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Identifying Situational and Individual Risk Factors for Child Sexual Abuse in Institutional Settings: Implications for Public Safety and Primary Prevention

Award Information

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Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2009, $283,652)

Logic dictates that priority should be given to research and policy efforts that focus on the problem of child/sexual abuse 'upstream' -- before sexual violence has occurred. However, partly due to selective media coverage of the most disturbing cases of sexual abuse of very young children, public policies in the United States have tended to be more reactionary in their scope. Likewise, the majority of research efforts have focused on the risk assessment or management of offenders after an abuse incident has already occurred, with relatively little research focused on primary prevention, or attempts at the identification of problems before they occur. A major barrier to prevention efforts has been the lack of information about the causes of child sexual abuse perpetration, specifically the interplay of individual, interpersonal, and situational factors that increase risk for the perpetration of sexual violence. In addition, although a significant proportion of abuse is perpetrated by professionals in institutional contexts where intervention is possible, this problem in particular has received scant research attention. This project addresses this gap by identifying risk and protective factors for sexual abuse perpetration in the Catholic Church. By comparing abusive clergy with several control groups of non-abusive clergy, this study aims to uncover whether there are identifiable individual or situational factors that heighten risk of engaging in sexual perpetration and whether there are identifiable protective factors that buffer against likelihood of engaging in sexual abuse perpetration. Further, by identifying the constellation of risk and protective factors for clergy who sexually abuse children, an empirical taxonomy of offender subtypes will be developed through application of modern clustering techniques. Ultimately, this study will inform the design and delivery of prevention efforts by providing data on populations at high-risk for perpetration in particular contexts and improving knowledge of modifiable risk and protective factors in institutional settings. Data will be collected through a review of evaluation and treatment records held at three facilities that have treated large numbers of clerics who have engaged in sexually abusive acts with a minor (n = 575), clerics who have engaged in some form of professional sexual misconduct with an adult (n = 575), clerics with mental health problems of a non-sexual nature (n = 650), and clerics with no identified sexual or non-sexual problems (n = 200). The aims of this project are to (a) identify individual, relational, and situational risk and protective markers for sexual abuse perpetration in institutional settings, (b) empirically build a taxonomic structure of clergy who sexually abuse children based upon these risk factors, and (c) develop a summary of best practices summarizing major research findings that can be distributed to faith based institutions and youth serving organizations. Although little is yet known about child sexual abuse in institutional settings, available data suggest that this problem is a serious public safety issue. Ultimately, this project will not only enhance current understanding of the etiological determinants unique to sexual abuse by clergy' but may also have important implications for the primary prevention of sexual abuse in other institutional settings. ca/ncf
Date Created: September 21, 2009