Factors in Preventing Child Sexual Abuse

Brent, it’s so sad to hear that children can be co-opted into their own abuse, but not surprising, given how readily children will accept many dysfunctional situations. We’ve all seen children becoming caregivers for their parents with alcohol or other problems, for instance.


One way to look at preventing child sexual abuse is this. For abuse to happen, three factors must be present. First, there must be a perpetrator who desires to abuse. Second, there must be a child who will take the role of a victim. Third, there must be an environment that provides enough privacy for the perpetrator to act. 

Organizations can prevent abuse at any of the three points.

1. Good screening and accountability may keep the would-be perpetrator out of the organization. (Surely some people with the desire to abuse don’t carry it out—unfortunately, the sad history of sexual abuse scandal means we are forced to assume people with attraction to children will act on it, hence the recommendation for a zero-tolerance policy towards perpetrators.) Keeping perpetrators out of the organization is the step least likely to succeed, and the reason one can’t get the child sexual abuse rate down to zero. 

2. If children are taught good boundaries and what behavior is appropriate, they may have the power to refuse to take the victim role. Perpetrators look for vulnerable children, so helping children not to be vulnerable is a healthy step. Once one of my sons was in a school where a teacher was arrested for abusing young males. I asked anxiously, “What would you have done if he had touched you?” My son replied in a simple and matter-of-fact tone, “Kill him.” Most likely, my son was not a target this perpetrator would have approached, if he was likely to react with physical aggression, shouting, or even telling another adult. But children cannot know the proper reaction unless they are taught. This is why adults should focus on providing training and making sure that a child always has someone to tell and viable options for staying safe.

3. Good policies about the ways in which children are cared for will help eliminate an environment of secrecy that allows perpetrators access to victims. If the entire community understands warning signs and suspicious behavior and is trained to intervene when there are red flags, it may short-circuit abuse. So often, even when people in the community did not know of the abuse, they saw these red flags, but did not understand what they were seeing. This is the reason to put the entire community through the training—so that aberrations stand out.

Disclaimer: not official legal or psychological advice or opinion

Because of the generality of the information on this site, it may not apply to a given place, time, or set of facts. It is not intended to be legal advice, and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations