The secondary headline for this article represents a very different slant: “For all the justified outrage at the Steubenville offenders, rehab can and does work.” In this tagline, she captures the anger and fear that so many people may feel when they read these stories. She also points to the conundrum that the public faces when we realize that we want the people (children, teens and adults) who sexually abuse to be successful and learn to live healthy, safe, and productive lives. Why? Because their success means that we all are safer.
But, how does this reconcile with the words of the previous article that claims it is difficult to reach the rapist with prevention messages?
It is important to acknowledge that there is a small percentage of people at risk to engage in sexually abusive behavior who will never be reached through prevention messages. As such, there is a need for resources to report, prosecute, and convict those individuals who are truly and, perhaps, incorrigibly, dangerous. However, the vast majority of children and teens who abuse will never sexually abuse again. With effective interventions we increase our ability to work with these youth and ensure that we can put into place the protective factors and provide the treatment needed to keep them and their communities safe.
As much as it often comes as a surprise to most members of the community-at-large, a lot of what we just wrote regarding adolescents applies to adults who have abused as well. Overall, the true key to effective risk management is the appropriate identification of those fewer individuals who pose the greatest degree of risk, and the subsequent use of our now considerable repertoire of risk management tools (e.g., containment, supervision, and evidence-based treatment) to intervene commensurate with the level of risk posed.
However, turning our attention back to young persons, like those involved in the Steubenville case, through research we continue to learn more and more about the risk factors for first time perpetration, as well as the protective factors that will make a difference in a child or teen’s life. If you have never seen the 40 developmental assets, take the time to look at this important work by the Search Institute.
Ms. Carmon ends the article with a hopeful quote about prevention from nationally and internationally acclaimed researcher Mark Chaffin:
We do a fair amount of victimization prevention, as a nation but we don’t do much perpetration prevention. If it’s relatively straightforward to change the behavior after it’s happened, it ought to be relatively straightforward to prevent it from happening in the first place. So that’s a reason to be optimistic.Dr. Chaffin challenges us to share a new perspective and, hopefully, move the conversation to focus on what we can do to strengthen prevention efforts, enhance community safety, and strengthen the safety net around children and other vulnerable persons in our communities. The change may be small – simply changing the prevention messages for children to say that “No one has the right to touch you and you also don’t have the right to touch someone else.” The change may involve a larger investment, such as the growing number of bystander prevention programs that talk about intervening with persons at risk to be victimized, as well as the person who is at risk to abuse.
We agree with Mark Chaffin: Now, more than ever, there is reason to be optimistic.
Robin J. Wilson