IMPLEMENTATION & TEACHING CONSIDERATIONS
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Per Connecticut General Statute Sec. 17a-101q, each school district is responsible for implementing a sexual assault and abuse prevention and awareness program. This programming should be responsive to the needs of each community and include staff training; resources to further staff, parent and student awareness; and age- and developmentally- appropriate educational materials for students.
School administrators, mental health and health providers such as school social workers, school psychologists, school counselors, school nurses, health educators and other professionals as appropriate should be integral in planning the sexual assault and abuse prevention and awareness program. Each can serve as a resource, providing counseling and aid in developing and implementing prevention and awareness education. Professionals responsible for the delivery of sexual assault and abuse prevention and awareness must receive ongoing training to ensure appropriate preparation including content, skill development and comfort level in addressing these areas. Schools also have the option to access programming taught by experts in the field of sexual violence prevention education. When presenting sexual assault and abuse prevention and awareness programming to students, it is a distinct possibility that some students may disclose their experiences in the classroom. Therefore, it is advisable to have trained advocates present to receive these disclosures and to appropriately support and respond. School personnel who will be presenting or present for trainings and discussions may also be triggered. Having trained advocates present will be of benefit for them as well. Section Five of this document offers suggestions for such resources.
Each school district will develop and implement a kindergarten – grade 12 prevention and awareness educational component for students. These lessons should be evidence-informed, developmentally- and age- appropriate, and informed by the required curricular standards and performance indicators outlined in Section Three of these Guidelines. Per Connecticut General Statute Sec. 17a-101q, parents and guardians have the right to opt their child out of lessons pertaining to sexual abuse or sexual assault. Each school district is responsible for having a policy in place regarding opt-out procedures. In addition, it is recommended that parents and guardians have the opportunity to learn about the sexual assault and abuse prevention and awareness curriculum and to review materials.
As articulated in the Vermont Sexual Violence Prevention Technical Assistance Resource Guide, there are Nine Principles of Prevention that should guide the development of sexual violence prevention programs. Implementing these principles will provide a solid foundation for influencing positive outcomes in sexual assault and abuse prevention and awareness.
NINE PRINCIPLES OF PREVENTION
- Emphasizes that the program must be comprehensive. A comprehensive program will be more than simply a one lesson snapshot into sexual assault and abuse prevention and awareness. Instead, a comprehensive program will incorporate lessons and skill-building into a variety of settings such as student and parent orientation or other opportunities to reinforce the messages.
- Utilizes varied teaching methods to engage students, including discussion as well as active and skills-based components.
- Highlights the importance of sufficient instructional time. “A program incorporates the sufficient dosage principle when it implements strategies that provide enough intervention to produce the desired effects and in addition, provides follow-up as necessary to maintain the effects… skills are incorporated with repetition and practice. One-time presentations alone will rarely effect behavioral change.”26
- Encourages programs to be theory driven. There are multiple theory models that have been shown to positively affect behavior or social change that can be accessed when developing a program for a school or school district. Some of them include: Health Belief Model. It is advisable to take advantage of the knowledge gained from a proven theory driven model when planning and developing a prevention program.27
- Highlights the importance of fostering positive relationships. An effective program will foster positive relationships between students and adults as well as between students and their peers.
- Suggests that activities must be appropriately timed, developmentally speaking. For example, our youngest children are not developmentally capable of distinguishing between “safe” and “unsafe” touch.
- Stresses the importance of socio-culturally relevant programming in order to best reach the target population that is being served. Each school and each district will need to tailor their educational materials to best reach the children that they teach in ways that are relevant and motivating to them.
- Emphasizes the importance of building in outcome evaluation methodology into the program in order to assess the efficacy of the programming. Good programming will constantly be evaluating and refining to generate the best outcomes for their children.
- Underscores the significance of well-trained staff to deliver the prevention programming.
Below are teaching considerations and practical tips for delivering sexual assault and sexual abuse awareness and prevention.
- Avoid asking young children to identify “good” or “bad” touch, “safe” or “unsafe” touch or “appropriate” or “inappropriate” touch as they may not be able to do so developmentally.
- Avoid placing responsibility on children to protect themselves by referring to “gut feelings” or “instincts” about sexual abuse. The experience of childhood trauma can significantly affect brain development and the subsequent emotional responses of children. Emotional responses of traumatized children may be marked by dissociation/numbing or hyper-arousal.28
- Avoid using blaming language like “don’t let anyone hurt you” because it can make children who have been victimized feel like they have done something wrong and they may not seek help.
- Avoid saying that children “must” or “should” or “have to” tell someone if they think something is wrong. Instead use empowering language like you “can” ask for help. The distinction is important to avoid putting the burden of disclosure on children.
- During discussions that might bring up cultural differences, emphasize that these differences should not only be tolerated, but also respected.
- Remember that for some children a trustworthy adult may not be their parent or family member.
- Use non-blaming language to keep the door open for youth to ask for help or disclose regardless of whether they are a victim, witness / bystander or perpetrator.
- Focus should be on perpetrator prevention and bystander intervention.
- Do not focus solely on safety techniques for young women (example: don’t walk at night alone, don’t put yourself in a risky situation) as this can lead to victim blaming.
- Always use the anatomically correct names for body parts.
These considerations are adapted from Vermont's Sexual Violence Prevention Technical Assistance Resource Guide.
Though schools, teachers and administrators cannot do this work alone, they are poised to play a critical role in primary prevention of sexual violence. By embracing this opportunity to talk with students about appropriate interactions, communications skills, empathy, accountability it provides a clear understanding of respectful interpersonal relationships and active consent. Through this effort, they will also help raise awareness in children who may be at risk for or experiencing sexual violence. To make a broader impact it is recommended that sexual assault and abuse awareness and prevention be aligned with other district and school requirements and initiatives including Title IX; School Climate Plans;Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child; and the Guidelines for the Sexual Health Education Component of Comprehensive Health Education.
It is essential to incorporate a tiered approach when addressing the social, emotional, behavioral, mental and physical health needs of students. This tiered approach ensures that prevention education is in place for all students with more intensive interventions available as needed. To best meet the needs of all students, this approach must be a coordinated and integrated system of supports and include access to appropriate services and providers such as mental health and health providers including school social workers, school psychologists, school counselors, and school nurses. An example of a tiered intervention can be found in SDE’s Topical Brief 3 Scientific Research-Based Interventions: Addressing the Needs of the Whole Child. In addition, in order to establish a safe and secure educational environment, schools need to ensure that their school safety and emergency response systems are reviewed regularly and updated to address current needs. Codes of conduct delineating behavior/social standards and expectations, including strict prohibitions regarding bullying, harassment and sexual violence, should be clear, concise and consistently enforced in the school and classroom environments. Finally, as in all other areas, schools should be engaging in a two-way communication with families and communities in supporting the development and maintenance of these social, emotional, and physical health skills.
These programs and best practices can help children to recognize that it is okay to ask for help and that there are people who care and are available to help them if they choose to seek assistance. In addition, this programming can assure that school professionals, staff and administrators are trained to respond appropriately to disclosures of sexual assault and abuse. Paired with ongoing societal prevention and awareness efforts on the national, state and local levels it is possible to end sexual violence.
ASSISTANCE WITH DEVELOPING DISTRICT PLAN
There are numerous resources available to aid schools in creating and implementing a sexual assault and abuse prevention and awareness plan. Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence has member programs statewide available to assist school districts in planning and implementation as well as offering in-school programming. The Connecticut Regional Educational Service Centers are prepared to partner with member school districts to assist with curriculum development and the planning and coordinating of programs and services. The Department of Children and Families offers courses through their Workforce Development Academy on mandated reporting for school employees and information about Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect. Additionally, technical assistance is available for school personnel including administrators, school mental health and health (nurses) providers, health educators and Title IX coordinators from the Connecticut State Department of Education.
26. Vermont Sexual Violence Prevention Technical Assistance Resource Guide. 2010. Vermont Sexual Violence Prevention Task Force. p. 18
27. (http://sphweb.bumc.bu.edu/otlt/MPH-Modules/SB/SB721-Models/SB721-Models2.html), Theory of Reasoned Action (http://www.med.upenn.edu/hbhe4/part2-ch4-theory-of-reasoned-action.shtml), Transtheoretical Model (http://sphweb.bumc.bu.edu/otlt/MPHModules/SB/SB721-Models/SB721-Models6.html) and Diffusion of Innovation (http://sphweb.bumc.bu.edu/otlt/MPH-Modules/SB/SB721- Models/SB721-Models4.html).