What I learned from taking an online child abuse prevention course

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April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and a good time to remember that child abuse prevention is woven into the fabric of the BSA’s advancement structure.

The youth protection-themed booklets that are required reading for parents and Scouts of all ages, the Protect Yourself Rules Preview Adventure (for Cub Scouts) and the Personal Safety Awareness programs (for Scouts BSA members, Venturers and Sea Scouts) cover topics that are critical to help ensure the safety and well-being of our youth.

It’s also the perfect time to review the BSA’s Barriers to Abuse and to make sure your Youth Protection Training is up to date.

Sadly, child sexual abuse is a significant public health problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 13 boys in the United States experience child sexual abuse. More than 90% of the time, the abuser is someone known and trusted by the child or child’s family members.

Recently, a coworker pointed me to a respected source of online child abuse prevention training that can be used to supplement the BSA’s own resources.

Darkness to Light (D2L) is a South Carolina-based non-profit dedicated to ending child sexual abuse. They believe the burden of prevention and protection sits squarely on the shoulders of adults who are legally and morally responsible for the health and safety of children. Their in-person and online training options are designed for adults and focus on five steps to protecting children (more on that below).

For $10, invaluable knowledge

I took the $10 D2L Stewards of Children online training, a two-hour course designed to teach adults how to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to child sexual abuse. It is aimed at any individual concerned about the safety of children, as well as organizations that serve youth.

Right off the bat, I learned that not all child sexual abuse is physical.

“At its core, sexual abuse is any sexual act between an adult and a minor, or between two minors, when one exerts power over the other,” according to the training. “It also includes non-contact acts such as exhibitionism, exposure to pornography, and voyeurism.”

There are also video interviews with child sexual abuse survivors, including Margaret Hoelzer, an Olympic swimmer who has revealed that she was abused as a child.

“I was abused when I was 5-7 years old by a good friend of mine’s father,” Hoelzer says. “This was a man I trusted … who my parents trusted.”

The next section of training deals with the effects of abuse on children.

“Children who are abused may blame themselves, feel ashamed and powerless,” according to the training. “They may suffer an array of health consequences … including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression, substance abuse, delinquency and suicidal thoughts.”

What are the five steps to protect children?

Next, we get into the heart of the training: the five steps to protect children. A YPT-trained adult will recognize some of this.

Step 1: Learn the facts. Research shows that the greatest risk to children doesn’t come from strangers, but from friends and family. Around 30% of abused children are abused by family members; as many as 60% are abused by people the family trusts.

And the consequences are enormous. Between 70% and 80% of sexual abuse survivors report excessive drug and alcohol use. Both males and females who have been sexually abused are more likely to engage in commercial sexual activity. The CDC estimates that child abuse costs the United States billions annually.

Step 2: Minimize opportunity. “More than 80% of sexual abuse cases occur in isolated, one-on-one situations. If you eliminate or reduce isolated, one-on-one situations between children and adults, as well as children and other youth, you’ll dramatically reduce the risk of sexual abuse.”

How do we reduce this risk? Make sure interactions with children can be observed and interrupted; think carefully about the safety of situations in which older youth have access to younger children; and make sure that multiple adults are present who can supervise.

Step 3: Talk about it. This is obviously not appropriate for a Scout meeting, but parents should know that it can be beneficial to “have open conversations with children about our bodies, sex, and boundaries.”

Teach children that it is against the rules for adults to act in a sexual way with them; teach them what parts of their bodies others should not touch; and be sure to mention that the abuser might be an adult friend, family member, or older youth.

Step 4: Recognize the signs. “Signs are often there, but you have to know what to look for.”

Physical signs of sexual abuse are not common. Instead, you should look for emotional or behavioral signals such as physical aggression, non-compliance, anxiety, depression, fear, withdrawal, suicidal thoughts, nightmares, bed-wetting, bullying, cruelty to animals, and lack of interest in friends, sports, and other activities.

Step 5: React responsibly. “Understand how to respond to disclosures, discoveries, and suspicions of sexual abuse.” Believe the child and make sure the child knows it. Thank the child for telling you and praise the child’s courage. Assure the child that it’s your responsibility to protect them and that you’ll do all you can. Report or take action in all cases of suspected abuse. Don’t panic: Sexually abused children who receive support and psychological help can and do heal.

Other resources

If you suspect a child has experienced abuse or has abused other children inside or outside of Scouting, call 911 immediately and make a report as required by your state and child protective services. Additional reporting may be required by your state. If the abuse has occurred within Scouting, contact your local council Scout executive. If the Scout executive is unavailable, contact the Scouts First Helpline at 1-844-SCOUTS1 (1-844-726-8871).

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Child Welfare Information Gateway contains valuable information on reporting child abuse or neglect.

The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline (1.800.4.A.CHILD / 1.800.422.4453) offers crisis intervention, information and referrals to thousands of emergency, social service and support resources.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s CyberTipline provides information about how to report online sexual exploitation of a child or if you suspect that a child has been inappropriately contacted online.

About Aaron Derr 321 Articles
Aaron Derr is the senior editor of Scout Life and Scouting magazines, and also a former Cubmaster and Scouts BSA volunteer.