Sexual assault and child abuse are not just “big city” problems. We must acknowledge that these issues happen in our community more often than we would like to think. Therefore, we should focus on preventing sexual assault and child abuse before it happens. Changing social norms, teaching skills, empowering youth, and creating safe environments can help reduce violence in our communities.

We all have a role to play in prevention, so how can you help?

Empowering youth through awareness

The examples we set for youth influence the way they view gender, respect, and human rights. It is never too early to start conversations about consent and bodily autonomy. Phrases like “she was asking for it” or “boys will be boys” attempt to blur the lines around sexual consent. They place blame on victims, and excuse perpetrators from the crimes they have committed. We need to point out stereotypes and phrases like these that youth constantly encounter, whether in the media, in their communities or at school.

If a young person seeks your attention, stop what you are doing and listen. Talk about consent and accountability to youth and listen to what they have to say about their experience of the world. By empowering young advocates with information, and educating them about their rights, we can build a better future for all.

Parents, school staff, advocates, & other adults can:

  • Teach skills to prevent sexual violence and child abuse.
  • Help youth develop positive communication skills including conflict resolution and how to handle emotions in a healthy way.
  • Practice and model safe dating, safe touches, and healthy relationships to teach youth about dating and build healthy relationship skills.
  • Promote healthy sexuality by discussing topics like bodily autonomy, sexual behavior, sexual communication, respect, and consent.

Schools can:

  • Create safe environments.
  • Improve safety and monitoring in schools by addressing areas where students feel less safe.
  • Create an environment where harassment and violence are not tolerated.
  • Educators need to speak up if they witness harassment. (“See something; say something!”)
  • Do not excuse inappropriate actions or behaviors. When students see an adult overlooking/defending words or actions of sexual harassment or misconduct they are more than likely to do the same.
  • Create clear steps of where and who students can reach out to for help and guidance, such as a counselor.
  • Create an environment and culture where students, educators, and employees will not fear retaliation for speaking up.
  • Educate and refer parents and caregivers to available resources in the district.
  • Train staff to look out for signs of sexual/child abuse, and how to respond.

Everyone can:

  • Promote social norms that protect against violence and child abuse.
  • Speak up against sexist language (such as when a friend makes a sexist joke) or behaviors that promote violence.
  • Offer to help or support in situations where violence may occur or has occurred.
  • Normalize asking for consent in your daily interactions.
  • Check in with your own biases.
  • Believe youth when they come forward and report sexual assault/child abuse.

Awareness and advocacy start early. It takes all of us to prevent sexual violence and child abuse. Together we can create a culture of respect, equality, and safety.

Author

  • Gemma is a Squishmallow enthusiast who loves listening to podcasts in her spare time. Gemma works as a prevention educator at HCWC where she helps provide resources, advocacy, and awareness on healthy relationships, domestic violence, and sexual assault to adolescents and the community. Gemma is a proud alum of The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley where she received her bachelor’s in Rehabilitation services. She is passionate about advocating for people with disabilities, equality, and social change.