Emerging Issues in the Research on Child Sexual Abuse Prevention

Article excerpt

Abstract

It is estimated that nearly one-quarter of the United States population have been victims of child sexual abuse. Due to increases in the rates at which sexual abuse has been reported over the past few decades, researchers have put forth major efforts at preventing child sexual abuse. Programs are widely available and utilize a variety of assessment measures, modes of presentation, and presenters. Within the growing body of research on child sexual abuse prevention, a number of important issues have emerged. These issues include the effectiveness of assessment methods, potential side-effects of prevention programs, the developmental appropriateness of programs, the differential effectiveness of presenters of prevention materials, parental involvement in sexual abuse prevention efforts, and the perspectives of offenders and victims. This paper discusses and integrates these issues and makes recommendations for future research.

Due to alarmingly high rates of child sexual abuse, there is increasing attention on prevention research. In the first national survey of prevalence and risk factors of child sexual abuse, Finkelhor and colleagues found that 22% of the United States population reported they were victims of sexual abuse (Finkelhor, Hotaling, Lewis, & Smith, 1990). Although definitions vary across studies, Finkelhor et al. (1990) defined child sexual abuse as including any of the following acts committed by an adult upon a child at age 18 or under: attempted or completed sexual intercourse (i.e., oral, anal, vaginal); touching, grabbing, kissing, or rubbing up against the child in the context of a sexual abuse situation; photographing the child nude; exhibiting their body parts to the child; or having the child view any type of sex act (Finkelhor et al., 1990). In Finkelhor et al. (1990), 16% of men and 27% of women reported being sexually abused as children, although prior research suggests a male to female ratio of 1:3 (Mian, Wehrspann, Klajner-Diamond, LeBaron, & Winder, 1986). It is thought that the average age of first abuse is between the ages of 7 and 9 years (Briere & Runtz, 1988; Dube & Hebert, 1988; Finkelhor et al., 1990), however, children aged 6 and under may account for up to one-third of reported sexual abuse cases (Mian et al., 1986).

Younger children (i.e., preschoolers) are more likely to be victims of intrafamilial abuse (72%), while school aged children are more likely to experience extrafamilial abuse (73%) (Dube & Hebert, 1988; Mian et at., 1986). According to Dube and Hebert (1988), as many as 78% of all child victims know the perpetrator. Finkelhor et al. (1990) reported more males than females are victimized by strangers. Not surprisingly, 76% of victimizations occur in the victim's or perpetrator's home (Dube & Hebert, 1988). Perpetrators of sexual abuse against both boys and girls are most likely to be men, over the age of 20, who are often perceived as authority figures (Dube & Hebert, 1988; Finkelhor et al, 1990).

Research suggests that the number one risk factor for both boys and girls is growing up in an "unhappy" home (Finkeihor et al., 1990; Mian et al., 1986). Although a variety of factors can contribute to an "unhappy" home, some factors that may contribute include families separated by divorce, families with only one natural parent, or families in which there is discord. Finkelhor and associates also found that women who received inadequate sex education as children were more at risk for sexual abuse.

Sexual abuse can occur once or over a period of many years before the relationship is disclosed and discontinued (Dube & Hebert, 1988). From the moment an abusive act takes place, children may experience a variety of physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms. Physical symptoms of child sexual abuse can include sexually transmitted diseases, vaginal or rectal bleeding, abdominal pain, and bruised genitalia (De Jong, 1985; Mian et al. …