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Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse

GymnasticsLast week after days of emotional testimony by victims, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina sentenced  Dr. Larry Nassar, the doctor who assaulted at least 150 girls while working as a doctor for USA Gymnastics, to 40 to 175 years in prison. On February 5, a Michigan judge sentenced Nassar to an additional 40 to 125 year sentence, which brought the criminal proceedings against Nassar to a close. Nassar’s previous sentence is a 60 year federal term for child pornograghy crimes.

What makes this case and other similar cases deeply upsetting is how many victims Nassar harmed while acting in the role of a trusted adult and caretaker. Many victims tried to come forward over the years, but their allegations were not believed.

In the United States, 25 percent of girls and 8 percent of boys are sexually abused before they turn 18. It’s incredible then that with a staggering number of victims, it often takes a critical mass—and time—before we’re willing to acknowledge that people we admire or trust are capable of sexually abusing children. People who abuse children often appear to be regular, normal folks, and we often don’t recognize that child sexual abuse is occurring because it is committed by people we know.

What can we do to make sure there are fewer victims and abusers? We desperately need to change the way we think about and react to child sexual abuse in our country. Thee days of waiting until abuse is detected is untenable.

We must demand that organizations that serve our youth implement effective prevention programs and policies like limiting one-on-one adult-child situations, requiring the presence of a second adult during physical exams of children and placing windows in interior doors to make one-on-one situations easier to observe and interrupt. But most importantly, more government support is needed to develop, test and disseminate effective prevention strategies.

We can no longer wait until victims come forward in droves before we act against child abuse, and we can no longer look at this issue solely through the lens of law enforcement. Yes, Dr. Nassar clearly deserves to be punished as a necessary part of a comprehensive approach to child sexual abuse, but it cannot be the only approach.

This blog post also appears as part of our Psychology Today column, Prevention Now.

Meghan CollinsMeghan Collins joined the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse as an associate director of development in August 2017. Before joining the Moore Center, Meghan was the director of development for Junior Achievement of Central Maryland, a small nonprofit that focuses on financial literacy, work readiness and entrepreneurship for students K-12.

Meghan’s primary role at the Moore Center is to identify new donors and serve as an effective Center ambassador. Meghan also spends 50 percent of her time as a gift officer for the Bloomberg School of Public Health working with the development team.

“My primary interest across all fields is serving vulnerable and underserved populations. As it relates to the Moore Center, the research associated with the long-term consequences of juvenile sex offender registries is incredibly interesting and something that I was completely unaware of prior to taking this position,” says Meghan.

Meghan grew up in Harford County, Maryland and earned a bachelor’s degree from Towson University and then a master’s degree in social work from the University of Maryland School of Social Work.

In her downtime, Meghan enjoys working out and playing social sports in Canton, where she's lived for several years. “I also love trying new restaurants throughout the city. I am admittedly a Netflix addict, so if there is a new show, I need to know about it and watch it ASAP!”

Meet the Moore Center team.

Dr. Rebecca Fix, assistant professor at the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse, wrote a column for Juvenile Justice Information Exchange that was published Monday, Jan. 8, 2018. 

In her column "Young Sex Offenders Shouldn't Have to Register; It's Ineffective and Hurts Everyone Around Them," Rebecca makes clear that according to research, registering children as sex offenders isn't only ineffective, it's also harmful.

Rebecca illustrates her point by recounting the circumstances of a 15-year-old boy who was charged with rape after having consensual sex with his 14-year-old girlfriend:

"After returning to his community following confinement, Demetrius was no longer welcome on his high school athletic teams, and anticipates he will not be admitted into college due to his inability to be scouted by college teams. In addition, his family has been impacted by his registration status. Demetrius and his mother are moving to a new town, as their community has ostracized them. Demetrius’ mother lost her friends once word spread about his legal difficulties, and they are no longer welcome in their church."

This is one heartbreaking example of the unnecessary hardships that registration places on children and their families. Read Rebecca's column here.

Moore Center 5 years

This year the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse celebrated five years of tireless work to research and promote child sexual abuse prevention. Our mission is based on the belief that child sexual abuse is preventable, not inevitable, and we must address this issue with a public health approach. Gifts to the Center have allowed us to experience tremendous growth both as a team, and in the scope of our work. We are very grateful for the support of our friends and donors. Below are just a few highlights from the year.

TEDMED

In November of 2016, Dr. Letourneau was invited to speak at the TEDMED conference in Palm Springs, CA. The live link to the talk was released just this past September (https://goo.gl/XDci6A), and we hope you have had a chance to watch it. As Dr. Letourneau discusses in her talk, child sexual abuse is a 100 percent preventable injury. There are far too many children affected by child sexual abuse for us to wait until they are harmed before we act. We need to educate everyone about how to keep children safe, and we believe that this TEDMED talk does just that: it raises awareness about how child sexual abuse prevention will help children live lives free from abuse.

Responsible Behavior with Younger Children (RBYC)

We are excited to begin piloting this program in four Baltimore City public schools in the spring. The intervention, which aims to develop and test the feasibility of a school-based prevention program, targets 6th and 7th grade youth and will educate them on responsible behavior around younger children.

Promotions and Additions

The Moore Center team has seen incredible growth this past year. We welcomed Dr. Rebecca Fix, assistant scientist; Dr. Reshmi Nair, research associate; Dr. Luciana Assini Meytin, research associate; Dr. Stephane Shepherd, visiting professor; Marcus Nole, research program assistant and Meghan Collins, associate director of development. We also partnered with a policy firm that will help guide our policy program and implement strategies for educating federal policymakers. With a fully staffed team in place, we are confident that we will make an even greater impact on research, policy and outreach in the coming years.

Looking Ahead

This year we will host our sixth annual symposium on Thursday, April 19, 2018. The focus will be on preventing child sexual abuse within institutions and organizations. Registration for this event will open February 2018 and will be linked on our website.

Thank you for your support in 2017: The work of the Center relies heavily on donors like you. We are grateful for your past support and hope you will continue to help us as we advance our groundbreaking work.

Please consider donating to the science of child sexual abuse prevention by clicking the “Give Now” box in the upper right-hand corner of the JHSPH Giving page. Please select “Other” beside the “Please designate my gift to support” section and type “Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse” in the field.

We greatly appreciate your support and wish you and your families a safe and happy holiday season.

CHILDREN ON SEX OFFENDER REGISTRIES AT GREATER RISK FOR SUICIDE ATTEMPTS, STUDY SUGGESTS

--Other risks include sexual assault, being approached by an adult for sex and mental health problems

A new study led by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that children who were legally required to register as sex offenders were at greater risk for harm, including suicide attempts and sexual assault, compared to a group of children who engaged in harmful or illegal sexual behavior but who were not required to register.

The most troubling findings, the authors say, pertained to suicidal intent and victimization experiences. The study found that registered children were four times as likely to report a recent suicide attempt in the last 30 days, compared to nonregistered children. Registered children were nearly twice as likely to have experienced a sexual assault and were five times as likely to have been approached by an adult for sex in the past year. Registered children also reported higher rates of other mental health problems, more peer relationship problems, more experiences with peer violence and a lower sense of safety.

The findings, which were published online last week in the journal Psychology, Public Policy and Law, highlight the consequences of placing children on sex offender registries.

“The process of subjecting children to sex offender registration and notification requirements not only conveys to the child that he or she is worthless, it also essentially alerts the rest of the world that a child has engaged in an illegal sexual behavior,” says study lead Elizabeth Letourneau, PhD, a professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Mental Health and director of the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse. “Not only is this policy stigmatizing and distressing, but it may make children vulnerable to unscrupulous or predatory adults who use the information to target registered children for sexual assault.”

Thirty-eight states subject children under age 18 to sex offender registration for offenses adjudicated in juvenile court while all states subject children to sex offender registration for offenses adjudicated in adult court (i.e., when children are waived to criminal court). This practice has been controversial from its beginnings in the mid-1990s due to concerns about the stigmatizing effects of labeling children—often for life—as “sex offenders.”

For the study, the researchers surveyed 256 children ages 12 to 17 across 18 states who had received treatment services for engaging in harmful and/or illegal sexual behaviors. Of these, 74 had been required to register as sexual offenders and/or subjected to public notification in which law enforcement alerted others to the child’s status as a registered offender. Some children were even included on public sex offender registry websites. Five girls were included in the sample, although analyses were ultimately reported only for the 251 boys. Compared to nonregistered children in this study, registered children had worse outcomes on measures assessing mental health problems, peer relationships, safety and exposure to sexual and nonsexual violence.

To identify registered and nonregistered children for this study, researchers obtained referrals from frontline practitioners (e.g., psychologists, counselors, social workers) who treat children for problem sexual behaviors. Children completed surveys by phone, on hard copies or on computers and steps were taken to assure confidentiality. Most of the children identified as male (98 percent) and were on average 15 years old. Half were white, more than one-quarter were African American and 18 percent identified as Hispanic. Most participants, 86 percent, identified as heterosexual.

“Policymakers have argued that if sex offender registration improves community safety it is worth the costs associated with it, which begs the question, does registrations work? Does it make communities safer? The answer is a resounding no,” says Letourneau. “On top of that, our study suggests that these requirements may place children at risk of the very type of abuse the policy seeks to prevent, among other serious negative consequences. Our hope is that this study will convince even more policymakers that the time has come to abandon juvenile registration.”.

Previous research by Letourneau and others demonstrates that less than three percent of children adjudicated for a sexual offense go on to commit another. However, despite numerous studies, including this one, that have evaluated the effects of sex offender registration and notification policies, none have found any evidence that suggests that such policies prevent sexual abuse and assault or make communities safer and, in fact, the results from this study suggest that these policies may be harmful to children.

Previous research has examined the unintended effects of sex offender registration and notification on adults. This is the first study to look at the effects of registration policies on children.

“Effects of juvenile sex offender registration on child well-being: An empirical examination” was written by Elizabeth J. Letourneau, PhD; Andrew Harris, PhD; Ryan Shields, PhD; Scott Walfield, PhD; Geoff Kahn, MSPH; Amanda Ruzicka, MA; and Cierra Buckman, MHS.

The research was funded by the Open Society Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse.

Media contacts:
Johns Hopkins Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse: Stephanie Neal at 443-839-0478 or stephanieneal@jhu.edu.
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Barbara Benham at 410-614-6029 or bbenham1@jhu.edu.

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