Civil Commitment

A recent editorial in the New York Times (“Sex Offenders Locked Up on A Hunch”) critiqued the usefulness of indefinite civil commitment for sex offenders and suggested that we should redirect resources from civil commitment toward community supervision. However, whether society commits indefinitely or enhances supervision, a child has already been harmed. Instead of directing more resources toward supervision, we need to invest in new approaches to stop child sexual abuse before it happens.

How can we prevent child sexual abuse? Research suggests that about half of child sexual abuse cases are perpetrated by juveniles under 18, and these offenses occur for a variety of reasons. Rather than solely funding after-the-fact approaches, scarce public dollars would be better spent researching and developing evidence-based, primary prevention programs that strengthen families’ ability to protect children from victimization and teach youth at risk for first-time perpetrating about responsible behavior with young children. This approach is consistent with the epidemiology of child sexual abuse and is similar to other kinds of violence prevention programs currently in practice.

We can no longer wait until harm has occurred before we respond. The stakes are too high.