08 December 2010

A Movement to End Child Sexual Abuse, Community by Community

Bringing an end to child sexual abuse (CSA) is a cause all of us should be able to get behind. Since 2009, the Ms. Foundation and NoVo Foundation have been working to build a new movement to end CSA that looks beyond the criminalization of offenders (which experts agree will never fully solve the problem), and seeks instead to advance a comprehensive, community-based prevention model that encourages individuals and organizations to collaborate in unique ways to protect children from CSA before it occurs.

One exciting example of how groups are working to craft new solutions to the problem of CSA comes courtesy of a campaign and website recently launched by Ms. Foundation grantee partner Massachusetts Citizens for Children (MCC). Developed as part of the MA Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Partnership (of which MCC is the lead agency), the Enough Abuse Campaign and website are designed to provide clear, usable information that can help protect children from child sexual abuse -- and according to Monique Hoeflinger, Senior Program Officer at the Ms. Foundation for Women, theirs is an advocacy effort that breaks the mold on CSA in many ways.

In the first place, the campaign focuses on an adult responsibility model for preventing child sexual abuse -- a significant shift from the vast majority of prevention programs that focus on educating children. And the campaign offers prevention strategies grounded in the understanding that abuse happens "closer to home" -- most often among people who are known to and trusted by the child. This, too, is a departure from the dominant "stranger danger" message that that continues to inform policy and media representations of CSA.

Additionally, Hoeflinger notes, the campaign's emphasis on community collaboration truly sets it apart from previous efforts. While the majority of campaigns tend to focus on training individuals in the service sector, the Enough Abuse model locates itself within communities, and goes beyond a limited set of trainings to foster the building of real and lasting relationships among diverse stakeholders. (At present, the campaign involves 26 different organizations.)

“Massachusetts Citizens for Children is building a grassroots movement across the state of Massachusetts, community by community,"  Hoeflinger says. "They represent a unique collaboration that has shifted the conversation about child sexual abuse and provided new avenues for people to get involved.”

At EnoughAbuse.org, parents, professionals and others who have children in their lives can find the information they need about,
  • Behaviors that might indicate that an adult poses a risk to children;
  • How to differentiate between sexual behaviors of children that are "developmentally expected" and those that are inappropriate, coercive, abusive, or pose a risk to other children; 
  • Physical and behavioral signs that might indicate a child is being abused; 
  • Specific ways parents can talk to their children to keep them safe.
This new version of the website, which was made possible by a grant from the Ms. Foundation for Women, also offers visitors an opportunity to connect with communities involved with the campaign throughout Massachusetts; access advice and information for victims and abusers; sign a pledge to join the movement; and post their own testimonials about the importance of ending child sexual abuse.

For more information about MCC and the Enough Abuse Campaign, watch the following video, produced by the Ms. Foundation as part of our 'Voices From the Field' archive.

The Ms. Foundation for Women has just announced a Request for Proposals in the area of child sexual abuse. Organizations working in the field are encouraged to submit letters of inquiry. For complete details, download the RFP [pdf], or visit the grants section of our site.

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