||Designing Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Programs: Current Approaches and a
Proposal for the Prevention, Reduction and Identification of Sexual Misuse
|| Charles C Thomas, © 1990
Charles C. Thomas, Publisher
2600 South First Street
Springfield, Illinois 62794-9265
In this 328 page book Krivacska examines the premise of
current child sexual abuse prevention (CSAP) programs gaining broad support in
schools across the country. The author examines the basic elements of CSAP
programs and suggests that the approach is inappropriate for the target
population. Instead, an alternative model for prevention is presented that
details a new strategy based on three major components: a) promotion of normal
childhood sexuality, b) enhancement of social competency, and c) age-appropriate
instruction in child sexual abuse concepts. The new model, entitled the PRISM
(Prevention, Reduction, and Identification of Sexual Misuse) program, is based
on theoretically sound methods that have a great deal of potential. The book is
relevant to the work of educators, school social workers, prevention specialists
and parents who are interested in a suitable education for their children.
contrast between what is and what might be in the field of prevention allows the
reader to consider which model is most appropriate for children of all ages.
The author tackles an issue that is highly controversial and
approaches the subject from an analytic perspective that may prove unpopular
with traditional CSAP program promoters. CSAP programs are well-accepted among
the general population and have been provided in the school setting with little
information about their true experimental nature. The programs are appealing to
parents and school staff because they apply seemingly elementary procedures to
an extremely complex problem. Their presentation is usually accompanied by
songs, rhymes and puppets that appear to be directed at children's development.
But as Krivacska shows, the presentation masks the content of the programs; the premise of the programs themselves is
anything but appropriate for children's developmental abilities.
This book details a number of problems with traditional CSAP
programs. For example, the majority of the programs are based upon rape
prevention strategies employed by women. These tactics are applied to children
with the expectation that they will be equally useful for a younger audience.
The premise of the programs is largely built upon a model of empowerment wherein
children are taught that they have rights to assert themselves and to protect
their bodies. CSAP program promoters assume that children can and will make
careful distinctions about the nature of a touch by providing language regarding
a "touch continuum," or rules that determine "safe" or
"unsafe" touches. The model also presumes that children will be able
to overcome powerful feelings of attachment and affiliation and will report
instances of abuse by a close friend or family member.
Krivacska reviews each of the program concepts and
scrutinizes their meaning based upon developmental theory. He also examines CSAP
program implementation using learning theory as a backdrop to his argument.
analysis of other prevention approaches (i.e., smoking prevention, alcohol abuse
prevention, etc.) is also provided with a full discussion of the elements that
make for their success. In his attempt to feature each of the areas in which
CSAP programs are unsuitable for the goal of child abuse prevention, the author
may lose the reader in detail. CSAP programs can certainly be examined along a
number of dimensions, however this breadth takes away from the main focus of the
book and it is sometimes difficult to bring the reader back to the original
In contrast to the traditional methods of child abuse
prevention, Krivacska offers a new approach which he calls the PRISM method.
This program is outlined in Chapters 7 and 8, with separate activities and
concepts delivered to children of differing developmental abilities. Starting in
the preschool and early elementary years, children are provided with
"sexuality enhancement" education and "social competency
enhancement" skills. The later elementary curriculum builds on skills
learned in the earlier years with the continuing development of social
competency. At this time, children are provided with a limited role in first
identifying, and then reporting sexually misusive behavior. In early and late
adolescence, sexuality education is expanded to discussion of the importance of
mutual respect and responsibility in sexual relations. The concept of body
rights is also proposed at this stage.
At each developmental stage a different form of teaching
method is described, including modeling, behavioral training, and group discussion.
suggests that the implementation of the program cannot be done in one or two
lessons such as traditional CSAP programs. He contends that the model might
require 45 to 50 lessons, including two or three lessons per week.
One of the most compelling elements of the newly designed
PRISM program is its inclusion of sexuality education in any discussion of child
sexual abuse prevention. The author makes a convincing argument that the
development of a healthful understanding of childhood sexuality and the bounds
of appropriate sexual activity will give the child a context for understanding
the misuse of sexuality. This education will also go a long way in providing
true primary prevention as it will teach children about mutuality and respect in
physical and social interactions and will therefore interrupt potential misuse
of sexuality into adulthood.
While this is the most interesting aspect of the proposed
program, it is also the most controversial. Given the current social climate,
parents and teachers may find it difficult to accept the school's role in
providing sexuality education. The author's response to this potential
resistance can be seen in his reaction to a concerned school board member
regarding the tradeoff between providing sexuality education and sexual abuse
The first view says that to teach children about their own
bodies, about the feelings their bodies give them, about love and sexuality
which is a natural part of all of our existences from the day we are born, will
corrupt, damage, or cause harm to children's development.
The second view says that instruction in the most socially
abhorrent and aberrant form of sexual deviation, including the most disturbing
distortion of human sexuality as expressed in incest, is beneficial and helpful in the protection, maturation and nurturance of the child's sexuality.
The argument is persuasive, yet it may not be sufficient to
sway large groups of parents and teachers. Instead, readers could benefit from a
full description of the procedures that may be necessary to gain the endorsement
of a school community for the provision of such an education. While the
inclusion of sexuality education may be essential to a discussion of child
sexual abuse prevention, its ready acceptance in the schools may take some time
to realize and Krivacska may be ahead of his time with this suggestion.
Despite its intermittent lack of focus, Krivacska's book
offers a much-needed review and critique of child sexual abuse prevention
programs. He provides a thought-provoking model for an innovative prevention
approach with clear instructions for its presentation. The model, however, is
speculative, supported by theory and reason but as yet unsubstantiated by research.
Using this book as a guidepost, schools and communities are challenged to
implement this creative approach and evaluate it for its effectiveness.
Reviewed by Jill Duerr Berrick who is a psychologist and
Project Director of the Family Welfare Research Group at the University of