As Director of the child sexual abuse prevention organization Stop It Now!, Jenny Coleman has a clinical background specializing in work with at-risk children, many of whom had undergone trauma and had grown up in foster or residential care. She also brings experience in early-childhood education and in developing mental health assistance programs and hotlines at the organizational level. She heard of Stop It Now! while longing to move away from the for-profit sector and back to her clinical roots; her interest piqued after learning of their unique approach to perpetrator prevention. As she has internalized it, this means “creating space for everybody to show up. I don’t see any one person as the enemy or the bad person.” She emphasizes that while everyone must be held accountable for their behavior, no one is just the sum of it. She started as Helpline Manager at Stop It Now! and has been with the organization for seven years.
Stop It Now! was founded by a survivor named Fran Henry. Her father sexually abused her, and her impetus to establish the organization was informed by the realization that she never would have spoken up against him, even as she endured his abuse. She loved him and saw years later that he had undergone a series of revelations about his sexually harmful behaviors and was seeking treatment. She asked: “What could have made the difference for me as a survivor and for him as an abuser?” In conversations with fellow survivors and perpetrators alike, it became apparent that many relational complexities disrupted the simplistic prevention and intervention model of relying on the victim’s initiative in “speaking up.” Coleman believes that we can educate and support children and respond to abuse effectively, but, as Henry discovered and Coleman suggests, we also must “recognize that no matter what we give the kids, adults are the ones that are going to have to do something.”
Thus, Stop It Now! emerged on the wings of an upstart, consciousness-raising media campaign to help adults across the board – parents, bystanders and those at-risk of acting on sexualized thoughts and behaviors themselves. She wants these individuals to take responsibility, stand up and adopt help-seeking behaviors for prevention. The organization aims to put a human face to every actor involved and to promote an approach to ending sexual abuse that treats it as a comprehensive public health issue.
Stop It Now!’s helpline was devised as a place of support where at-risk or perpetrating adults could turn. Stop It Now! has contributed critical and demonstrable insight in prevention work: that adults who are at-risk for abusing, or even already have, will reach out if they know that resources exist and where to find and use them.
In addition to their Help Services, Stop It Now!’s website (www.stopitnow.org) serves as a public education platform, directing browsers to tip sheets that outline identifiable warning signs and guidebooks that suggest how to broach sensitive topics and create family and community Safety Plans. They administer “Circles of Safety” training to professional caregivers, youth-serving organizations and parents in order to increase protective factors in youth-serving individuals and environments. Further, they consult on individual cases and participate as an active member in a network of public research and advocacy groups. Coleman is thankful to the Prevention Coalition for keeping her and the team at Stop It Now! informed as their organizational focus occupies a niche in child sexual abuse prevention and because “a multitude of voices can be more powerful than a singular voice,” especially when the first step in tackling child sexual abuse is coming to the table to “have that conversation.”