Primary Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse: Alternative, Non-Child Directed Approaches
James J. Krivacska*
ABSTRACT: Child sexual abuse prevention programs have
traditionally directed efforts at children. However, sound
prevention efforts may eventually depend more on programs aimed at
adults. Alternative approaches based upon the etiology and the
sustaining and maintaining factors of abuse are discussed. Such
programs may include education about normal sexual development, efforts
to increase the inhibitions against abuse for potential abusers, and
therapeutic interventions for adults who are sexually aroused by
Recently, authors have called for methods of child
sexual abuse prevention other than programs directed at children (Finkelhor,
1986; Gilbert, Berrick, Le Prohn, & Nyman, 1989; Tharinger,
Krivacska, Laye-McDonough, Jamison, Vincent, & Hedlund, 1988;
Trudell & Whatley, 1988). Outside of recognizing the need for such
programs, however, there has been little effort to outline what form
such alternative prevention efforts should take.
Sound prevention programming is based upon a theory
of the etiology and the sustaining and maintaining factors for the
condition to be prevented (Bickman, 1983; Morell, 1981; Rappaport,
1987). One of the most widely discussed theories of child sexual abuse
is David Finkelhor's Four Preconditions Model of Child Sexual Abuse
(1984). Finkelhor claims that sexual abuse results from a perpetrator
sequentially overcoming each of four obstacles to the sexually abusive
act. For an act of sexual abuse to occur four preconditions must be met:
Precondition I — The perpetrator must be motivated to
sexually abuse a child;
Precondition Il — The perpetrator must overcome
internal inhibitions against such abuse;
Precondition Ill — The perpetrator must overcome
external inhibitions to abuse; and
Precondition IV — The perpetrator must overcome the
Finkelhor suggests that child sexual abuse may be
prevented by intervening in any one of these four preconditions. Most
prevention efforts, however, have been targeted at Precondition IV —
child's resistance. In fact, Finkelhor lists six factors which
contribute to the child's resistance under this precondition, only two
of which are typically addressed in child sexual abuse prevention (CSAP)
programs. Consequently, from the perspective of this model, prevention
efforts have been narrowly focused.
Is Finkelhor's model the most appropriate one for
conceptualizing child sexual abuse? Finkelhor's model explains more how
sexual abuse takes place than why the inclination for an adult to
sexually abuse a child develops in the first place (Krivacska, in press-b).
Indeed, absent the motivation to sexually abuse a child, none of the
other preconditions serve any purpose. On the other hand, the sequential
approach inherent in the Four Preconditions Model ignores the relative
weight the perpetrator may give to internal and external inhibitions.
Finkelhor's model has been reconceptualized to give
greater significance to the first precondition, motivation to sexually
abuse a child, as well as allow for weighting different degrees of
inhibitions among the remaining three preconditions (Krivacska, in
press-a & b). Sexual abuse may be viewed as a phenomena which occurs
at the intersection of two continua. The first continuum describes the
degree of motivation to sexually abuse a child. The second continuum
relates to the degree of inhibitions which may exist and which may
include internal and external inhibitions as well as the child's
resistance. What is more important than the sequential progression of
overcoming each of the preconditions or inhibitions is the cumulative
effect of the inhibitions. Sexual abuse will occur when the level of
motivation on the motivation continuum exceeds the combined levels of
inhibitors on the inhibitory continuum (Krivacska, in press-a & b).
Prevention efforts then, can aim at increasing the
strength of the inhibitory factors or decreasing the strength of the
motivational factor. Since the current literature deals extensively with
the issue of sexual abuse prevention programs directed at children, such
programs will not be considered here. Rather, alternative approaches to
the prevention of child sexual abuse through the enhancement of
inhibitory factors will be discussed along with an analysis of the
etiology of sexual attraction to children and approaches to preventing
the development of motivation to sexually abuse a child.
Alternative Approaches to Enhancement of Internal
The inhibitory factors may be broken into internal
and external inhibitors as described by Finkelhor (1984). Internal
inhibitions relate to the individuals' personal awareness of the
inappropriateness of the sexual contact and their willingness and/or
ability to control their impulses towards children. There is evidence
that sexual abusers rationalize their conduct and attempt to provide
justification for their sexual activity with children (de Young,
1988) (e.g., under the guise of sex education). For some perpetrators
then, direct assault upon their rationalizations may be necessary.
others who recognize the inappropriateness of their behavior but are
nevertheless unable to control it, additional interventions are needed.
One such approach (which would be relatively
inexpensive to implement) would be to publicize the use of sexual abuse
prevention programs in schools (Krivacska, in press-b). According to
Finkelhor (1984), one of the presumptions of a sexually abusive
relationship is that children will keep the secret due to their lack of
understanding of what sexual abuse is and/or their right to refuse such
contact as well as their feelings of blame or guilt. To the extent to
which sex abuse prevention programs increase children's knowledge about
sexual abuse and their right to refuse sexually abusive approaches, and
decrease their guilt or blame for its occurrence, children become much
more likely to report abusive acts. Publication of this may inhibit
perpetrators who might now fear disclosures.
Parent education forums on child sexual abuse may
also increase internal inhibitions if any perpetrators or potential
perpetrators are in the audience. Open discussion of the potential
effects of sexual abuse on children and their families, as well as the
increased likelihood of disclosure and subsequent apprehension, may
raise internal inhibitions. (Krivacska, in press-b).
Public advertising may also serve an important role.
Figures 1 through 4 illustrate public campaign ads (Child Abuse
Information Center, 1989) designed to educate perpetrators and potential
perpetrators about the effects of sexual abuse, to warn them of the
potential consequences if and when they are discovered and to urge them
to seek confidential professional help. Such ads may again confront
perpetrators with their rationalizations as well as increase their
realization of the dangers of discovery. As illustrated in the sample
ads in Figures 1 through 4, such campaigns may stress that children
cannot consent to sexual activity, that such activity is inappropriate
and may lead to psychological trauma, and that the consequences to the
abuser, if caught, would be substantial. Such campaigns should also
include information about where abusers might get help for their
Public schools may also promote internal inhibitions
against sexual abuse by incorporating into courses on Human Sexuality a
discussion of sexual abuse, its potential effects, and the need for
anyone who may be experiencing sexual attraction to children to seek out
and obtain confidential counseling. Given that sexual attraction to
children typically arises first in adolescence, this may be the most
appropriate time to begin this type of preventive instruction. Helfer
(1982) and Holmes (1987) both describe programs directed at teens which
have as one of their goals reduction of the likelihood that the teens
will become sexual abusers.
Alternative Approaches to Enhancement of External
A number of efforts may increase external inhibitors
of sexual abuse. External inhibitors stop sexual abuse through
environmental constraints upon the act (Finkelhor, 1984) . The presence
of another person who might witness the act, the lack of private time
with the child, or the likelihood of discovery are all examples of
external inhibitors. Perhaps more important than the mere presence of
the external inhibitor is its perception by the perpetrator. What many
might view as a powerful external inhibitor against abuse (e.g., the
potential for discovery when a sexual molestation is attempted in a
public restroom) may be rationalized by the perpetrator and not be
viewed as risky. Thus, attempts must be made to increase not only the
real levels of external inhibitors but also the perception of those
inhibitors by perpetrators.
One approach which is becoming popular in several
states is the introduction of safeguards or precautions in the hiring,
recruiting, and supervision of paid and volunteer staff by state
agencies and institutions which service children. New Jersey, for
example, requires criminal background checks for sexual offenses for all
employees of public schools who come into contact with children. Therefore, those who have
a previous known history of sexual contact with
children are precluded from situations in which abuse is most likely to
Buildings in which children are housed may be
surveyed to identify structural features of the building which may
promote sexual abuse. For example, rooms which are totally windowless
and which can be locked from the inside should be modified (Holmes,
1987), and policies which protect both students and staff from sexual
abuse or false allegations instituted (e.g., policies requiring
the presence of another adult whenever a staff member must drive a child
Alternative Approaches to Increasing Children's Resistance
There are several factors inherent in the child which
may promote or sustain abuse as described under Finkelhor's fourth
precondition. Parents may increase their child's resistance to abuse by
developing a relationship with their child which would encourage
disclosure of abuse. Parent education, then, may inhibit abuse by
impacting on the child's resistance to abuse. Such parent education may
include discussions of normal childhood sexuality and how to talk to
children about sex. Parents who can openly and appropriately discuss sex
with their children will undermine the secrecy, mystery and confusion
which maintains the secrecy of the sexually abusive relationship.
Parent training may also include discussions of what
child sexual abuse is, what its impact on a child might be, and how
parents may prevent it as well as respond if their child is abused.
selection of babysitters, choice of day care centers, and how to
evaluate child-adult relationships in which a child may be involved may
also be presented. Such educational efforts, however, must not promote
unhealthy over-cautiousness or suspiciousness. Rather, such training would help parents
recognize situations which require further investigation.
Thus, parents might be taught how to respond if they
find their child suddenly reluctant to be alone with a particular
babysitter, or a previously valued adult. Parents would be encouraged
not to immediately conclude that sexual abuse caused the behavior
change, but rather to recognize that this is one of several
possibilities. Regardless of whether sexual abuse is
the basis for the child's behavior, such behavioral changes suggest
difficulty with the child-adult relationship, discussion and resolution
of which should help their child. If abuse is uncovered, the parents
need to understand how their reactions will affect their child and learn
how to minimize the harmful effects of the abuse. There is evidence,
for example, that not all sexually abusive interactions harm youngsters
(Bernard, 1982; Daugherty, 1986; Nelson, 1982; Tsai, Feldman-Summers,
& Edgar, 1979). Many negative effects are caused by the reactions of
adults, particularly the parents and the criminal justice system, to the
disclosure of abuse (Bernard, 1982; Summit & Kryso, 1982).
Related to this is the problem of adult response to
abuse disclosures. Negative consequences are frequently associated with
disclosure of sexual abuse. Thus, the child's perception of what will
happen if he or she tells may encourage secrecy about sexual abuse
(Besharov, 1981; Helfer, 1982; Nelson, 1985; Schultz & Jones, 1983).
Most sexual abuse cases are handled through the criminal justice system,
which increases the stress placed upon a child and family, and which
may result in additional social consequences of disclosure. Berrick
(1988), for example, described some comments by parents who were asked
how they would respond if they discovered a neighborhood child had been
sexually abused: "I'd never let my child play with that kid
again," "I'd make the little friend comfortable, but then
would tell my daughter not to play with the little friend anymore or go
play at the friend's house" (p. 551).
Such factors may make it less likely that a child
will report sexual abuse (Schultz & Jones, 1983). In fact, a
perpetrator may threaten these outcomes to sustain the abuse (suggesting
to the child that the child would not be believed or that the child
would be taken from home and that everyone would find out about it).
Responses to child sexual abuse cases should both
recognize the rights of the accused and reduce the traumatic impact of a
disclosure. The currently popular use of multidisciplinary teams and the
increased availability of options for responding to reports of child
sexual abuse, including alternatives to prosecution, may make reporting
less of a double edged sword (Besharov, 1981; Schultz & Jones,
1983). Professionals responsible for responding to and treating sexually
abused children must also recognize that not all abuse is traumatic or
damaging. They must be careful not to promote psychological iatrogenesis
through their presumption of trauma (Besharov., 1981; Money, 1988b).
Alternate Approaches To Reduction of Motivation To Sexually Abuse
Given motivation to sexually abuse a child,
Finkelhor's model explains the factors which combine and interact to
permit sexual abuse. But his theory does not adequately explain how
motivation to sexually abuse a child develops. To find the answer to
this question, we must turn to the research on paraphilias and the
development of sexual deviations. John Money, Director of the
Psychohormonal Research Unit of John Hopkins University and Hospital has
developed a theory of sexual development which describes how normal
sexuoerotic functioning as well as how pathological sexuoerotic
functioning may evolve (1986).
Childhood is a critical period for the development of
a normal and healthy sexuality. It is during this period that an
individual's lovemap is formed. For Money the lovemap is a template upon
which is designed the image of the idealized lover as well as the form
and expression by which the child, as an adult, will manifest a romantic
and erotic relationship with that lover. Stored during childhood, the
lovemap is first manifested in the dreams and fantasies of adolescence,
then reinforced during adolescence through masturbation, and eventually
fully emerges in adulthood through the actions, feelings and behaviors
with the love partner.
Recognition and acceptance of childhood sexuality and its expression
enhances the development of lovemaps in a manner not unlike how
promotion of language development in the young child results in the
normal development of language capability. As a fundamental
developmental process, lovemap formation may be distorted or damaged by
virtue of adult reactions to childhood sexual explorations and feelings.
Under optimum conditions, prenatally and postnatally,
a lovemap differentiates as heterosexual. Age-concordant,
gender-different, sexuoerotic rehearsal play in infancy and childhood is
prerequisite to healthy, heterosexual lovemap formation. Deprivation and
neglect of such play, may induce pathology of lovemap function, as also
may prohibition, prevention and abusive punishment and discipline.
Conversely, exposure too abruptly to socially tabooed expressions of
may traumatize lovemap formation.
Lovemap pathology manifests itself in full after
puberty. The three categories of pathology are hypophilia (also referred
to as sexual dysfunction), hyperphilia (erotomania), and paraphilia
(legally known as perversion). In all three there is a cleavage between
love and lust in the design of the lovemap. In hypophilia, the cleavage
is such that lust is dysfunctional and infrequently used, whereas love
and love-bonding are intact. In hyperphilia, lust displaces love and
love-bonding, and the genitalia function in the service of lust alone,
typically with a plurality of partners, and with compulsive frequency.
In paraphilia, love and love-bonding are compromised because the
genitalia continue to function in the service of lust, but according to
the specifications of a vandalized and redesigned lovemap (Money, 1986,
According to Money, pedophilia (i.e., sexual
attraction towards children) is considered an inclusion paraphilia
(Money, 1984, 1988a; Money & Weinrich, 1983). As a prerequisite to
eroto-sexual arousal and orgasm, the image or actual eroto-sexual
activity of a prepubescent child is required for the pedophile. For
example, pedophilia may develop from a childhood experience such as a
child being discovered by a parent, masturbating with one of his
friends, and being subsequently severely punished for this normal
expression of childhood sexual curiosity. The images associated with
that contact may become imprinted in the lovemap because of the
salience of the adult response, and re-emerge during adolescent
masturbatory fantasies where they are reinforced and strengthened.
adult, the images imprinted upon the individual's lovemap may be those of prepubescent
There is considerable support for the universality of
childhood sexuality. Numerous studies have documented the existence of
childhood sexuality in cultures in which its expression is not
proscribed or punished (Constantine & Martinson, 1982; Currier,
1982; Gunderson, Melås & Skår, 1982; Malinowski, 1929; Mead, 1928;
Money, 1986; Spiro, 1965).
Accepting the presence of childhood sexuality, a view
of human sexuality which is developmental in nature, and the existence
of a theoretical relationship between manifestations of sexual interest
in children by adults and traumatized sexual development during that
adult's childhood, provides guidance for prevention efforts. Such
efforts may be divided into two approaches. First, one may intervene
with adults who are currently manifesting sexual arousal patterns
towards children. Second, efforts may be directed at children to prevent
the later development of abnormal sexual arousal patterns.
The latter includes education of parents, teachers,
and adults in general as to the existence of childhood sexuality, and
the normalcy of childhood behaviors such as masturbation, mutual
masturbation, viewing of the genitals of other children, exhibitionism,
and consensual genital sex play with same-aged children. Parents can be
encouraged to give their children age appropriate sexuality education
including teaching children about the sexual parts of their bodies,
their functions, and the normalcy of feelings associated with sexuality
(Bernstein, 1978; Kenny, 1989; Krivacska, in press-b; Money, 1986).
Efforts at encouraging the development of a healthy
and normal sexuality in children and adolescence will not bear fruit
relative to the prevention of child sexual abuse for a generation.
immediate concern is the presence of adults who are currently motivated
to sexually abuse children and what to do to reduce the likelihood of
such individuals acting on their inclinations. Described earlier were
approaches to increasing internal and external inhibitions, including
suggestions that these individuals seek counseling.
Numerous approaches to the treatment of pedophilia
have been attempted. To date, these sexual deviations have been found to
be resistant to treatment (Wakefield & Underwager, 1988). However,
traditionally, such treatments have been imposed upon individuals who
have been apprehended and incarcerated for repeated sexual encounters
with children. This group may represent a biased sample in terms of the
severity or intensity of eroto-sexual response to children.
Additionally, other personality factors may increase
the likelihood of these individuals being apprehended, but which may
decrease the potential for treatment effectiveness. Also, drug-related
research has shown some promise, particularly the use of
Medroxyprogesterone Acetate (MPA - marketed under the name Depo-Provera)
in the treatment of sexual disorders (Money, 1983, 1988a; Money &
Bennett, 1981) as has behavior therapy (Wakefield & Underwager,
1988). Efforts at successful treatment models, both drug and non-drug,
must be increased so as to provide treatment options.
Two factors impede progress in this area. First,
public misunderstanding of the nature of paraphilias, in particular
pedophilia, has resulted in an overriding interest in punishing the
perpetrator. This reaction is, in part, based upon a perception of the
volitional nature of sexual attraction to children. Claims that male
domination in society, the pervasiveness of pornography, the portrayal
of children as sex objects through advertisements, and the degree of
power and control adults, particularly males, manifest over children,
all contribute to sexual abuse (Finkelhor, 1984), further promote this
perception of volitional control over sexual arousal patterns. Also
contributing to this perception are suggestions that anyone can be an
abuser, and that punitive measures, or threats thereof, will prevent
Patterns of sexual arousal, however, are generally
established by early adolescence and firmly ingrained into the
individual's sexual response pattern by the end of adolescence (Money,
1986). In either event, sexual attraction to children precedes any of
these other factors. Though in some ways these other factors may raise
or lower other internal or external inhibitions against abuse, they are
nevertheless unrelated to the emergence of sexual arousal patterns in
which children become the preferred love object. Apprehension,
conviction, incarceration, and subsequent release of pedophiles does
little to alter their sexual proclivities. They are likely to repeat
their patterns of behavior if they are untreated (Wakefield &
The second factor which impedes attempts to prevent
sexual abuse by reducing motivation to sexually abuse a child within the
current adult population has to do with confidentiality of treatment
(Krivacska, in press-b). Several approaches described earlier include
the presentation of treatment options and counseling services to those
who feel sexually attracted to children and encourage them to seek
treatment prior to becoming sexually abusive.
There remains, however, a significant stumbling block
to the seeking of therapy. Mandatory reporting laws require therapists
(in contradiction of therapist-client privilege) to immediately report
any suspicions of sexual abuse. Thus, individuals seeking counseling to
address their tendencies to abuse children are virtually guaranteed
apprehension, conviction and incarceration if they disclose or seek
counseling for any abusive behavior that has occurred (although this
would not be true if the individual has not yet acted on the behavior
Critical to any attempt at reducing the motivation to
sexually abuse children in the current adult population is confidential
treatment of abusers. While one may argue that by providing such
treatment to abusers their victims remain unrecognized and untreated it
is also true that in the absence of that individual seeking treatment,
their victims would still likely remain anonymous. If such individuals
remain untreated, however, they are likely to abuse many more
victims. There is, in fact, precedence for such an approach.
Besharov (1981) reported on the use of a
"Confidential Doctor System" in use in the Netherlands and
Belgium, which was developed and introduced in the early 1940s in order
to respond to and treat child abuse. This program has been successful,
with compulsory intervention rarely required. A side effect of
confidential treatment may be an increase in the willingness for
children to acknowledge abuse which they have experienced. Some children
or victims of sexual abuse may resist obtaining treatment because of the
mandatory reporting requirements and their desire to keep the abuse confidential
either for their own protection or that of the abuser, whom
they may love and not wish to see get into trouble (Nelson, 1985).
Prevention of child sexual abuse may eventually
depend more on programs directed at adults than programs directed at
children. Such programs may include education about normal sexual
development and normal sexuality for parents in order to encourage the
normal sexual development of children so as to preclude the evolution of
deviant expressions of sexuality in adulthood. Programs directed at
adults may also include approaches which will increase both the internal
and external inhibitions against abuse for those who may be so inclined,
as well as attempt to directly intervene with adults who are sexually
aroused by children. With respect to the latter, provision of
confidential treatment for adult abusers is essential.
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* James J. Krivacska, is a school
psychologist and can be contacted at Educational Program Consultants, 51 Cleveland Avenue,
Milltown, NJ 08850. [Back]