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Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse

Keyword: youth

In November 2016, Moore Center staff attended the 35th Annual Research and Treatment Conference sponsored by the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA) in Orlando. The focus this year was “Different Roles, Same Goals: Preventing Sexual Abuse.”

The Moore Center research team presented current projects to researchers, scholars, treatment providers, advocates and other ATSA members. Below is a quick recap of those presentations:

Moving the Field: Developments in the Assessment, Treatment, and Prevention of Sexual Abuse by R. Karl Hanson, Mark E. Oliver and Elizabeth J. Letourneau

  • Speakers presented the argument that child sexual abuse is a preventable public health problem and maintained that focusing on prevention of youth-perpetrated sexual harm is a worthwhile and feasible endeavor.

Help Wanted Project: Addressing Needs of Adolescents Sexually Attracted to Children by Ryan T. Shields and Amanda Ruzicka

  • Speakers presented a general description of the interview subjects (individuals with a sexual interest in children, but who have not acted on their attraction) and common themes.
  • Subjects reported attempting to seek help but were unable to find any.
  • They also reported that their main struggle was not refraining from acting on their attraction, but rather with figuring out how to cope with such an attraction and how to live a happy and healthy life.

Impact of Sex Crime Policies on Youth and Their Families by Geoffrey Kahn and Cierra Buckman

  • Key findings from this study include that youth who are required to register as sex offenders are four times more likely to have attempted suicide in the past 30 days and are three times more likely to be approached by an adult for sex than youth who do not have to register. 
  • Caregivers of youth who are required to register experience an increased average number of negative consequences than those who are not required to register. 

ATSA’s mission is dedicated to preventing sexual abuse through research, education and shared learning and the effective management of individuals who have sexually abused or who are at risk of doing so. The annual conferences attract around 1400 attendees and have hundreds of speakers.

help wantedYou 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.

Media Coverage:

researchRecently, an article that I wrote with Ryan Shields, PhD, my colleague at the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse, along with Andrew Harris, PhD, and Scott Walfield from the University of Massachusetts Lowell, was published in Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment.

The article, “Collateral Consequences of Juvenile Sex Offender Registration and Notification: Results from a Survey of Treatment Providers,” examines treatment providers’ perceptions of the consequences that result from including youth on sex offender registries. There were five key areas where we believed consequences might occur: mental health, harassment, school problems, living instability and risk of re-offending.

Three important themes emerged: 1) treatment providers overwhelmingly believe there are negative consequences associated with youth being registered, 2) the negative effects were associated more with notification than registration, which supports earlier studies that found public shaming increases the stigma of sexual offending and leads to depression, stress and isolation, and 3) providers’ negative perceptions were not influenced by their demographics, education level, etc., suggesting that concern about the potential harm of registering youth is prevalent.

To read the article in full, please visit the Sage Publications website.