Sexual violence involves dependent, immature children and adolescents in sexual activity that they are not fully aware of, to which they cannot give informed consent. The situation of sexual abuse is disturbing for others; it is perceived by them as a catastrophe, as something irreversible. Difficulties arise regarding talking to the child about what happened, not to hurt them. Adults avoid such conversations for fear of re-traumatizing the child or teenager is talking about what happened. As a result, children are left alone with their experiences. Many incidents of violence could be prevented if society had the tools to do so. Prevention programs do exist, but independent organizations often run them. Implementing programs on the federal level is an effective solution to decrease the frequency of violence.
Child Sexual Abuse: Relevance of the Problem
Child sexual abuse is an issue that has affected thousands of children and teens worldwide at different times in history. Such violence persists today and continues to gain ground because, in most cases, the aggressor is part of the victim’s family or is very close to it. It is one of the factors preventing the prevention and detection of sexual violence and the complaint of the abuser, and the number of cases is higher than the number of notifications (Gonçalves and Dias 210). It is reported that about 91% of all cases involve people the child knows or at least has knowledge of (“Fast Facts: Preventing Child Sexual Abuse”). The prevalence of child abuse raises concerns and questions about why the problem is so urgent. About 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 13 boys in the United States are sexually abused by children (“Fast Facts: Preventing Child Sexual Abuse”). This number is too high, so ways to prevent and efforts to prevent child abuse are needed.
Childhood sexual abuse has many consequences for a child’s health and psyche. Since violence against girls is more than three times more common, unwanted pregnancy is a common problem (“Fast Facts: Preventing Child Sexual Abuse”). Adolescent girls cannot get medical care on time and have abortions because social censure is too pronounced. In addition, beatings also accompany sexual abuse: children suffer injuries to their genitals, abdomen, arms, and legs. Psychological consequences cause the most harm because sometimes the trauma is forgotten, and already in adulthood, it is necessary to process it. Behavioral changes can lead to additional difficulties – such as risky behavior. Children are an unprotected group who are less able than adults to cope with such a large-scale problem. Developing and integrating prevention programs can reduce the incidence of sexual violence and protect children.
Child Protection: Ways to Prevent Abuse
Ways to prevent child sexual abuse are limited, primarily directed at the abused. For example, in private cases, parents forbid teenagers to go to parties or school events where there may be people older than them. They are worried about their child, but they are shifting the responsibility for their health and lives to them. Children need to be taught to be careful, but the responsibility for the abuse lies only with the abusers, and there should be people who will help in time. Programs to support children after abuse exist and help, but they are not enough to eliminate the abuse.
Nevertheless, there are programs explicitly aimed at preventing violence. For example, Coaching Boys Into Men is a program in which school coaches teach their students about healthy relationships and the inexpediency of using violence. Another program is Save Dates, a set of instructional lessons in which teens are taught the basics of relationship behavior (“Prevention Strategies”). It focuses on recognizing bad dating behavior and teaching proper tactics. There are also citywide anti-child abuse programs across the U.S. that target parents. They are required to take parenting training, in which they take tests to test their knowledge. Such programs are probably beneficial, but the most effective thing would be to adopt a single federal strategy that would track the process across all states.
For example, there is the Erin’s law, which regulates child sexual abuse prevention opportunities. The law belongs to the first category; that is, it aims to organize prevention in terms of the personal protection of children. New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo signed Bill A2577B, requiring school educators to have annual discussions with children ages 5-14 about sexual abuse of minors and personal safety (“Erin’s Law”. New Your State Educational Department). That happened in August 2019, and since then, 37 states have already complied with the prevention tenets. The law was first passed in Illinois and has gradually spread across America, though the Republican sector has opposed federal programs. The initiative belongs to Erin Merryn, who is engaged in public campaigns to bring the program to other states. The author of the law survived abuse as a child, which is probably the main reason she is active in this sector.
Erin’s law applies to all education grades, from pre-kindergarten to 8th grade. For example, children are taught the rules of touch initially – a child has the right to decide who and how they can be touched. Children are taught to keep their boundaries even with their parents and know their bodies’ values (Gonçalves and Dias 215). In grades 4-5, children are confronted for the first time with how to say “no” and why it is essential to express active disagreement. In addition, the safety steps become more detailed (“Erin’s Law”. CCDS21). Children in these stages are also exposed to the concept of guilt and how to report violence for the first time. In the upper 7th and 8th grades, hormonal changes and a new growth spurt begin, making children feel uncomfortable with their case again. The program covers trust with peers, finding personal boundaries in relationships, and recognizing harassment at this stage. Thus, Erin’s law is a balanced opportunity to prevent sexual abuse among children.
Dissemination of Prevention Programs
The Erin’s Law is promising and enlightening, it has enormous potential, and it should be disseminated to protect children everywhere. Such initiatives should be present in every school, and fixing them at the federal level could be handy. The effectiveness is proven by the presence of uniform behavioral tactics and similar instruction for adolescents. Most children would act about the same, and staff would be able to identify these behaviors and associate them with sexual abuse. Children will be able to recognize violent signs in other children and adults and report them to the police and social services in time (“Erin’s Law”. CCDS21). In addition, the number of children who are aware of their boundaries will be more confident and capable in education, and teachers will notice progress in responsibility.
Federal programs are federally sponsored, and there will always be money budgeted for prevention programs. It will allow schools to spend more money on other needs related to new equipment. The state strategies can make a big difference and prevent violence. In addition, federal oversight would eliminate ignorance among child and adult populations, especially parents, thereby imposing responsibility for healthy parenting. Nevertheless, there are limitations to the programs, including Erin’s Law, that lead to the need for more work and the potential expansion of the legal framework for prevention.
First and foremost, federal programs raise questions for Republicans and Democrats. Different parties clash in the debate with differing views on what the state should regulate within schools (Cox 4). Traditionally, the Republican Party has opposed federal oversight, arguing against the need for individual and regional administration. Democratic-led conditions are more willing to embrace new programs at the national level due to free ideological thought. Second, Erin’s law is part of the problem with what the programs are aimed at. It teaches children how to protect their bodies, thus shifting responsibility (Cox 35). Although children can learn to recognize abusers, it is still not a measure that is sufficient to eliminate violence.
Finally, there is a lack of solid legislative leadership on child sexual abuse. Not all states are capable of a lengthy dialogue with human rights advocates who can point out gaps in the law. Unless governments engage in conversation with those close to the problem, the problem will remain unresolved (Cox 38). The introduction of rules-based only on the speculation and conjecture of lawmakers may have a detrimental effect on the issue and not solve it at all. In this case, the money allocated for the program will no longer be available for prospects. Thus, the effect of federal oversight of the violence prevention program remains high, but tools for support and dialogue with society are needed.
As previously argued, support from human rights advocates and community activists can solve problems by introducing prevention programs at the federal level. First, psychological campaigns are a way to understand the pathways that lead to violence. Children seek help, and psychologists uncover the conditions of violence and teach them how to deal with it (“Prevention Strategies”). Then they pass this data on to the government, which starts to increase protection in specific sectors. Secondly, there are comprehensive rehabilitation programs that children or adults who have experienced sexual violence undergo. The state also sponsors these initiatives, making more and more people aware of the need for prevention (“How to More Effectively Prevent Child Sexual Abuse”). Consequently, more and more people favorably accept the idea of federal oversight. Finally, a legal institution and appropriate penalties for the violence committed. The cost of fines and payments should be increased, and the length of time violent offenders has to serve. The presence of explicit penalties can increase the chances of reducing violent acts.
Thus, the problem of child sexual abuse continues to be prevalent for various reasons. Prevention is difficult since the abuse is most often perpetrated by someone the child knows. Current programs fall into teaching protection (Erin’s Law) and teaching people not to abuse (e.g., Coaching Boys to Men). All programs have pros and cons, but they should be on the federal level since they will continuously be funded. Also, unified behavioral tactics can eliminate a problem such as disputes between parties. With additional programs, the implementation of Erin’s Law and other policies would be faster and more effective, and the incidence of violence would be significantly reduced.
Cox, Megan. Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Education: A Comparative Report on Legislation in Seven States. 2018.
“Erin’s Law”. Community Consolidated School District 21, Web.
“Erin’s Law”. New Your State Educational Department, Web.
“Fast Facts: Preventing Child Sexual Abuse”. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Violence Prevention, Web.
Gonçalves, Natamy De Almeida, and Dias, Camila Santos. “Child Sexual Abuse: The Position of Teachers Regarding the Issue Facing Their Students”. Revista Científica Multidisciplinar Núcleo do Conhecimento, vol.1, 2021, pp. 209-250, Web.
“How to More Effectively Prevent Child Sexual Abuse”. Psychology Today, 2018, Web.
“Prevention Strategies”. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Violence Prevention, 2022, Web.