Geral Blanchard: The Decline in Child Sexual Abuse

Editor’s Note: This is the second in our new feature of guest editorials. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments section.

The Decline in Child Sexual Abuse: Part of a Larger Trend in Violence Reduction

by Geral T. Blanchard

In the lingering aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, and with ongoing headlines of Catholic Bishops shielding priests from accusations of sexual assaults, one might conclude that the 20th century child sexual abuse epidemic continues in robust form. Not so!

An influx of good news from a variety of organizations-the National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect, the Crimes Against Children Research Center; ATSA-indicate that child sexual abuse rates plummeted by more than 60 percent from 1992 to 2010. Some of the decline may be attributed to specialized police tactics, the presence of child advocacy centers that coordinate responses to abuse, as well as increased prosecution and incarceration. However, according to acclaimed researcher David Finkelhor, much of the decline may also be attributed to three critical public health factors: 1) Better training of professionals and community education, 2) increased public awareness, and 3) stepped-up prevention efforts.

In my soon-to-be-published Safer Society book, Violent Behavior, the spotlight will be placed on these three public health factors as they pertain to all types of interpersonal violence-from child sexual abuse to domestic abuse and murder-all of which are on the decline. In the book I will argue that implementation of the biopsychosocial and addictions-based model I have espoused since the 1990s would not only further explain violent crime but would further reduce its prevalence.

Louis Shlesinger, author of Sexual Murder, has projected a 50- to 75-year timetable for many of these ideas to be developed and implemented. What I see, however, is that many of the education and prevention tools are available NOW. We simply must disseminate the information in understandable language, and Safer Society Press is on the vanguard doing just that.

Allow me to be more specific. Much has been written about learned behavior, poor parental modeling, and the various emotional sequelae of untreated childhood traumas. The helping professions have moved away from psychotherapeutic remedies to almost exclusively biochemical interventions; what one of the lead authors of the DSM-IV (Allen Frances, 2013) called the bio-bio-bio model. The results have been less than satisfactory. Now we are beginning to realize that psychotropics are not eliminating antisocial proclivities but merely masking them. Today a neuroscientific trend is developing, and the hope is that brain injuries or dysfunctions will explain the etiology of most forms of human aggression. But as before, the treatment responses often involve still more of the same medications.

What more can be done to prevent and treat irritability, hostility, aggression, and violence? As helping professionals, our primary consideration must be the Hippocratic ethic: “First do no harm.” We should be wary of iatrogenic remedies, when the treatment itself creates problems far worse than the one targeted for elimination. Beyond primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention, we must concern ourselves with iatrogenesis and the over-medicalization of normal life issues. This new focus of ethical attention is referred to as quaternary prevention, that is, avoiding unnecessary medical invasions. From this cautious starting point we must thoughtfully explore new areas of study and prevention, and, in the process, formulate a more comprehensive understanding of violence.

In my book, Violent Behavior, I will examine areas of assessment from the womb through adulthood, explaining timely points of intervention and specific procedures. Some of the topics discussed in the book include:

  • Helping pregnant women better understand the early harbingers of later violence in their children, including the salience of maternal diet, smoking, nutrition, stress, and toxic exposures.
  • Expanding our understanding of the many regions of the brain that are impacted by environmental assaults and developmental deficits; learning what can safely be done to avoid or reverse some of the threats and finding safe ways to calm an explosive brain.
  • Understanding malnutrition and malabsorption issues, when the brain and body do not metabolize and synthesize essential nutrients to optimally support the brain and related organs that generate agitation, hostility, and even violence.
  • Employing current approaches to assessing overloads of nutrients, trace minerals, toxic chemicals, and a variety of environmental pollutants that create or escalate aggression.
  • Recognizing the role of Level II cerebral allergies; how foods and other substances can create brain agitation and a short fuse.
  • Assessing clients for blood sugar disorders and adrenal gland exhaustion and understanding their interplay with specific alcoholic biotypes, which often leads to sudden outbursts of anger or violence.
  • Exploring new and more effective ways to manage the five types of depression, especially agitated depression.
  • Examining psychological and cultural propellants of violence, including inadequately treated abuse, explosive reactions to shaming and bullying, abandonment rage, the militarization of police, and the violent high tech “management” tools used by prisons and police.

Importantly, a better understanding of the sources of interpersonal violence by all health care providers-from foster parents, teachers, nurses, and psychologists to physicians-will lead to the development of an array of pragmatic assessment tools, primary prevention strategies, and treatment interventions that can be implemented at a variety of levels, individually and culturally.

While rates of violent assaults have continued to plummet in the U.S. and Canada over the last twenty years, much more can still be done to develop a safer society for our citizens. Prevention efforts can, and must be, expanded. This is a time for optimism.

Gerry thumbnail

Geral Blanchard, LPC, has served both the victims and perpetrators of trauma for over 40 years. He is the author of The Difficult Connection and co-author of Sexual Abuse in America. Geral’s long-standing interest in the many ways indigenous cultures inform today’s psychology is showcased in his book Ancient Ways: Indigenous Healing Innovations for the 21st Century. After residing in Wyoming for decades, Geral now maintains a private psychotherapy practice in Des Moines, Iowa, and regularly travels to Africa, South America, and Canada to work with traditional healers.

Comments 2

  1. As a semi-retired psychologist I worked with sex offenders, addicts, and a combination of the two. Although I attempted to avoid violent offenders, I was occasionally court-ordered to evaluate an offender in local detention. I think you have some excellent points particularly on the response of bio-psycho-social model. I am also of the belief that individuals who may have preyed more ‘publicly’ have submerged into the underground of computer technology. In the latter days of my practice I evaluated individuals who were an outcome of a federal sting for child pornography. To the best of my recollections, none of these individuals who received the porn believed they were culpable. I felt they encased themselves into a type of cult atmosphere where only knowledgeable men could find their way in and out. I look forward to your next book.

  2. Debbie, while the next book will not focus on computer images and how they can fuel the fire of violence, I will describe how diabolical and twisted imagery of tortured and mutilated bodies can normalize perverse forms of violence and foster a desire to act on them. Once titillated by extreme images of sadistic physical and sexual violence, an amalgam of bio-psycho-social factors can tip one type of man toward the release of long held fantasies, what I refer to as a “catathymic process,” when there is a blurring of boundaries between reality and fantasy and the acts must be made real. Then, in an altered state, a sudden and convulsive act of violence ensues,disorganized aggressive dyscontrol erupts, and what was once a fantasy now enters the world of reality for the offender. Thereafter a secret experience remains stored in his mind and he has pornographic images of his own making to replay again and again until the next such outburst. The violence, or even murder, acts as an “orgasmic” sedative that momentarily returns the man to a place of “inner peace” — but not for long.

    Far from such extreme examples, the new book will emphasize much more benign acts that do not rise to the level of murderous violence but can lead to irritability, frustration, and hostility of the kind most of us have seen in our practices, whether they occur in a daycare setting or during a sporting event. Rather than explain all anger as a psychological process, I will contend there are many metabolic, malabsorption, environmental, dietary, and other subtle forces that, especially when joined with other factors, can surreptitiously generate verbal and physical violence. The focus will be on many of the overlooked factors that play roles in the creation of interpersonal violence.

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