Three Modes Of Prevention: Which One Works For Child Sexual Abuse?

In case you are not familiar with prevention from a public health perspective, it generally encompasses three areas:

Primary Prevention

Secondary Prevention

Tertiary Prevention

This is similar to first person, second person, and third person (grammar concept), but applied to prevention. Let me explain each of the three concepts before I get to my point.

Primary Prevention

In primary prevention, the focus is on preventing a problem before it arises. The best example might be a car accident: The best thing to do is to practice safe driving habits, like always using turn signals, obeying the speed limit, and being aware of your surroundings. In primary prevention, you want to make sure there is no car accident in the first place.

Secondary Prevention

In secondary prevention, the focus is on at-risk situations or people. Using the same car accident example, the thing to do with secondary prevention is to avoid high-risk intersections, avoid driving during rush hour and harsh weather, and not engaging with erratic drivers. In secondary prevention, you still want to make sure there is no car accident, but you are focusing on avoiding the high-risk scenarios that could lead to one.

Tertiary Prevention

In tertiary prevention, the focus is on stopping future events. Using the car accident example, the crash has already happened, and your focus now is making sure no more damage happens to you or the car: Pulling out of traffic, using flares, calling the police, etc. In tertiary prevention, the thing you are trying to prevent has already happened, and now you want to prevent future events of that happening again.

So What?

Can you guess which of these three approaches is the current main focus of the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK? All of them focus on registering and restricting sex offenders: Those who have already acted. You guessed correctly: These are tertiary prevention methods that we are using. This begs the question… is this effective?

Most Crimes Are Committed By Those New To The Justice System

Okay, for anyone that does not already know this, 95% of sexual crimes are not committed by registered sex offenders: They are committed by those new to the criminal justice system, or first-time offenders. These are people who have no criminal record. Yes, 95% of all sexual crimes — child sexual abuse included — are not committed by registered sex offenders. This statistic alone, coupled with the statements of researchers and the low sexual recidivism rates that you find among sexual offenders, means that our focus would be better spent on primary prevention methods.

While I will leave the specific policies that could be implemented for another day, I will leave you with this: Multiple countries are doing the wrong thing in their policies to keep children safe, and more victims suffer child sexual abuse because of it. That should be appalling to anyone.

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