A Science magazine article by a group of psychologists, physicians and policy experts published in April (Vol. 308, No. 5,721) cites the multidisciplinary body of research on child abuse to recommend policy steps that could protect children.
The article, lead-authored by psychologist Jennifer Freyd, PhD, of the University of Oregon, recommends that policy-makers and researchers:
Step up research aimed at determining the prevalence of child sex abuse and identifying its causes, consequences, prevention and treatment.
Address the public health consequences of child trauma by expanding the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, a federally funded coalition of 54 centers providing community-based treatment to children and their families.
Create an Institute of Child Abuse and Interpersonal Violence within the National Institutes of Health.
Such steps are needed, say the authors, because research shows those sexually abused as children are more likely to have serious mental and physical health problems, child sexual abuse is frequently underreported and the credibility of abuse reports is often inappropriately undermined. Child sexual abuse has been reported by about 20 percent of women and 5 to 10 percent of men worldwide, the article says.
The paper's multidisciplinary roots helped the recommendations to be well-rounded, Freyd says.
"Because we all came with different perspectives," she says, "we were able to catch some of the assumptions made within a single discipline and broaden our message."
That message was aimed at a broad audience of scientists, health providers and lawmakers, Freyd says.
"Because this was a broader forum than a specialized journal, we aimed at policy-makers, who make the changes that can really help people," she says.
APA's Public Policy Office has long advocated for measures similar to those recommended in the Science article. For example, the office has worked with Congress to secure funding increases for the National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative, as well as for the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.
"APA [is addressing] the serious problem of child maltreatment by advocating for federal programs to promote research, services, prevention, training and public education in this area," says Ellen Garrison, PhD, APA's director of public interest policy.