Talking For Change Brings Prevention Focus to Fight Against Child Sexual Abuse
Two years after the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) launched Talking for Change, we are making progress to prevent child sexual abuse and the use of child sexual exploitation material.
As the first and only government-funded program of its kind in Canada, Talking for Change provides treatment and anonymous support to anyone worried about their sexual interest in children, their risk to sexually abuse a child or their use of child sexual exploitation material (often called child pornography).
What sets Talking for Change apart from other intervention programs is our focus on prevention – we identify at-risk individuals and intervene before abuse happens.
Before preventative programs came around, free therapy was only provided after individuals had committed an offence against a young person.
But intervening after a child is hurt is too late. We shouldn’t have to wait for someone to get hurt before we try to address the problem, especially when prevention can be effective.
Talking for Change provides support and treatment to individuals to live a safe, healthy, and non-offending life through two channels – a nationwide anonymous helpline and free psychotherapy for individuals willing to provide identifying information.
Through the helpline, our team of psychologists and social workers provide support to individuals of any age, who are concerned about their attractions to children or worried about engaging in online or offline offending involving a child.
Our therapy program provides group and individual therapy to individuals who are 18 years and older and self-refer for treatment or are referred by a physician.
Whether through therapy or the anonymous help line, we provide a safe, compassionate space for individuals to talk about their feelings. We listen and we communicate, without judgment or stigma. We help them realize they are not alone and that they are not destined to offend. We develop strategies to prevent them from hurting children or breaking the law.
Over the past two years, our team has connected with more than 400 individuals seeking support, therapy, or information through our helpline. With an increase in awareness-raising activities over the past year, we’ve seen a 54 %increase in the number of contacts coming into the helpline during the first six months of 2023, compared to the previous six months.
We’ve also received more than 100 referrals for individuals to be assessed for our therapy services since our launch. Most of these referrals have been individuals who have taken the initiative to refer themselves for assessment – a unique feature of Talking for Change designed to reduce potential barriers to people accessing support.
But we know that there are people we are missing, and we know we’ve only begun to scratch the surface. By increasing education and awareness in the medical and mental health community, we’re hopeful to expand our reach even further.
These conversations can lead to individuals getting the help they need before it's too late and helping to prevent and decrease instances of child sexual abuse in Canada.
Talking For Change is a resource to support clinicians and their patients – we can help clinicians understand our approach to therapy and child abuse prevention.
As the lead psychologist for this program, I have seen firsthand the impact that Talking for Change has had on the lives of individuals who previously felt they were alone and had nowhere to turn for support. I have seen the difference it has made and know the bigger impact we can make by taking an active and preventative approach to stop child sexual abuse.
About the Author(s)
Ainslie Heasman is a clinical forensic psychologist at the Sexual Behaviours Clinic at CAMH in Toronto. She is one of the founders of Talking for Change. More information is available at https://talkingforchange.ca.
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