21 February 2019, The Tablet

Child sex abuse: Prosecutions won’t end the crisis

Child sex abuse: Prosecutions won’t end the crisis

As senior bishops gather to address the issue in Rome, a director of public health calls for action

I can’t be the only Catholic sickened or shocked by this seemingly endless crisis. But if I could speak to the senior bishops gathered in Rome this weekend, I’d say that counsels to simply lift and shift current secular practice are not the answer.

Historians are beginning to point out that secular practice to address the abuse of children is still evolving, and sometimes protects the organisation, not the vulnerable. Recent research has also found that child protection systems across many countries are greatly overburdened. We cannot report or prosecute our way out of this crisis. As a result some agencies are adopting what they call “a public health approach”.

Dealing with abuse after it has happened is a “downstream” approach: public health approaches aim at prevention, upstream. Public health approaches are now common in mental health (don’t just strengthen the individual, address the factors in school, work and social life that predispose us to mental ill-health) and violent crime (the famous Glasgow model, which seeks to establish the causes of violence and to identify and pioneer new approaches to preventing it, often by promoting co-operation between the police, education system and health service).

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