What is prevention of CSA?
To understand more about the prevention of CSA and develop effective interventions, we first need to address the three stages of prevention: primary, secondary and tertiary prevention. Primary prevention targets entire populations. The aim is to prevent CSA before it occurs. An example is raising awareness on CSA in society. Secondary prevention aims to reduce the risk of sexual abuse among specific groups of individuals. For example, individuals who struggle to control their sexual behaviour towards children. Tertiary prevention targets individuals who have already committed CSA and prevents them from re-offending. Examples are treatment and reintegration in society.
CSA is a societal problem and needs an approach that works for the entire system. Prevention not only targets individuals who commit (or are at risk of committing) CSA offences, it can also focus on victims, communities or situations. Prevention focusing on (potential) victims includes education of children or support for individuals who have experienced CSA. Other prevention efforts focus on the community, such as support for family members of sexual offenders and by-stander interventions. Prevention can also target situations, for example using deterrence messages on social media platforms when individuals are searching for illegal material.
Prevention of CSA needs to act on all stages of prevention, and interventions for individuals who fear they might offend are essential in combatting CSA.
2PS is a prevention project that develops effective interventions and provides support for individuals who seek help for their behaviour and thereby reduces (repeated) abuse of children.
Why is prevention of CSA important?
CSA and the use of CSEM online is a growing problem and the consequences for victims can be enormous. Every victim of CSA is one too many. It is a problem that cannot be solved by the efforts of the police alone. Therefore, an approach is needed that aims to prevent CSA before it occurs in the first place. Preventive approaches can reduce CSA and the use of CSEM online, thereby preventing harm to children.
How can prevention help individuals who fear they might offend?
Prevention can target individuals who fear they might offend against children. One way prevention can help is by providing them with options for support services that can help them control their sexual behaviour towards children.
There are many different approaches and interventions to help individuals who fear they might offend. Often there is an individualized treatment plan for each person according to their needs. When it comes to treatment of individuals who are worried about their sexual behaviours towards children, an agreement would be made on the common goal to not offend and therefore the management of risk for problematic sexual behaviour. It can usually be understood as a training of awareness of thoughts, actively coping with emotions and changing behavioural patterns to reduce distress, achieve health and building a better life. Treatment can thereby reduce risk and prevent offending against children.
What is child sexual abuse (CSA)?
Child sexual abuse (CSA) is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “the involvement of a child in sexual activity that he or she does not fully comprehend, is unable to give informed consent to, or for which the child is not developmentally prepared and cannot give consent, or that violates the laws or social taboos of society. Child sexual abuse is evidenced by this activity between a child and an adult or another child who by age or development is in a relationship of responsibility, trust or power, the activity being intended to gratify or satisfy the needs of the other person.”
CSA is about genital penetration, inappropriate touching and fondling. Nonetheless, it must be acknowledged that child sexual abuse can also be committed without physical contact (so-called “non-contact abuse”). Common examples of “non-contact sexual abuse” are sexual harassment of children, including verbal harassment such as unwanted sexual comments, or showing pornography to a child, deliberately exposing an adult’s genitals to a child, performing sexual acts near a child, or encouraging a child to share sexual images of themself.
With the surge of child sexual abuse occurring through the Internet or other ICT, it becomes increasingly necessary to pay attention to such non-contact forms of abuse — and the consequences they have for young victims.
What is child sexual exploitation material (CSEM)?
Child Sexual Exploitation Material (CSEM) – also known as Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) – refers to material that depicts and/or that documents acts that are sexually abusive and/or exploitative to a child. This includes all photos and videos of a child who is engaged in sexual activity.
The COPINE scale – a rating system created in Ireland and used in the United Kingdom to categorise the severity of images of child sex abuse – identifies ten-level typology of materials, from non-erotic and non-sexualised pictures to sadistic materials.
Viewing CSEM is illegal. The children depicted in this material are always victims of child sexual abuse and/or exploitation. Viewing this material creates demand and results in more children being abused to produce this material. When someone uses CSEM they are participating in the production of more child abuse material, and thus more victims.
Legislation differs between countries regarding images where a child is posing in a sexually explicit way. Legislation also differs depending on the age at which an individual is considered a child or whether artificially created images constitute CSEM.
Why do people commit child sexual abuse offences?
It is difficult to understand why a person would commit child sexual abuse. A common misconception is that all child sexual abuse is committed by people who are sexually attracted to children, but in reality, there can be many reasons for committing these crimes. Knowing why people sexually abuse children does not excuse their behaviour, but it may help us to better understand how to address this issue. There could be many factors involved but there is no universal theory that can explain offending behaviour for everyone. Some people who commit child sexual abuse offences have problems with intimacy and attachment or come from violent family backgrounds. Some have been abused themselves. There are offenders who do not see any harm in their behaviour or simply do not care. Others know that their behavior is wrong and want to get help. There are treatment options available to help these people control their behaviour and reduce victimization of children.
Are all people who commit child sexual abuse offences sexually attracted to children?
No. It is necessary to distinguish between people who are sexually attracted to children and people who commit child sexual abuse. There can be many reasons for offending against children, which, however, do not justify this behaviour.
It is a common misunderstanding that people with a sexual interest in children will automatically commit CSA or view CSEM on the internet. This is not the case. Many people who have committed child sexual offences do not have a sexual preference for children.
Why is 2PS supporting people who fear they might offend against children?
The support and interventions in the 2PS project are being offered to individuals who are seeking help. The aim of the interventions is preventing sexual offences against children and/or early adolescents and avoiding the use of child sexual abuse material. In this way 2PS actively contributes to the protection of children and early adolescents by addressing the problem before children become victims, thus preventing repeated abuse and counteracting ongoing traumatization.