Community and Professional Education

The Federal Statute that defines Child Protective Services (The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act) restricts its federal grants for child abuse and neglect prevention and treatment services to states that provide education about child maltreatment (among other provisions). This provision is aimed at identifying maltreating families so that abuse can be stopped and its causes and effects ameliorated. However, because such education must define child maltreatment, it puts the community and professionals on notice about inappropriate forms of behavior toward children and, by doing this, can prevent some instances of child maltreatment, including sexual abuse.

Awareness of the unacceptability of child sexual abuse that derives from education also may serve as a deterrent for potential offenders. Some potential offenders may actually be ignorant about what sexual abuse is. In addition, it is fairly common for actual offenders to engage in ''cognitive distortions" or rationalizations of their behavior. Examples might be telling themselves that because the behavior does not involve penile penetration, it is not abuse, or because the child is too young to understand, the abuse will not be harmful. It is possible, therefore, that potential offenders could be deterred and actual offenders could be led to cease sexual abuse by information that, for example ''just touching'' is abuse.

In addition, some potential offenders might be deterred by knowledge of the consequences of getting

Child Sexual Abuse caught, information that could come from education. This might be professional education, community education, or information reported in the media. Although the media have provided some misinformation in their coverage of sexual abuse, they also have been the source of news stories that could have a deterrent effect, could lead to reporting of cases by victims or others, and could help victims feel less stigmatized and alone.

Another way education can be preventative is by causing earlier reporting of cases. That this is happening is suggested by changes in the types of cases that are being reported. In the 1950s and 1960s the clinical literature suggested that the modal case was one of an adolescent, who disclosed in the course of family conflict or after marital dissolution. Statistics from the most recent National Incidence Study, which gathers data on cases of child maltreatment coming to the attention of professionals, indicate that the children ages 3 through adolescence are at relatively equivalent risk for being identified as victims of sexual abuse.

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