October 11, 2022 | Press Release posted by MassKids

Blue and silver pinwheels for prevention

BOSTON (October 11, 2022) –  MassKids and its Enough Abuse Campaign to prevent child sexual abuse is partnering with Prevent Child Abuse America on a CDC-funded project to evaluate the effectiveness of state laws and policies to prevent child sexual abuse (CSA) perpetrated by adults.  

Child sexual abuse – an adverse childhood experience (ACE) – is a major public health problem globally and in this country. Research shows that one in four girls and one in 13 boys in the U.S. experience child sexual abuse.1 In 2019, child protective services substantiated child sexual abuse cases involving 47,000 children, though this is an underestimate of the problem, since 90% or more of cases are never reported.

Approximately 90% of CSA occurs within families or involves someone the child or family knows and trusts.3 A 2004 report by the U.S. Department of Education found that nearly 10% of school children experience sexual misconduct by teachers or other school personnel.4 These findings help explain the proliferation of school-based training programs for the prevention of CSA over the past several decades. 

According to MassKids Executive Director Jetta Bernier: “With an estimated 4.5 million American children reporting inappropriate sexual contact with an adult in their school, it is critical that we document through research which strategies hold the best promise for protecting children from sexual abuse.”

 “Strong state policies and programs are part of a successful public health approach to prevent child sexual abuse before it can occur,” explained Dr. Melissa Merrick, president and CEO of PCA America, and co-principal investigator on this project. “This research will aid in studying prevention policies, so we can create model conditions for the well-being of children and families for generations to come.”

A 2021 report authored by MassKids in collaboration with PCA America catalogued laws aimed at the prevention of child sexual abuse in all 50 states. The report highlighted that while more and more states are enacting child sexual abuse prevention laws, the provisions of these laws can vary greatly. For example, while 33 states and D.C. have statutes aimed at supporting schools to address educator sexual misconduct and abuse, states may require or simply encourage child sexual abuse prevention training. Targets for the training can include all employees and students, only professional staff, or only children in certain grades. Only 14 states require training for all staff and all students.5  

“While there is a great deal of variability in how states approach child sexual abuse prevention policies, there is very little research evidence examining whether these policies have their intended effect of preventing sexual abuse,” said Dr. J. Bart Klika, PCA America Chief Research Officer and co-principal investigator. “By evaluating the effect of these policies, our work will provide decision makers with critical information to create safe environments for children.” 

Work over the first two years of this cooperative agreement will occur through a research-practice-policy partnership (RPPP) led by PCA America. MassKids (Prevent Child Abuse Massachusetts), and the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

Project activities include: cataloguing various state child sexual abuse prevention statutes (e.g. on training, screening of prospective employees, criminalization of abuse by persons in positions of authority, etc.); summarizing research evidence on the effectiveness of these laws; and analyzing their effect on rates of child abuse reports and substantiations. 

Wade Fickler, Director of NCSL’s Children and Families Program, will also co-lead the RPPP with Dr. Klika and Ms. Bernier. He will also oversee dissemination of the research findings on behalf of NCSL. Fickler says the project aligns with NCSL’s mission in that the findings from the study should help state legislators understand which policies have been effective at preventing child sexual abuse.


About MassKids and the Enough Abuse Campaign 

MassKids  is the oldest, state-based child advocacy organization in the country. Throughout its 60-year history, the mission of this citizen-based group has been to improve the lives of the state’s most vulnerable children and youth. Since the mid-70s, MassKids has been actively engaged in preventing all types of child maltreatment. Serving as the Massachusetts Chapter of Prevent Child Abuse America since 1986, it works currently to prevent child sexual abuse through its multi-state Enough Abuse Campaign that educates/mobilizes parents, professionals and communities to take action, supports prevention policies in schools and youth organizations, and advocates for prevention legislation to ensure justice for survivors, accountability for abusers and the prevention of future cases of child sexual abuse. MassKids serves on the Steering Committee of the National Coalition to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation and Co-chairs its Policy Committee.  www.masskids.org and www.enoughabuse.org

About Prevent Child Abuse America

Prevent Child Abuse America is a leading champion for all children in the United States. Founded in 1972 and celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2022, we are the nation’s oldest and largest organization dedicated to the primary prevention of child abuse and neglect, working to actively prevent all forms of child abuse and neglect before they occur and helping children grow up to be productive, contributing members of their communities and society. Our success is founded on a nationwide network of state chapters and nearly 600 Healthy Families America home visiting sites, which directly provide parents and caregivers a wide variety of services and resources. Our comprehensive approach is informed by science—we translate and disseminate innovative research to promote proven solutions that our vast network then puts into action. And we raise public awareness and advocate for family friendly policies at the national, state, and local levels to support transformative programs and promote the conditions and contexts that help children, families, and communities across the country thrive. www.preventchildabuse.org

About National Conference of State Legislatures

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) is a bipartisan membership organization serving our nation’s state legislators and legislative staff. Since 1975, NCSL has been working to improve the quality and effectiveness of state legislatures, foster interstate communication and cooperation, and ensure states a strong, cohesive voice in the federal system. NCSL’s members include all legislators and legislative staff from all U.S. states, commonwealths, territories, and the District of Columbia. NCSL provides informational resources, technical assistance, learning opportunities and professional development experiences for its members. Its Children and Families Program addresses an array of issues, including child welfare and the prevention of child maltreatment, family economic security, housing and homelessness, child support and family law, and early care and education. www.ncsl.org

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2022, April). Preventing Child Sexual Abuse. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/childsexualabuse/fastfact.html

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children and Families,  Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau. (2021). Child Maltreatment 2019. Available from  https://www.acf.hhs.gov/cb/research-data-technology/statistics-research/child-maltreatment.

Finkelhor, D., & Shattuck, A. (2012). Characteristics of crimes against juveniles. Durham, NH: Crimes Against Children Research Center.

U.S. Department of Education, Office of the Under Secretary, Educator Sexual Misconduct: A Synthesis of Existing Literature, Washington, D.C., 2004. Educator Sexual Misconduct: A Synthesis of Existing Literature.

Enough Abuse Campaign & Prevent Child Abuse America (PCA America). (2021, June). A call to action for policymakers and advocates: Child sexual abuse prevention legislation in the states. Retrieved from: https://www.enoughabuse.org/images/Legislation/A_Call_to_Action-June2021.pdf