Preventing child abuse before it happens

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One conversation at a time, we are beginning to make progress in preventing the sexual exploitation of children in Canada before it even begins.

Talking about sexual abuse is as uncomfortable as it is complex, but it’s far more dangerous not to have that conversation at all, especially when the health and well-being of our children is at stake.

It’s been over a year since Talking for Change was launched in August 2021 as the first national program that provides treatment options and anonymous support to young people and adults concerned about their sexual interest in children, their risk of sexually abusing a child or their use of child pornography.

With the support of a team of psychologists, Talking for Change provides a helpline for anyone concerned about their attraction to children or who is worried about committing an offense online or offline involving a child. We also provide and refer to therapy, which is offered only to people who have no current legal involvement with a sexual offense and wish to remain offense free.

What makes Talking for Change unique is its focus on stopping abuse before it happens.

Historically in Canada, counseling programs are offered only after the abuse has already occurred. But to intervene after a child is injured is to intervene too late. We shouldn’t wait for someone to get hurt before trying to fix the problem, especially when prevention is possible.

Every year, thousands of children are victims of sexual abuse in Canada. The impacts of abuse are long-lasting, with psychological and physical consequences. And recent research has shown a disturbing increase in online sexual offenses and child abuse in Canada, especially during the pandemic.

There is an urgent need to do more to prevent child sexual abuse in Canada and a critical part of that is providing those at risk of offending with therapy to intervene early and end the cycle of abuse. .

Over the past year, our team has received over 200 contacts from people looking for advice or information. We provided a space for them to talk. We listened and communicated, without judgment or stigma. We have helped them realize that they are not alone and are not condemned or destined to offend. More importantly, we have developed strategies to prevent them from hurting anyone.

The people we counsel often tell us that they wish they didn’t have these feelings or cravings. They tell us that they don’t want to hurt anyone and that, in many cases, they want to help prevent child abuse in Canada.

Talking for Change is only beginning to scratch the surface of this problem. But we believe, based on the impact we’ve had in our first year, that prevention isn’t just possible, it happens.

Growing our impact will only come from growing this conversation. And while these conversations can be uncomfortable for many, they are also essential to ending child sexual abuse before it happens.

Dr. Ainslie Heasman, PhD, C. Psych is a clinical forensic psychologist at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto, Ontario, and one of the founders of the speak up for change program

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