Monday, June 1, 2015

The prevention of sexual abuse and violence in the UK

 Over the last four decades in the UK, survivors of sexual abuse and the women’s movement brought growing recognition of sexual abuse and sexual violence. For the purposes of this blog sexual abuse refers to the abuse of children and young people and sexual violence is a broader umbrella term which also includes sexual assaults against adults.  

During the 1980s small, mainly voluntary sector organisations began to provide help, support and treatment for victims and survivors of sexual violence.  Also during this time, many of the same organizations began to recognize the need to work with the source of the problem, the person causing the sexual harm. The Probation Service began to deliver relatively small scale individual and group work to  convicted sex offenders.

With a developing interest in “What Works” in treatment and rehabilitation, there was a growing  investment in treatment programmes for offenders that were subject to quite rigorous evaluations. Accredited sex offender programmes were developed and by the first decade of the 21st century and a growing body of research began to articulate the components of  effective assessment and treatment for those who sexually harmed children and/or adults.

This development in knowledge and resources was not matched in work with victims, with children and young people with harmful sexual behaviour and even less focus on  primary prevention. And this in the main remains the case today.  It seems that this is primarily due to the political attractiveness of being seen to address a “threat”(e.g., adult sex offenders) rather than the sometimes complex steps to prevent sexual violence from happening in the first place.

More recently high profile cases of historic abuse (Savile -, Hall - and others), child  sexual exploitation,  and an increased focus towards online abuse, combined with growing fiscal constraints have led policy makers to become more interested in primary prevention. Work by the NSPCC[1] has shown that the sexual abuse of children costs the UK economy over £3 billion (approximately $4.5 billion) a year. Government is beginning to understand and recognise that sexual abuse and violence is best understood as a public health problem. To the UK we now have a growing interest in prevention and real opportunities to evaluate what works, particularly in relation to primary prevention.

Two members of NOTA (who are also members of ATSA and on ATSA’s Prevention Committee) have taken the lead to  establish a prevention committee within NOTA.  The newly formed committee Is currently exploring how to best identify; promote and disseminate good and promising prevention practice, particularly in relation to primary prevention. The NOTA Prevention Committee works from the standpoint that there is much to be learned and adapted from other successful public health campaigns and initiatives. The main aims of the committee are:

·         To contribute to the development of awareness raising and practices to prevent  sexual  violence against children and adults in the UK and Ireland

·         To focus on all aspects of the prevention of sexual abuse and violence against children and adults and to have a particular focus on primary and secondary prevention 

·         To develop an annual, costed work plan

·         To develop a common understanding of what constitutes prevention is in the context of sexual violence

·         To oversee and drive the development of the Prevention Matters online forum

·         To develop policy positions

·         To facilitate links to other prevention activity in national or local governments or other organisations  

The NOTA Prevention Committee has already begun to meet and plans to address the goals above throughout the year.  And to help increase communications across the Atlantic, NOTA has invited ATSA prevention committee members to join the NOTA meetings.  From these collaborations, we expect to see some excellent opportunities to address this issue before it is a large institutional issue. 

One example of ATSA and NOTA working together is the community engagement events in San Diego (ATSA conference 2014), McCartan who organized the first event, is now coordinating events in Bristol UK and Dublin Ireland.  These events can help improve public understanding about sexual abuse and violence and articulate what can be done to prevent it.

The growth of these initiatives and the growing public attention to the issue of sexual violence, there are many new opportunities opening up with the possibility of having a significant impact in communities on both sides of the Atlantic. 

Jon Brown, M.Sc. , (NSPCC & Chair of the NOTA Prevention Committee)

Kieran McCartan PhD (NOTA Prevention Committee member)                   

[1] NSPCC (2014) Estimating the costs of child sexual abuse in the UK

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