Research paper: America Has Been Going About Stopping Child Sex Abuse The Wrong Way

Source: 2/15/23

By Elizabeth Letourneau and Luke Malone
Letourneau is director of the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Malone is an award-winning journalist who reports on child sexual abuse and victimization. They are co-writing a book about child sexual abuse prevention and the history of U.S. sex crime laws for Basic Books

Most of us would say that you can‘t put a price tag on keeping kids safe from sexual violence. Yet we do. And the amount is either generous or entirely inadequate, depending on which metric we are looking at.

Incarceration is one area in which we invest serious resources. A research paper we published with our colleagues at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health tallies, for the first time, the amount that U.S. taxpayers spend incarcerating people for sex crimes against children each year—an impressive $5.4 billion. There are currently around 145,000 adults incarcerated for sex crimes involving kids, and the majority of these inmates will remain incarcerated for about eight years, some much longer. We will invest approximately $49 billion on the current cohort of inmates, with new prisoners arriving all the time. This sounds like progress, and to some extent it is. We need laws and consequences that send the unmistakable message that the sexual abuse of children is immoral, illegal, and intolerable, and that adult perpetrators will be held criminally accountable. But there is a wrinkle in all of this. By the time these men—and it is typically males—engage with the criminal justice system, a child, and in some cases several children, have already been victimized. This raises a couple of questions: Is this the best we can do when it comes to serving victims of sexual abuse? And is there a way to stop people from offending against a child in the first place? The answers are no and yes.

Up until a couple of years ago, we allocated almost no federal dollars to the primary prevention of child sexual abuse. That is, we failed to invest in developing, testing, or disseminating programs designed to prevent the sexual victimization of kids before the criminal justice system even needs to get involved. But Congress recently began adding funding to the federal budget for this very purpose. In the 2022 fiscal year, $2 million was allocated toward child sexual abuse prevention research. This is a great start, but strikingly different to what we spend on punishment—for every dollar that we spend on prevention research we allocate $2,700 toward incarceration. The latter figure doesn’t include costs related to the detection and prosecution of crimes or the post-release costs associated with parole, sex offense registration, and public notification.

We need to address this imbalance. There are over 37 million adult survivors of child sexual abuse living in the U.S. today. 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 13 boys will go on to experience sexual abuse before the age of 18, and while many will live healthy happy lives, survivors are at increased risk for debilitating psychological, physical, and financial harms. These statistics are so overwhelming, the ramifications so pervasive and complex, that we can feel powerless to do anything more than we’ve always done, which is lock up offenders. This myth about the inevitability of child sexual abuse leads us to overlook, and underfund, the development and dissemination of prevention strategies.

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America will never embrace, or even attempt, any form of preventative program that does not lead to some form of incarceration. Doesn’t have to be prison, Hospitals will do just fine…so long as the “patients” are prevented from leaving…ever. We will only invest in preventative measures that can, and will, lead to arrests.

Proactively preventing the first attempt would require individuals self-disclosing a desire to attempt. American has made that kind of self-disclosure so dangerous…so potentially life destroying…that few are willing to take the risk.

So America would rather just have these people keep their secret, and hope they find some way to maintain self restraint. This policy is doomed to a certain level of failure that will, invariably lead to a certain number of attempts…with a certain percentage of attempts being successful.

Thus, America has chosen to allow a certain number of kids to be assaulted, so that they can have an all “Criminal Justice” response. What number is that? As many as it is…there are no limits. It can be thousands, hundreds of thousands, even millions. There are no limits of any kind…never have been, never will be.

Nothing more than a jedi mind trick to depend on our government for more bad laws to pass which will destroy lives.