Parents' Views about Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Education: A Systematic Review

By Hunt, Robyn; Walsh, Kerryann | Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, June 2011 | Go to article overview

Parents' Views about Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Education: A Systematic Review


Hunt, Robyn, Walsh, Kerryann, Australasian Journal of Early Childhood


Introduction

Child sexual abuse (1) (CSA) is a significant social problem with far-reaching implications for child victims, their families and communities. In Australia each year approximately 3500 children are found to have been sexually abused after investigation by state and territory-based child protection authorities (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2010). Risk factors for CSA include: gender--girls are more likely to be sexually abused (Finkelhor, 1993; Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2010); age--the time of greatest vulnerability for child sexual abuse victimisation has been identified as between seven and 12 years of age (Finkelhor & Baron, 1986; Fleming, 1997; Nelson et al., 2002; Trickett, Horowitz, Reiffman & Putnam, 1997); disability--children with sensory impairments are at greater risk (Westcott & Jones, 1999); family characteristics--parental mental health problems, parental substance abuse, extended maternal absences, presence of non-paternal males in the home, domestic violence, social isolation and punitive parenting. These factors have been associated with increased risk in a variety of studies (see Putnam, 2003) and, in Australia, Indigenous status--Indigenous children are over-represented in investigated child sexual abuse matters (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2010; Northern Territory Government, 2007).

Considerable negative effects can result from sexual abuse in childhood, including emotional distress and disturbance, symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, behavioural problems, interpersonal difficulties, and problems with cognitive functioning which may lead to school failure or abandonment of education altogether (see Berliner & Elliott, 2002; Jones, Trudinger & Crawford, 2004). Later in life, CSA constitutes a significant risk factor for serious health and mental health problems. However, negative outcomes are not inevitable and appear to be related to several factors, including the extent and nature of the abuse, age at onset, the relationship of the perpetrator to the victim, family functioning in general, coping styles, and the degree of support provided by family and other caregivers (see Berliner & Elliot, 2002; Putnam, 2003).

Prevention of child sexual abuse and exploitation is a key goal of the National Framework for Protecting Australia's Children (COAG, 2009), a policy initiative which aims for a substantial and sustained reduction in child abuse and neglect in Australia by 2020. According to Wurtele (2009), one of the foremost international researchers in the area of child sexual abuse prevention, strengthening and sustaining human capacity to prevent child sexual abuse can be conceptualised as a process of reducing risk factors and building protective factors in potential perpetrators and victims, their families and communities. A comprehensive prevention approach (2) would target all people--children and youth, parents, professionals, and the public--in an array of settings including schools and early childhood centres, homes and communities.

Research has established that parents (3) are the most frequent sources of information for children about CSA prevention (Hazzard, Webb, Kleemeier, Angert & Pohl, 1991) and parent engagement is crucial to the success of child-focused prevention programs (Finkelhor & Dziuba-Leatherman, 1995; Maclntyre & Carr, 1999). Given their critical role, the purpose of this review is to assemble and describe current knowledge on the topic of parents' views about child sexual abuse prevention education (CSAPE). Synthesising what is already known about parents' views is important because it offers insights into the factors and processes influencing their decisions regarding CSAPE and this can provide a reference point for future research and practice.

This paper presents the results of a systematic review of literature focusing on four key research questions: i) what do parents know about child sexual abuse prevention education? …

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