This week Linda Johnson, Executive Director of Prevent Child Abuse Vermont, emphasizes how critical it is that child abuse prevention and treatment be nuanced and comprehensive.
She and the staff at PCAV have successfully approached their Healthy Relationships Project programs with this consciousness. The Project’s three phases of curricula each target and involve a developmentally-distinct child age group within the range of 3- to 14-year olds. The trainings build preventative knowledge and skills through age-appropriate interactive lessons on healthy sexuality and relationships. Their child-focused nature is complemented by resources designed to prepare and connect parents, educators and other community stakeholders to prevent abuse as responsible adults.
While skills fostered by the Healthy Relationships Project aim to proactively “strengthen children’s empathy, form the foundation for consent,” highlight communication techniques and guide participants to generate lists of people in whom they feel they could confide, Johnson expresses that “we also make it clear that they may choose not to tell, for many different reasons.”
A trauma-informed understanding of disclosure acknowledges that it’s important that harmed children and teens know, regardless of their decision to vocalize their experience(s), that “it is nonetheless not their fault that sexual abuse has happened to them and/or to others [they know].” By reinforcing the fact that they cannot be blamed, Johnson says the care community works to “prevent guilt that may develop for not telling and [minimizes the growth of] a sense of responsibility for it happening in the first place.”
In schools receiving Healthy Relationships programming (and representing a total participant population of 623,000), Johnson reported a 64% decline in the sexual abuse of children and youth, across victim age and relationship to perpetrator. Further, over a twenty-four year project lifespan, the number of youth found to have perpetrated sexual abuse year-by-year dropped from 260 in 1992 to 99 in 2016, a 60% decrease.