February 1, 2021

The Joshua Center on Child Sexual Abuse Prevention, a School of Social Work research and innovation center, focuses on raising awareness and ending the sexual abuse of youth ages 12 to 17, with a special commitment to working with underserved youth in diverse communities. 

The Center’s new website includes video lectures and parent-child sample discussions, educational materials and research on topics ranging from the importance of disclosure to the impact of pornography. With more students confined to the home because of the pandemic and spending more time online, pornography viewing among youth, and its proven impact on increased abuse of women and girls, has become an issue of concern.

The Center’s focus on middle and high school students fills a critical gap, says Professor Emeritus Jon R. Conte, director of the Joshua Center. “Most research and information about child abuse revolve around much younger children,” he said. ”We did the research, we looked at the risk, and we asked ourselves: Where can we make a difference? The answer was to focus on a youth audience composed of 12- to 17-year-olds.” 

Conte, who joined the School faculty in 1990, has spent nearly four decades studying childhood sexual abuse. A founding president of the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children, he received the society’s Ron C. Laney Award for Distinguished Service in 2009 and was designated a president emeritus for life in 2012. He has collaborated with the National Academy of Sciences, National Institute of Mental Health and the National Coalition to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation, and collaborated with the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif., on an acclaimed animated series, Fight Child Abuse, which has been viewed by millions of youth, families and professionals in the field.

To enhance the authenticity and effectiveness of its outreach, the Center works with a cadre of youth to create youth-oriented prevention messages for social media. A series of youth-led videos—called Youth Discussions—focus on prevention topics such as consent and bystander interventions. Recruitment for a national youth advisory board is underway as part of the Center’s mission to expand youth involvement.

“Working directly with young people through the Joshua Center’s Youth Participation program is among the most interesting experiences I’ve had,” said Conte. “They are engaged, smart, caring and, most of all, dedicated to end sexual violence. This youth-to-youth component is important—both for their own protection and to help protect their friends.”

According to data reported in 2000 by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than 30 percent of all sexual assaults are experienced by youth between the ages of 12 and 17; more than two-thirds of all sexual assaults are perpetrated against youth aged 17 and younger. Shocking as these figures are, these percentages are likely low since many sexual abuse incidents go unreported.

The Joshua Center—established in 2013 with an endowment from an adult survivor of child sexual abuse—identifies, evaluates, conducts and disseminates research on child sexual abuse topics, and develops prevention tools and information for youth, caregivers and professionals. 

The new website also includes written materials on child sexual abuse geared for parents and caregivers. Videos of parents demonstrating ways to talk to youth about personal safety or pornography will be added to the site soon.