What you should know

Educating Adults about Child Sexual Abuse Prevention

It takes a village to raise a child.

Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) is one of the vilest of crimes, and the ACE Study shows it is a crime that harms victims for the rest of their lives.

We can’t leave it up to children to protect themselves from abuse; that’s an adult responsibility. But adults can’t protect children if they don’t understand what they’re protecting children from. Working together, we can ensure our villages are capable of protecting all of our children.

Why is it important to educate adults about child sexual abuse prevention?

Most adults don’t know enough about the issue to protect their kids or anyone else’s. Most people don’t realize that at least 90% of offenders never see a day behind bars. Most adults think child sexual abuse is rare, false accusations are common, and it doesn’t happen in good neighborhoods or families.

Don’t mandated reporters learn about child sex abuse?

The classes that mandated reporters take vary a bit from state to state, but in general, the classes are short, taken only once or a few times, focus on all forms of child abuse, and the obligations of mandated reporters. That’s a lot of ground to cover in a few hours. Child sexual abuse is complicated, as it usually is identified by behavioral markers, not physical ones.

Are there standardized curriculums, and what do they consist of?

The two major curriculums are Stewards of Children and Enough Abuse. Stewards of Children is very turn-key, Enough Abuse is more flexible and has more of a focus on child-to-child sexual abuse. Both have a lot of evidence behind them demonstrating that they increase an adult’s understanding of child sex abuse.

What can we expect will happen when a critical mass of a community has taken a class?

We can expect adults will make better choices about the people and places they entrust their children to. We know that there is more reporting. There is anecdotal evidence that parents who understand the importance of talking about child sex abuse with their children are more likely to have their child disclose abuse to them.

When children disclose to adults who listen and respond to them, more abusers should get convicted, which should mean a decrease in over-all abuse. It seems likely that, as more adults understand often-confusing details about CSA, juries will become better at convicting abusers, meaning even more abusers behind bars and longer sentences. It also makes sense that, as more people understand how significant an issue child sex abuse is, they will demand better laws and policies from their elected officials.

Is there any opposition to these classes?

There is little opposition to the classes themselves. There are political squabbles over mandating the classes to particular groups of professionals, particularly teachers. And in communities that implement the programs, community leaders can lose momentum.

Isn’t it more important to educate kids?

No. It is up to adults to protect children. We don’t expect children to protect themselves from other horrors, we can’t expect them to protect themselves from sex offenders. Even if we teach children to recognize and respond to child sex abuse, they still need adults to help them; a child can’t drive to the police station, can’t leave an abusive home, can’t access therapy by themselves. And research shows most adults don’t know enough about child sex abuse to respond appropriately if their child discloses. Many believe children or malicious ex’s frequently make up false allegations. And research has shown a majority of teachers wouldn’t report a child’s disclosure of child sex abuse within their school.

I understand teaching people who work with kids about child sex abuse. But why do parents need a class about it?

Parents receive instruction about installing a child’s car seat, even though a child is much less likely to get into a car accident than they are to get sexually abused. CSA shortens a child’s life expectancy and causes life-long harm. It also increases the chances of a child dealing with drug addiction, mental illness, suicide attempts, eating disorders, and risky sexual behavior; all things parents want to spare their children. Sexual abusers gain access to their victims through their relationship with them, and parents control the relationships their children have with adults, so teaching parents what to look for can empower them to protect their children.

Are there communities that have adopted these programs on a large scale?

Yes. Communities around the country are adopting both of them. Perhaps the biggest “community” is Texas, where all teachers must take an evidence-based class. An interesting effect  is that reports of CSA within Texas schools increased dramatically. The most logical interpretation is that teachers suddenly recognized abuse and dangerous situations that they hadn’t before. Iceland has started adult CSA education programs on a national scale, and an increase in reporting was one of their first observations.

Can adult education eliminate CSA?

No. About half of all child sexual abuse happens outside of a child’s home; in school, daycare, church, at a friend’s house, etc. This is the easiest half for parents to protect their children from. It presents a little emotional conflict.
It will always be harder for someone to really believe their spouse, sibling, parent, or child can sexually abuse a child.
Some non-offending parents are more interested in maintaining a relationship with their partner than protecting their child. A small percent are so damaged they tolerate or facilitate their child’s abuse. At best, community education is a slow way to fix family courts that have embraced the incorrect belief that false accusations of child sexual abuse are common.

What are other things communities need to do to protect kids?

States need to eliminate the Statute of Limitations for child sexual abuse, as this will increase the percentage of abusers facing conviction. Communities need to have good systems in place where CSA survivors can get high-quality therapy and associated services. And all communities should have universal, voluntary access to maternal home visiting programs, as they have a huge impact on how good a parent a CSA survivor will become and how good they will be at protecting their own child from sexual abuse.