During the past three decades there has been an exponential increase in the number of empirical studies on the topic of child sexual abuse. Although these research efforts have provided valuable insights for professionals working in the field of child sexual abuse, there are still many unanswered questions in the three key areas of research on the topic: risk assessment, intervention, and prevention.
Most child abuse prevention programming and research has focused on the development and assessment of strategies aimed at reducing the prevalence of physical abuse and neglect. To a large extent, this pattern reflects the field's major emphasis for the past 30 years. Until recently, professionals and the general public perceived maltreatment to involve problematic or damaging parenting practices.
Researchers and clinicians agree that the exact incidence and prevalence of child sexual abuse in the general population is not known precisely, due to the fact that (a) most cases are not reported when they occur and (b) prevalence surveys show considerable variability as a result of differences in research methodology (Berliner & Elliott 1996).
Intervention in sexual abuse cases has several important purposes: (1) to assess risk to children and to establish a safe family environment; (2) to identify sexual offenders, to hold them accountable and/or to protect the community; and (3) to treat the psychological consequences of abuse experiences and to promote healthy development that will reduce risk for long term negative outcomes. Child protection, criminal justice, and therapeutic interventions may be necessary depending on the individual case circumstances.