
  • Dolores miller

    Philadelphia 06/13/2012 03:07:40 PM

    A person who has a drinking problem needs help! An adult Who rapes children needs to be put away for life! One subject I think you are all afraid of is there are just plain Evil people in this world. Thank God most people are not! Also, anytime a person faces and heals From abuse most do what they can to make a better society. I'm not saying It doesn't take time courage and love. It does. Please go to my website and read my book review. Peace,Dolores Miller

  • Nia Rico

    Los Angeles 06/15/2012 02:19:27 AM

    Dolores, with all due respect you are missing the point. I am totally on your side that these disgusting sexual child predators should be put away for their horrific crimes [for] the rest of their lives behind bars. But that is the emotional response the researchers are referring to. It's understandable and normal for us to feel and think that way and I'd probably want to hurt somebody real bad if I found out such a crime was committed against my own child. Having said that however, that is not the solution to what is such a pervasive problem in our society. We need prevention programs and those sickos need help! They are diseased just like an alcoholic or drug addict and until they can talk about it openly and get help to end the vicious cycle they will continue to act out their dirty little secrets hurting thousands and thousands of children who in turn will hurt thousands and thousands of other children. We need to put a stop to this and I applaud the researchers at Johns Hopkins for bringing this to the forefront and to those who are funding the program. Let's pray their studies will shed some light on this very dark issue.

  • Pamela Pine, PhD

    Glenn Dale, MD 06/17/2012 10:45:10 AM

    Stop the Silence: Stop Child Sexual Abuse, Inc. ("Stop the Silence,", has been working on the prevention and mitigation of child sexual abuse (CSA) through innovative and proven impactful programming with a public health approach for over 10 years. A plethora of information about both CSA prevention and treatment is available, and a great deal of information has been available for decades. There are now numerous smaller and larger organizations working on the issue, and recently, a number of organizations have been springing up around the nation and the world, as well as a coalitions forming to address it. Unfortunately, nearly everyone is working without the adequate resources to step up programming. The issue of lack of resources and other support is enormous. As a nation, as a world community, unless and until we are able to find a way to speak about it (without shying away or calling "monster," as the article points out), and help enable both policy makers and the public to address it as the public health issue it is, we will not be able to adequately conduct the work on either the prevention or treatment fronts - leaving open a whole new generation to be abused. As a more-than-concerned citizen, as a mother, and as the Founder of Stop the Silence, I implore the public to get involved (despite their discomfort) and policymakers to put the resources in place to address CSA as the public health epidemic (indeed, pandemic) that it is.

  • ayulestari 07/05/2012 11:28:18 AM

    save our generation

  • Matt

    USA 06/07/2013 03:16:16 AM

    One of the problems in the United States is that the "sex offender" laws which were originally implemented to protect children, starting with the Wetterling Act in the 90s, are now being implemented to aggressively prosecute children who "offend", when merely exploring their own curiosities. Of course, some children may need a little counseling and guidance if the trouble persists. But any child under the age of 14 being charged with "Lewd and Lascivious Acts with a Child Under 14" is asinine. A judiciary panel on an appellate hearing last year even remarked in their statements at how ridiculous it is that some "defendants" were even younger than the "victim"! It is time for change in this country. As Patty Wetterling herself has noted, we are targeting the wrong people.

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Preventing Sexual Child Abuse

Preventing Sexual Child Abuse

Researcher Elizabeth Letourneau shares simple steps to reduce the risk of child sexual abuse.

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