How To Teach About Abuse

  • Though awareness around sexual violence continues to rise, incidents of abuse continue to pour in. Sexual abuse accounts for about 20% of all childhood maltreatment reports[1] while about one in four women will experience some sort of sexual violence in their lifetime.[2] Teaching about abuse is important not only to bring awareness of the issue but also to empower survivors of any age. The learning objectives were adapted from the National Sexuality Education Standards:

    Middle School

    • Define sexual abuse.
    • Describe situations and behaviors that constitute sexual abuse, sexual assault, incest, rape and dating violence.
    • Discuss the impacts of sexual abuse and why it is wrong.
    • Identify sources of support such as parents or other trusted adults that they can go to if they are or someone they know is being abused.
    • Explain that no one has the right to touch anyone else in a sexual manner if they do not want to be touched.
    • Explain why a person who has been abused is not at fault.
    • Demonstrate refusal skills (clear “no” statement, walk away, repeat refusal).
    • Demonstrate ways to communicate with trusted adults about abuse.

    High School

    • Compare and contrast situations and behaviors that may constitute sexual harassment, sexual abuse, sexual assault, incest, rape and dating violence.
    • Analyze the laws related to sexual abuse.
    • Explain why using tricks, threats or coercion in relationships is wrong.
    • Describe potential impacts of power differences (e.g., age, status or position) within sexual relationships.
    • Analyze the external influences and societal messages that impact attitudes about sexual abuse.
    • Access valid resources for help if they or someone they know is being or has been abused.
    • Demonstrate effective ways to communicate with trusted adults about abuse.
    • Identify ways in which they could respond when someone else is being abused.

    When teaching about abuse, it is important to clarify that this is not an “us versus them” problem but rather that it can happen to anyone regardless of race, gender, socioeconomic status, etc. Like when teaching HIV/AIDS , cultural competence is vital for this sensitive topic. Media is again a helpful tool to examine instances of abuse and start a discussion.

    One of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard about teaching about exual violence is to assume all people are survivors. This mindset shift allows you to be more inclusive and compassionate in your teaching.

    Lastly, it is important to note that abuse is a difficult topic to cover well. It is potentially triggering to student and therefore creating a safe classroom environment is vital. It can be helpful to familiarize yourself with the signs of child abuse, local support organizations, laws related to reporting. This varies by state and changes periodically. For more information, visit Not Alone.

    Additional Resources
    ChildHelp National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453)
    ChildHelp Resources for Teachers
    This fantastic guide to teaching younger children.
    This CDC infographic on sexual violence.

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    [1] ChildHelp. (2014). Child abuse statistics & facts. https://www.childhelp.org/child-abuse-statistics/
    [2] National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. (2007). Domestic violence facts. http://www.ncadv.org/files/DomesticViolenceFactSheet%28National%29.pdf

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