To thrive, children require relationships and contexts that support their healthy development in safe, consistent, and age-appropriate ways. Daily headlines remind us that all too many children, at the hands of those responsible for their care—be it family, friends, coaches, and/or faith leaders—have their rights violated through acts of violence. A recent series of articles in the New York Times highlighted the enormity of the problem of child sexual abuse victimization. Last year alone, 45 million images and videos of child sexual abuse were identified online, double the number from the previous year. Despite having done this work for decades, statistics like this continue to unsettle me. We have such a long way to go in our prevention efforts because we know that for every existing image there are multiple other children and youth being victimized in similar ways.
Of course the mass distribution of child victimization content must stop! The New York Times series highlights many unanswered questions; for instance, how do we cut off the supply of these images? Perhaps more importantly, though, is how do we curb the demand for child sexual abuse and its many forms of memorialization? If we know one thing, it is that we cannot regulate or prosecute our way out of this problem. We in the child maltreatment prevention field are responsible for keeping the conversation and efforts focused on primary prevention. We all have a role to play in preventing child abuse and neglect before it occurs, and we must partner with law enforcement, technology companies, and other newer partners to prioritize the work of primary prevention to assure a safer, healthier world for all children.
Dr. Melissa Merrick
President & CEO