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Vol. XXIV, No. 1
Winter 2012
Bringing Sustainable Child Sexual Abuse Prevention to Community-Based Organizations

Keith Kaufman, Ph.D.

Les Nichols

Mitru Ciarlante

Keith Kaufman, Ph.D.
Professor of Psychology
Portland State University

Les Nichols
Vice President of Club Safety & Design
Boys & Girls Clubs of America

Mitru Ciarlante
Youth Initiative Director
National Center for Victims of Crime
Chair, Research & Best Practices Committee
Vision of Hope Council
Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR)


Experts have long agreed that the eradication of child sexual abuse (CSA) requires a combination of effective treatment for victims and offenders and adequate prevention efforts to minimize the risks that lead to CSA. At the same time, many prevention experts have sharply criticized existing prevention efforts for limitations in four areas:  

  1. Their focus on changing individuals rather than systems, communities, or society;
  2. Their inability to involve community voices in developing and implementing prevention initiatives (particularly in communities with lower socio-economic status and communities of color);
  3. Their inability to sustain prevention programs after external funding is withdrawn; and
  4. Their lack of attention to community-based organizations and institutions serving huge numbers of children and adolescents.

Millions of children and adolescents are involved with community-based organizations and institutions every day. They receive services from schools, hospitals, clinics, youth-serving organizations, sports programs, and social service institutions (e.g., foster care). An estimated 50 million children attend elementary and secondary schools in the U.S. (National Center for Education Statistics, 2010); more than 3.5 million children are hospitalized each year (Department of Health, Social Services & Public Safety, 2010); more than 41 million children are involved in sports (CNN, 2006); and youth-serving organizations serve millions of children (e.g., 4 million children served by Boys & Girls Clubs of America [B&GCA, 2009]; 2.8 million children served by Boy Scouts of America [BSA, 2009]). Despite these huge numbers, other than the standard organizational guidelines put forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there has been no national research or database to establish common patterns of CSA within youth-serving organizations, the tracking of prevalence, or the effectiveness of common prevention measures. Although U.S.-based research on the prevalence of this type of CSA is lacking, we do know that an estimated 52 percent of extra-familial offenders in England and Wales are likely to have committed offenses in community-based organizations (Gallagher, 2000); and a prominent U.K. report reviewing U.K. and U.S. studies concluded that institution- and organization- based CSA is a significant problem that warrants a more comprehensive response. The number of recent news reports of CSA in community-based organizations also suggests the seriousness of the issue. 

So, why hasn’t there been more attention paid to this form of CSA? One reason is the absence of a systematic framework for understanding risks and guiding solutions to the problem. Yet recently, we have begun to adapt the Situational Prevention Model (SPM) for use in CSA prevention in organizations and institutions. The SPM has been used successfully for more than 70 years to guide the development of safer housing around the world and for more than 20 years to foster community crime prevention. Our adaptation of the SPM involves staff, volunteers, and youth in identifying CSA risks in a particular setting and then developing prevention strategies to respond to these concerns (for details see Kaufman, Hayes, & Knox, 2010; Kaufman, Tews, Schuett, & Kaufman, 2012).

The SPM organizational framework helps identify risks in six areas including:

  1. Lifestyle and routine activities of organizational participants (e.g., single parents who have minimal time for supervision);
  2. The larger community environment (e.g., abandoned buildings youth pass on the way to the organization);
  3. Organizational policies, communityregulations, and subcultural influences (e.g., agency supervision policies, rules for the use of community pools);
  4. Characteristics of at-risk youth involved with the organization (e.g., disabilities, emotionally needy) that increase vulnerability;
  5. High-risk locations within the organization setting (e.g., unused classrooms, storage rooms); and
  6. Facilitators that reflect factors that can increase other risks (e.g., poor staff-to-youth ratio, long-term staff that are not required to follow the rules). The model also considers the local socio-economic structure (e.g., financial support for the institution) and offender-specific factors (e.g., the number of offenders in the area, the quality of their supervision) for gauging risk. For example, risks related to leaving the organization's back door open during hot months to increase ventilation (i.e., high-risk locations) may be addressed by a prevention strategy that involves adding wrought iron gates to allow the back doors to stand open while maintaining proper security.

Through the generous support of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape's Vision of Hope Fund and in collaboration with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) and local pilot sites in Pennsylvania and Oregon at clubs in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Portland, Dr. Keith Kaufman is refining an SPM-based self-assessment approach to prevent CSA. This approach, in response to common criticisms of prevention efforts, focuses on organizations and the communities they serve, rather than individuals. It empowers local staff, board members, volunteers, older youth, parents, and community members to have a voice in developing prevention responses to local risks. Since costs are minimal (i.e., mostly staff time), the approach is sustainable and can be repeated to be responsive to the dynamic nature of community programs. The approach is also process-oriented, rather than content-based, and geared to the specific needs of the setting. Finally, rather than introducing a completely new approach, this strategy is rooted in the familiar, active problem solving that staff and administrators rely upon every day to keep children safe. What it adds is a more systematic approach to identifying risks and developing prevention strategies to address them.

To date, the Situational Prevention Approach (SPA) has been very well received by BGCA staff at the pilot sites. Feedback suggests that this approach makes sense to staff, is easy to implement, and has an immediate impact on risk reduction. In the future, we hope to systematically evaluate the acceptability, effectiveness, and cost-efficiency of this approach as a sustainable self-assessment CSA prevention tool. We also intend to track the reduction of non-CSA related risks (e.g., physical safety, bullying) and potential increases in staff members' "prevention empowerment" (i.e., their willingness to engage in spontaneous prevention activities). We are writing a SPA implementation manual and it will be free to BGCA’s more than 4,000 local clubs to help them create safer settings. It is anticipated that this manual will be available through BGCA in late Spring of 2012. Finally, we hope to expand the application of this approach for use with other types of community-based organizations and institutions and foster its use by a variety of professionals in the field (e.g., rape crisis and domestic violence center staff).



Boys & Girls Clubs of America. (2010). Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Facts & Figures. Retrieved November 30, 2011 fromhttp://www.bgca.org/whoweare/Pages/FactsFigures.aspx

Annualreport. Retrieved November 30, 2011
From http://www.scouting.org/filestore/annualreport/pageflip.htm

Department of Health, Social Services, and Public Safety. (2010). Childprotection.  Retrieved November 30, 2011 from http://www.dhsspsni.gov.uk/index/hss/child_care/child_protection.htm

Gallagher, B. (2000). The extent and nature of known cases of institutional child sexual abuse.British Journal of Social Work,30(6), 795-817.

Knox, L.A. (2010). The Situational Prevention Model:
Creating safer environments for children & adolescents. In K. L. Kaufman (Ed.) Theprevention of sexual violence: A practitioner's sourcebook.  Holyoke, MA: NEARI Press.

Kaufman, K., Tews, H., Schuett, J. & Kaufman, B. (2012).  Prevention is better than cure –The value of situational prevention in organizationsIn M. Erooga (Ed.) Towards safer organizations – Practical steps to prevent the abuse of children by those working with them. London, England: Wiley-Blackwell Press.

National Center for Education Statistics (2010). The condition of education 2010. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2010028

CNN. (2006). Youth sports drawing more than ever. Retrieved November 30, 2011 from http://articles.cnn.com/2006-07-03/us/rise.kids.sports_1_youth-sports-tennis-lessons-kids?_s=PM:US


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