News Release

Internet treatment program to prevent child sexual abuse launched in several languages

Reports and Proceedings

Karolinska Institutet

Following a successful pilot study, an online anonymous treatment program aimed at reducing child sexual abuse by providing treatment to individuals who exhibit sexual urges towards children is being launched across the EU.  It is now available in Swedish, German, and Portuguese as well as in an updated English version. The treatment program, which has been developed by researchers and psychologists at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, will be evaluated within the framework of an international research collaboration funded by the EU.

"Sexual exploitation of children is a major problem within the EU, and around the world, that unfortunately seems to be increasing with the advancement of technology", says Peer Briken, coordinator of the EU collaborative research project PRIORITY and a professor at Universitaetsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany. "This online treatment program uses modern technology combined with proven therapeutic techniques to reduce the risk for sexual exploitation – and early data shows that it works."

The treatment program, called Prevent It, builds on cognitive behavioural therapy and is a nine-week program with individual support that is conducted digitally and free of charge. It is aimed at people who are concerned about their sexual urges involving children. Participants will be recruited from encrypted web forums on the Darknet and via advertisements in search engines and social media.

Police authorities in Sweden, Germany, and Portugal will also encourage individuals suspected of sexual crimes against children to take part. The police will, however, not be able to follow up whether the suspect signs up for the program, or how he/she is doing in the program. An important condition for reaching the affected group and being able to evaluate the program scientifically is that the participants can be completely anonymous.

"Often, people who need and want help, don't dare to contact the health care system, because of shame or fear of being reported to the police", says Malin Joleby, coordinator of the Swedish part of the project and a researcher at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. "Our hope is to reach people who would not otherwise seek help and to be able to offer a treatment program that is scientifically developed and evaluated."

A first pilot study of Prevent It was conducted in English in 2019–2021 and focused on people who used illegal, sexual content depicting children. The results, that have been published in a peer reviewed journal, showed that the treatment program works; treatment participants significantly reduced the time they spent viewing this content compared to individuals who were randomly assigned to a placebo condition. Roughly half of the participants that completed the program reported not having viewed illegal images of children at all during the preceding week. In addition, it was well-appreciated by the participants, which is crucial in getting people to want to undergo the treatment.

The results of the pilot study give hope that it is possible to help people with sexual urges involving children effectively and safely. Therefore, the program is now being launched on a larger scale across the EU. In addition to an updated English version, the program has also been translated and culturally adapted into three new languages: Swedish, German and Portuguese.

About the project and its partners:

These three new language versions of Prevent It are evaluated within the framework of the PRIORITY project (Prevention to Reduce Incidence Of Sexual Abuse by Reaching Individuals Concerned About Their Risk to Young People), funded by the European Union's Internal Security Fund – Police. The project is a collaboration between researchers at Karolinska Institutet and Linköping University in Sweden, Universitaetsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany, Universidade do Porto in Portugal, the University of Ottawa's Institute of Mental Health Research at The Royal in Canada, and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in the United States.

Read more about Prevent It and how register:

On the open website (anonymous)

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