Archive » 2011 » May
Written on May 10, 2011 by Rhoda
Taken from the Introduction of A Reasoned Approach: Reshaping Offender Policy to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse, a study researched and written by Joan Tabachnick and Alisa Klein:
“Child sexual abuse is an intimate and complicated form of harm. The anger that victims, victims’ families, and their communities are likely to feel in response to child sexual abuse is deep and understandable. It is only in the last few decades that society has begun to recognize it as a significant problem, to portray the trauma of sexual abuse in the media, and to seek ways to prevent and eliminate sexual violence. Despite the centuries of silence and denial that have surrounded the sexual abuse of children, the attention of the last 30 years has begun to change the ways in which victims can access help, family and community members can intervene before a child is harmed, and society can work toward solutions to the problem of child sexual abuse.
In an attempt to decrease the harm caused by people who sexually abuse, in the last several years, legislators have introduced increasing numbers of policies. The key trends of these legislative policies have included increasing the length of sex offender incarceration and monitoring, tracking, and restricting individuals convicted of sexual offenses. However, after nearly 20 years of implementation, emerging research indicates that many of these legislative policy initiatives have not had the intended or desired effects. The majority of legislative policies have been built upon stories of “stranger danger,” which now keep society from looking at the more typical and predominant cases of child sexual abuse that are perpetrated within the family and at the broader societal solutions for preventing child sexual abuse. Additionally, the broad application of these legislative policies to every adult, many adolescents, and even children convicted of sexual abuse has created unintended negative consequences:
- Since those who abuse are often portrayed publicly as “monsters,” people may be less likely to recognize the warning signs of a sexual behavior problem in siblings, parents, children, cousins, or others to whom they are close because they do not see them as “monsters.”
- Someone who suspects abuse within the family may be less likely to ask for help and subject family members, including victims, to public exposure.
- When a convicted abuser returns to the community, he/she is subjected to many of the current legislative policies. The resulting housing and job instability, loss of income, and isolation may increase the risk to re-offend.
The instability may also reduce the system’s ability to monitor the offender and hold him/her accountable. As a result of these unintended consequences, it is clear that the broad application of these laws does not make communities safer places for children, protect victims, or encourage the prevention of child sexual abuse. But there is reason for hope: emerging research about people who sexually abuse has begun to inform new policies within states, communities, and organizations.
This report will discuss the trends, impact, and unintended consequences of current legislative policies that may make children less safe in their homes and communities. It will also provide an overview of the new research about adults, youth, and children who sexually abuse and the innovations in policy that are grounded in this newly established research. Finally, the report will offer suggestions about how to shift our current approaches to sex offender policy to create incentives for primary prevention (before abuse is perpetrated) and, ultimately, offer new opportunities to create safer communities.”