Too much reliance on stamping out “bad apples”

Preventing child sexual abuse can be tackled in many ways. We are familiar with pre-employment screening and Working with Children Checks. But these steps alone are not enough. We need to go beyond individual prevention to contextual prevention strategies.

Since the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse released its findings in 2017, much of our efforts have relied on strategies that are victim-focused (protective behaviour programs and child sexual abuse prevention education for children) and perpetrator-focused (pre-employment screening, suitability assessments and reportable conduct). 

At a symposium held on Tuesday 21 May 2024 “How do contextual prevention strategies prevent child sexual abuse?” we shared what we learned from our recently completed Westpac Safer Children, Safer Communities research grant.

Prof. Daryl Higgins and Douglas Russell (Institute of Child Protection Studies, Australian Catholic University), and Assoc. Prof. Nadine McKillop and Dr Susan Rayment-McHugh (Sexual Violence Research and Prevention Unit, University of Southern Coast), gave participants lots to think about. They argued that there is still a heavy reliance on stamping out “bad apples”. We need to go beyond these strategies to think about societal contexts (macro) and immediate situations (micro) in which abuse might occur.

Adopting these innovative strategies takes time, patience, and perseverance, but we need to have critical discussions about the importance of contextual strategies in preventing child sexual abuse and making our organisations child-safe spaces.

Contextual prevention strategies are empirically supported and address the following elements:

  • address social determinants
  • enhance formal regulatory controls
  • encourage crime prevention through environmental design
  • look for situational crime prevention opportunities.

Read more about the project and get links to a recording of the symposium, as well as a handout with examples of practical suggestions, and a PDF of the presentation notes

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