Should CSA be viewed as a public health issue?

By Des Mannion

| 20 May 2019

Earlier this year, I was among the speakers at a conference in Cardiff which focused on approaches to the issue of child sexual abuse (CSA).

Speakers at the event covered topics which included the development of the UK's first child house - London's Lighthouse project, based on the Icelandic ‘Barnahús' model - and the societal cost of child sexual abuse.

But the overall theme was whether child sexual abuse should be considered as a public health issue.

My colleague Jon Brown, the NSPCC's head of impact and development, also spoke. He included a slide which carried a quote from James A Mercy from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

It made the point that if society viewed CSA as it views disease or illness, then research and investment would be forthcoming to create evidence on the best possible method of tackling the problem head-on.

This could, theoretically, potentially lead to its eradication or at least increased prevention rates and reducing incidences in the long term. This approach is yet to be attempted.

Child sexual abuse is a highly complex issue and tackling it is equally challenging.

The NSPCC defines CSA as an act where children are forced or persuaded to take part in sexual activity, and can include both physical and non-physical contact.

Across the UK, the NSPCC offers support through our ‘Together for Childhood' service which focuses on a community-wide approach, creating a localised plan to prevent abuse from taking place and generating evidence on the primary prevention of abuse.

We continue to test, develop and hopefully expand a number of specialised approaches in relation to CSA, including the harmful sexual behaviour framework and our child sexual exploitation service ‘Protect and Respect' which is delivered at sites right across the UK.

Nine out of 10 sexual abuse victims are targeted by someone they know so early intervention, along with better education for children about this abuse and seeking help, is vital in keeping them safe from harm.

Our analysis shows that in most cases police and social services are often only able to respond to child sexual abuse after it has occurred.

With improvements in the way we approach this difficult issue we believe far more cases of appalling abuse against children are preventable.

Our collaborative approach through the service centres, ‘Together for Childhood' and the Lighthouse highlights how we are looking into ways of tackling child sexual abuse.

NSPCC Cymru/Wales has long called for the Welsh Government to create an action plan on CSA. It is due for publication later this summer.

We hope that this will include a strong focus on prevention along with child sexual exploitation and harmful sexual behavior and that it will be audacious and ambitious in its approach.

Its creation is a highly-promising development and hopefully another example of Wales leading the way in the UK on child protection and adopting an approach which focuses on preventing abuse in the first place.

Des Mannion is head of service, NSPCC Cymru

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