EDITORIAL: The importance of prevention education in schools

The Central Alberta Sexual Assault Support Centre is partnering with several organizations to help bring awareness to sexual harassment in the workplace. (Photo courtesy of CASASC)

With summer holidays in the rearview mirror and school well underway, it’s time again to focus in on education, healthy communities and schools.

The Central Alberta Sexual Assault Support Centre (CASASC) has a dedicated education team that specializes in the prevention of childhood sexual abuse.

You may be wondering what exactly prevention education is and why is it important for you, your children, grandchildren and all children in our schools.

As a former preschool teacher, I witnessed firsthand the impact of sexual abuse on a child. The signs of childhood sexual abuse are not always obvious, and as a result, it is important to learn the signs and symptoms so that early action can be taken, thereby ending or preventing abuse.

Prevention is important to everyone and the best prevention is education. Children need to understand what consent is and how to impose body boundaries that they are comfortable with. Prevention education empowers everyone in positive ways.

As adults who know and understand the signs of abuse, we need to be the voice and advocate for children who don’t understand what is happening to them.

Prevention education builds confidence, critical thinking skills and helps prepare children and youth for potentially dangerous situations in the real world. We should teach children and youth assertive skills so they can respond appropriately and say “no!” when necessary.

Prevention education also requires that children and youth know what a safe adult is and where a safe adult is allowed within their body boundary.

Here is a question for you – What makes a safe adult? How do children and youth know that a specific adult is safe to be around? Are you, as the adult, able to respond to this question? Do you think your child or grandchild understands this? If not, it’s time to have a conversation about safe adults.

Another question to think about – Do you know what a body boundary is? In our prevention program, we discuss and have related activities on body boundaries. What touches are allowed in each bubble? Our No Secrets program teaches that “no one should look at, no one should touch, and no one should take pictures of our private parts”. If this rule is broken, our prevention education teaches the skills of “no, go, tell.” Say “no,” loudly, go somewhere safe and tell a safe adult what happened.

We also teach that a doctor should be one of the only people that can look at or touch us in order to keep us healthy – but only with our permission and consent. Research shows that elementary age children are not developmentally able to lie, so it’s important that if a child says someone has touched them inappropriately, adults believe them.

Our program also teaches the importance of learning the correct body part names as when children and youth are familiar and comfortable with body part names, they can tell a safe adult what happened and there is no misunderstanding.

We want children and youth to feel empowered when it comes to their bodies and boundaries. Our program, like any other prevention education program on sexual abuse, is not sex education, rather it is a prevention program to ensure children and youth are equipped with tools to stop an act before it happens and to educate about right from wrong and what is (or is not) appropriate.

Just like learning how to do a fire drill or a lock down, children need to learn and understand how to keep their bodies safe. Teaching these concepts in an age-appropriate classroom setting with peers fosters autonomy and self-esteem.

CASASC provides education programs and presentations on consent and many other prevention-based topics throughout central Alberta. Reach out to the education team at education@casasc.ca for facilitated discussion.

CASASC also offers a 24 hour help line for those dealing with sexual violence impacts in our community. Call or text 1-866-956-1099, or webchat at www.casasc.ca for confidential support, information and referrals.

Bailey Martineau is a prevention educator at the Central Alberta Sexual Assault Support Centre.