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Problematic Sexual Behavior Project

Child sexual abuse (CSA) is a public health concern of considerable magnitude, affecting 1 in 4 females and 1 in 13 males. CSA is associated with a host of consequences including mental and physical health problems, relationship difficulties, revictimization, drug and alcohol addiction, teenage childbearing, and sexual dysfunction conferring a lifetime economic burden estimated to exceed $9.3B.

Annual incidence rates of CSA have plateaued over the past few decades—an indication that prevention
efforts are in need of innovation. This is particularly true for cases involving children who engage in
problematic sexual behavior (PSB) against other children. In Virginia, those cases account for approximately 20 to 25% of the cases seen by Child Advocacy Centers annually. Research and understanding about how to appropriately prevent and respond to this behavior has changed significantly over the years. We now know that early implementation of evidence based therapies are very effective in treating children who display PSB and critical to preventing further harmful behavior. We also know more about potential triggers and circumstances that significantly contribute to this behavior and how primary prevention strategies for Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) serve as critical protective factors against the dynamics involved in in these cases.

Despite the gains in understanding of PSB, the issue is still one often not a uniformly or consistently responded to by public serving entities. This is particularly true in cases where the child exhibiting PSB against another child is under the age of 12 or is disabled. Many of these cases “fall between the cracks” of jurisdictional responses. If the child who has displayed the behavior is not identified as being a “care taker” at the time of the incident, Child Protective Services (CPS) has no jurisdiction, leaving law enforcement to be the sole responding service. It’s universally recognized that this is not an appropriate response for the vast majority of these cases and holds the potential for increasing harm associated with the dynamics involved. These are complex cases that require nuanced responses focused on the whole health of the child and family, a response beyond the capacity of law enforcement alone.

The CAN Committee is interested in tackling these issues and finding out the best practices for the Commonwealth. In August 2021, the committee hosted a panel to discuss these types of cases and the community response to them. You can find a recording of that panel below.

In August 2021, the committee hosted an additional panel focused on law enforcement response to these cases. You can find a recording of that panel below.

In partnership with Virginia Department of Health, FACT is hiring a consultant to do a comprehensive analysis of local, state and national laws, policies and protocols related to PSB cases. The end goal of this work will be a guidance document that includes concrete recommendations for localities and the Commonwealth as a whole to implement in order to improve tertiary prevention strategies to PSB cases resulting in the reduction of harm and future perpetration. A workgroup made up of members from the Child Abuse and Neglect Advisory Committee will be established to provide oversight and feedback to the contractor throughout the process of development.