You may have seen recent stories about the German prevention project Dunkelfeld that offers treatment to people who are sexually attracted to prepubescent children. This treatment philosophy is a marked departure from how we in the US have typically prevented child sexual abuse: by target-hardening children and strengthening sex offender registration and notification policies that are meant to prevent future abuse but aren’t effective.
Our current study, Help Wanted, conducted by Elizabeth Letourneau, PhD, director of the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health is one of three youth and family-focused research projects that are developing prevention efforts that target specific populations at risk of offending.
In the Help Wanted study, we’re conducting qualitative interviews with a little known or understood population: young adults attracted to prepubescent children, but who have not committed abuse. Many of these people have said that they recognized their attraction in adolescence, but did not know what to do. We want to find out how young people manage this attraction and develop an intervention for those adolescents who are looking for help.
Help Wanted Goals
- Why? People often think of sexual abuse perpetrators as predatory monsters. This idea is reinforced in the media when stories frame pedophiles as inhuman and anyone attracted to children as an inevitable offender. This hopeless view hampers efforts to provide treatment services and/or promote efforts aimed at stopping abuse before a child is harmed.
- Purpose: We’re bringing experts from law enforcement, therapy, victim advocacy, prevention, research and policy together to identify strategies to help youth attracted to children avoid acting on those interests.
- Vision: This project is designed to create a safe place for young people to seek effective professional intervention early, to ensure that they have the skills and resources needed to prevent them from harming children and to equip them to develop in healthy ways that are safe for all involved.
- Aim: We aim to develop, rigorously evaluate and broadly disseminate an effective prevention intervention for youth attracted to children that will be one step in our mission to prevent, and ultimately end, child sexual abuse.
- Our work was recently featured in “Sympathy for the Deviant” from Psychology Today’s November 2015 issue
- From Upworthy: A treatment program in Germany (Project Dunkelfeld) is raising eyebrows
- Luke Malone created a popular podcast (over a million downloads so far) for This American Life based on our research in 2014