Children who are taught about preventing sexual abuse at school are more likely than others to tell an adult if they had, or were actually experiencing sexual abuse. This is according to the results of a new Cochrane review published in the Cochrane Library today. However, the review’s authors say that more research is needed to establish whether school-based programmes intended to prevent sexual abuse actually reduce the incidence of abuse.
It is estimated that, worldwide, at least 1 in 10 girls and 1 in 20 boys experience some form of sexual abuse in childhood. Those who are sexually abused as children are more susceptible to depression, eating disorders, suicidal behaviour and drug and alcohol problems later in life, and are more likely to become victims of sexual assault as adults. In many countries, children are taught how to recognise, react to, and report abuse situations through school-based programmes designed to help prevent sexual abuse.
The Cochrane researchers reviewed data from 24 trials in which a total of 5,802 children took part in school-based prevention programmes in the US, Canada, China, Germany, Spain, Taiwan and Turkey. Schools involved in the trials used a variety of methods to teach children about sexual abuse, including, teaching of safety rules, body ownership, and who to tell through films, plays, songs, puppets, books and games. In children who did not receive the intervention around 4 in 1,000 children disclosed some form of sexual abuse. This contrasts with 14 in 1,000 children in the intervention groups, who disclosed some form of sexual abuse.
Studies also suggested that programmes were effective in increasing children’s knowledge about sexual abuse. Four trials assessed children’s knowledge again up to six months after, and showed that they remembered much of what they were taught. Children who participated in programmes were also more likely than other children to try to protect themselves in a simulated abuse scenario in which they were asked to leave the school and go with someone they did not know.