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Trigger Warning: Abuse and Sexual Abuse

Help is available – if you or someone you know needs assistance, please visit https://www.essential4kids.org/helplines

At TPPP, we emphasize the many positive benefits of comprehensive sexual health education.

Healthy relationships!
Better physical health and health outcomes!
Positive school climate with less gender-based bullying!

It is one of the most fun warm-up exercises we do at TPPP when we invite educators to brainstorm all the important ways sex ed impacts students – the list goes on and on. New research from Drs. Eva Goldfarb and Lisa Lieberman published in the Journal of Adolescent Health provides further evidence in support of comprehensive education programs. Their review of three decades of research showed that the positive outcomes of age-appropriate, comprehensive sexual health education go far beyond the traditional measures of unintended teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection (STI) prevention to include sexual, social and emotional health, and academic outcomes.

An essential and foundational component of comprehensive sexual health education, which was highlighted in the Journal of Adolescent Health, is sexual abuse prevention. According to the Missouri Child Abuse Prevention Education: Guidance and Training Materials released in the fall of 2020:

“Child sexual abuse is a silent epidemic in Missouri and throughout the nation. Children of all ages, races, ethnicities and economic backgrounds may experience sexual abuse. Child sexual abuse affects both girls and boys in all kinds of neighborhoods and communities. According to the CDC, nationally about one in four girls and one in 13 boys experience sexual abuse at some point in childhood (CDC, 2020a). In Missouri, there were 5,225 substantiated cases of child abuse and/or neglect in Fiscal Year 2019, 34 percent of which were cases of sexual abuse (Missouri Children’s Division, 2020). Additionally, in 2019 Missouri Child Advocacy Centers served over 9,000 children, 6,050 of whom reported sexual abuse (National Children’s Alliance, 2020). These numbers mean that whether you work with youth, are a parent or are simply a member of a community, it is highly likely that someone you know or care for has experienced, or is currently experiencing, child sexual abuse.”

In 2019, Missouri legislators approved a statute requiring trauma-informed, developmentally appropriate sexual abuse training for students in 6th grade and up starting in the 2020-2021 school year. If you are not familiar with the statute, you can find it here. In addition, both Missouri KidsFirst and the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) have compiled resources and best practices to assist school districts in implementing the sexual abuse training requirements.

Missouri KidsFirst School-Based Education Webpage
DESE Health & Physical Education Webpage & Missouri Healthy Schools YouTube

In order for schools to effectively provide the training required by law, they need the support of the broader community along with resources for students and families who have experienced abuse. As proponents of comprehensive sexual health education and child wellbeing, we all have a role in supporting the implementation of this statute. Abuse is a difficult topic which unfortunately impacts a significant number of people. It is important that parents, teachers, administrators and community members understand the extent of the issue and the valuable impact prevention programs have. Programs that address sexual abuse prevention have been shown to be effective at increasing knowledge and skills that protect children without increasing their anxiety. Educators and community advocates can assist in promoting abuse prevention education by reviewing the guidance provided by Missouri KidsFirst and DESE, supporting their school district in selecting an appropriate curriculum and applauding their efforts to provide this essential prevention education. Service providers can coordinate with districts to address the needs of individuals and families impacted by abuse.

Sexual abuse prevention is just one element of comprehensive sexual health education, but it is one that we must not shy away from. It has the potential to prevent and mitigate the lifelong impact of abuse and create a culture in our schools and the community where children are safe and heard. We have an unprecedented opportunity to ensure young people across Missouri receive resources and education to prevent abuse. Let’s work together to make sure sexual abuse prevention is at the top of the list of positive outcomes from sexual health education in Missouri.

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