Q: Is sexual abuse a public health issue?
A: Yes. Like a widespread disease, sexual abuse impacts everyone – individuals, communities, businesses, and society as a whole. Just as in the case of a transmissible disease, the elimination of sexual abuse requires a comprehensive collaboration among researchers, treatment providers, law and policy makers, and representatives of victims and other stakeholders.
Q: If sexual abuse is so widespread, how can we prevent it?
A: Preventing sexual abuse requires a multi-faceted, long-term approach that promotes and encourages prosocial, healthy behaviors and attitudes in the general population. Achieving this in the area of sexual abuse requires practitioners to:
- Conduct research to identify the factors that correlate with a higher likelihood of someone committing or being the victim of sexual abuse, and to develop effective prevention and treatment methods.
- Demonstrate the costs – physical, emotional, and financial – of sexual abuse and sexual assault to victims, their families, businesses, and society as a whole.
- Emphasize the value of prevention efforts directed toward the factors that place people at higher risk to sexually abuse or be abused.
- Educate the public and decision makers about what constitutes sexual abuse and sexual assault, the factors that lead to sexual abuse, and the prevalence of sexual abuse in society.
- Create a shared awareness and understanding among the public and decision makers about what constitutes sexual abuse, and reach agreement that such behaviors are unacceptable.
- Create a shared determination to eliminate sexual abuse in all its forms throughout society.
- Involve a broad cross-section of stakeholders – victims, victim advocates, treatment providers, mental health professionals, offender advocates, law enforcement officers, corrections system officials, members of the legal and court systems, legislators, and other professionals – to develop evidence-based approaches to prevent and respond to sexual abuse.
- Develop and practice effective intervention and treatment methods based on sound research and data.
- Develop, implement, and fund wise and effective policies and laws informed by sound research and data.
- Emphasize the value of efforts directed toward primary prevention of sexual abuse including interventions that target at-risk groups, victims, and offenders.
- Hold perpetrators accountable through appropriate treatment and sanctions including incarceration and post-release management to help make communities safer.
- Monitor emerging research and data to ensure a continuation of effective approaches to prevent sexual abuse and make society safer.