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Frequently Asked Questions About Circles of Safety

Why is it challenging to address CSA?

Why is prevention of child sexual abuse important to campus life?

Why focus on higher education?

How can policies and practices be used to help prevent children from being sexually abused and create safer conditions?

Can you give an example of the customization and implementation steps taken to bring Circles to my university?


Why is it challenging to address CSA?

Let’s be clear. Almost all adults are convinced they would speak up and intervene if they became aware of a child at risk of being sexually abused. But research and the experience of many survivors of sexual abuse demonstrate more often than not, adults don’t speak up.

Why? Because we all want to view people that we know as “good,” and to believe naively that we’ll recognize the “bad” ones.

One of the greatest barriers to preventing childhood sexual abuse is this either/or thinking. When any of us has to choose between two extremes, we’re generally reluctant to re-categorize someone we respect into the negative category without absolute proof. But research shows most people who sexually abuse children are complicated individuals with good qualities as well as a horribly destructive problem. They are not solely manipulative monsters.

To be safe, children need the adults in their lives to embrace this complex reality.

What is true for individuals is also true of systems since they are made up of individuals. Adults within systems don’t need to determine what bad intentions someone has to take decisive action. They need to recognize when good, interpersonal boundariesi are being violated. Whatever the intentions, the person at risk to abuse a child is setting dangerous precedents. These are the warning signs adults can learn to recognize and use to prevent abuse – before it happens.

Why is prevention of child sexual abuse important to campus life?

Children are at risk on your campus and this creates risk for your institution. The number of children and youth coming onto the campus can be quite large. The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education calculated there were over 350,000 children on their campuses a year.

Institutions need to be prepared to answer parents’ questions about how the institution will insure their children’s safety. For questions parents are asking, check out our Tip Sheet: What Parents Need to Know When Selection a Program for Their Child

Adding the prevention of child sexual abuse allows an institution to be much more transparent during admissions and recruitment time because employees and volunteers will have been trained.

Students are on the cusp of adulthood about to enter the work force and take on the responsibility for the next generation of children. For this reason, Circles is expected to have an exponential impact on eradicating child sexual abuse.

Implementing Circles of Safety sends a message to the 1 in 10 students who likely had the experience of being sexually victimized as children that their institution cares about them and will support them to address the impact of their experiences.

Effective screening policies can deter those at risk to abuse children from being hired by an institution.

Why focus on higher education?

In the words of Dr. Victoria Sanders, Assistant Vice Chancellor/Chief EEEO Compliance Officer and Title IX Coordinator for PASSHE:

  • University administration, faculty and staff are stewards of thousands of college students and thus are in a unique position to start the uncomfortable but necessary conversation about preventing the sexual victimization of children.
  • Since many college graduates enter the workforce as frontline providers of education, healthcare, and social services to children and families, they will be empowered to know how to identify abuse and to create safe environments to prevent it.
  • Educating employees about awareness and prevention helps to create a culture where the abuse of children is known to be intolerable and does not occur and the role of prevention is well understood.

How can policies and practices be used to help prevent children from being sexually abused and create safer conditions?

Effective policies:

  • Set the framework for what is required to prevent and intervene when necessary
  • Encourage people to speak up about concerning or uncertain behaviors and practices
  • Give professionals safe and efficient ways to speak about warning signs of risk to abuse in an adult without making accusations
  • Balance caution and caring
  • Define and discuss what is okay and not okay in your organization

Can you give an example of the customization and implementation steps taken to bring Circles to my university?

Stop It Now! staff meet with key institutional stakeholders to discuss your current programming and assist with identifying needs for your campus. Meeting(s) may be onsite or virtual.

The option for additional needs assessment is available through the administration of a questionnaire developed by Now!. Focus groups can be scheduled if additional customization is desired. Keep in mind, Circles of Safety for Higher Education has already been customized for the higher education setting.

Once an agreement is in place to bring the program to your campus, Now! staff deliver the following:

  1. Support to organize your cross-disciplinary team (invitation emails, description of responsibilities and other supportive materials are provided)
  2. Information gleaned from customization activities is integrated into the curriculum.
  3. Two-day training onsite prepares your team(s) to implement their prevention action plan developed during the training.
  4. Post-training, regularly scheduled conference calls support full and sustainable implementation of the program including adapting the take-away training module in your setting.