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Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse

Date: Oct 2015

Dr. LetourneauI began researching aspects of sexual abuse in 1990 as a graduate student. Over twenty-five years later, I’m still here and still responding—most often—to the same question: How could someone sexually abuse a child?

My goal is to change that first, basic question from one that tries to understand what’s already happened to one that looks forward: How can we prevent that? It is past time to put our focus on prevention rather than relying solely on reactive intervention. This is not a new message—many, including our Center’s Scientific Advisory Board members have promoted the merits of preventing childhood victimization for decades. But now, more than ever, this is a message that seems to resonate, and we need to keep this momentum going.

Of course, just saying that child sexual abuse is preventable is insufficient. We must demonstrate it. As experts in the field of child sexual abuse prevention, we at the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse must be thorough, exacting and willing to take on projects and subject matter that many might find uncomfortable.

Through research and exploration comes a better understanding of the causes of child sexual abuse and clarity on the pathways toward prevention and intervention. And, quite honestly, I love this work and the wonderful cadre of people who are in it.

This month we celebrated our anniversary, and as we head into our third year, I feel confident that the growth we’ve experienced so far will allow us to explore new projects and identify new areas for research and development in the coming years. Namely, we have new projects to launch, policies on which to advise and the ever-present need to energize and excite our base of supporters to make funding this research possible. We have a lot to look forward to.

I remain sincerely grateful to the individuals, foundations and federal agencies that support our mission, and I look forward to many more successful and productive years to come.

Elizabeth Letourneau, PhD
Director, Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse

JackolanternIt’s that spooky time of year again. Halloween is a candy-fueled holiday children often look forward to celebrating. Many dress in costumes, trick-or-treat with friends and neighbors and carve pumpkins with their families. It can also be spooky for parents as sex offender hysteria grows in intensity with every news story about the dangers of convicted sex offenders harming children on Halloween night.

A study conducted by several child sexual abuse prevention researchers sets the record straight about what parents should be (and shouldn’t be) concerned about.

How Safe are Trick-or-Treaters? Experts Weigh In.

Many states require convicted sex offenders to attend education programs the night of Halloween. They can also be prohibited from leaving their homes or opening their doors. They can be banned from costume parties and not allowed to decorate their houses. The belief is that these policies keep convicted sex offenders from making contact with children. It’s also believed that sex offenders could use costumes to hide their identifies. However, law enforcement officials note that Halloween policies weren’t developed because of a large or growing number of abuse cases. This study, “How Safe Are Trick-or-Treaters? An Analysis of Child Sex Crime Rates on Halloween,” looked at whether sex offenses, in fact, increase around Halloween and found no significant increase in risk for child sexual abuse.

Our Thoughts:

  • The idea that sex offenders are more likely to harm children on Halloween is simply unfounded. The data don’t prove it. Child sexual abuse is no more likely to occur on Halloween than on any other night.
  • The biggest thing to fear on Halloween night are drivers. Pedestrian accidents increase sharply around Halloween. Wearing reflective tape and accompanying young children are ways to prevent these accidents.
  • The best way to protect your children from child sexual abuse is through primary, prevention programs that are aimed at potential perpetrators and at improving the capability of adult guardians. Relying on children to keep themselves safe is the most typical but insufficient response to addressing child sexual abuse.

Jared FogleEven though Jared Fogle’s child pornography and child sexual abuse charges aren’t a top story these days, we haven’t stopped thinking about this case. The world was up in arms that this “regular guy” could do something so awful against children.

Who will be next?

Far more often than not, victims know their offenders. This fact is undisputed and widely understood at this point. When thinking hypothetically, most people acknowledge this simple truth. But when child sexual abuse hits closer to home – when it’s your dentist who is accused of molesting young patients, or when it’s the guy whose face and physique are ubiquitous with the largest fast food chain in the world  - that’s when it seems to be much more difficult to believe. When we assume that only monsters or total strangers are capable of hurting our children, we fail to see, much less act on, evidence that something might be amiss. Regular guys (and some regular gals) are, however, the norm, not the aberration.

It might be biologically adaptive to believe the best of people who seem like regular guys, people who seem like us. Few of us have the wherewithal or desire to be “on alert” all the time, including with friends and family or even with celebrities. So in addition to getting more people to report concerns about child sexual abuse more often, it also seems critical that we go much further by providing the resources to develop and rigorously evaluate prevention strategies. We need strategies that do not rely on the identification of possible abuse by people we know and love but that avert these disasters from occurring in the first place.

How do we do that? The first step is recognizing who perpetrates child sexual abuse and why. Perhaps as much as half of all sexual crimes against young children are committed by other children. So strategies for prevention could include strengthening families’ ability to promote the safe and healthy sexual development of their children – both to protect children from victimization and from engaging in sexually intrusive or abusive behavior with others. Strategies could target young teens and their parents with education about responsible behavior with younger children. And we could and should develop interventions for people living with sexual attraction to children but who are committed to not offending against children. These strategies fit within a public health approach to the prevention of violence in general and could leverage existing effective violence prevention programs currently in practice.

Maybe as individuals we will never stop being shocked by stories about the latest sex offender who we thought we knew. But as a country we can certainly do a far better job of developing and properly resourcing a national strategy for the prevention of child sexual abuse. We should not limit our options to simply detecting abuse and responding to it after the fact. We can no longer wait for “regular guys” to be charged before we realize that prevention must be priority.

Elizabeth J. LetourneauWe're gearing up for a busy and productive fall at the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse.

Since our April symposium, we've been developing three separate child sexual abuse prevention interventions, and we've continued to gain interest from the media with our message that child sexual abuse is preventable, not inevitable.

In addition, we were featured in the media focusing on the civil commitment of sex offenders, how the criminal justice system treats youth charged with sex crimes, and commenting on a treatment program in Germany for those brave enough to admit an unwanted attraction to young children and ask for help.

I’m delighted that we’ve accomplished so much in such little time, thanks in part to our supporters.
Research Accomplishments:

  • Increased research participation by 22 percent in our youth and family survey study
  • Awarded a $350,000 grant to assess whether discrepancies exist in the juvenile justice system
  • Launched our newest research project, Help Wanted, on September 29
  • Welcomed Kenny Feder to the team as a PhD candidate 

Media Wins:

Congratulations to our founding donor
Stephen Moore was named chair of the Health Advisory Board at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He was mentioned in the Baltimore Business Journal’s People on the Move section in July.
We believe that child sexual abuse is preventable, not inevitable
Our vision is a world without child sexual abuse. While we’re working hard to raise our visibility and educate others about our Center, we can’t do this alone. Please donate to our Center’s research that seeks to end child sexual abuse by preventing it in the first place. 
To give via the web:

  1. Visit and click the “Give Now” box in the upper right hand corner of the page
  2. Select “Other” beside the “Please designate my gift to support” section
  3. Type “Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse” in the field

Thank you for your continued support. 

Elizabeth J. Letourneau, PhD