Innovative program with a nationwide impact for the prevention of sexual abuse of children ages 5-9
“Safe Touches” is an innovative program with a nationwide impact for the prevention of sexual abuse of children between the ages of 5-9. On the initiative of ELIZA, the program operates with the scientific collaboration of The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NYSPCC), the very first child protection organisation in the world. Graduate students of the American College of Greece (ACG), under the supervision of experienced faculty clinicians, are also part of the program’s implementation.
The main goal of this program is to help young children distinguish between ‘safe’ and ‘not safe’ touches, and to learn to say NO, in order to protect themselves from sexual abuse. The program also offers complementary information/training for parents and educators for the detection of signs and symptoms as well as management of sexual abuse incidents.
So far, 2.600 children aged 5-9, as well as 1.000 teachers and 2.000 parents have received training.
There is an urgent need for a program that will reinforce the chain of protection for all children throughout Greece
How is sexual abuse defined: according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), sexual abuse is the involvement of a child in sexual activity that he or she does not fully comprehend and to which the child is unable to give informed consent. The term “sexual abuse” also includes the exposure of children to pornographic material and sexual activities, as well as the exploitative use of a child in photographs or video recordings of sexual acts. It further includes a spectrum of activities which are intended for the sexual satisfaction or sexual arousal of an adult. We know that:
- 1 in 5 children (aged 0-18) will experience at least one incident of sexual abuse during their childhood years (1). Although this statistic may seem unbelievable to the reader, it unfortunately may merely represent the ‘tip of the iceberg’, and does not represent the full extent of child sexual abuse, as many children do not report it due to factors such as shame, guilt, fear or confusion
- The majority of cases never access the assistance of the social services (2)
- In 80% of cases, the perpetrator is someone the child is familiar with and trusts within his or her family or circle of friends (3)
- 73% of victims do not talk about their experience during the first year (4)
- 45% of victims do not disclose abuse for at least 5 years, whereas hundreds of victims never disclose their experience, fearing social stigma and feelings of repulsion and shame (5)
If, along with the aforementioned data, we also consider the long-term and destructive consequences of sexual abuse for both the physical and psychosocial development of the victim, it’s easy to understand why prevention and intervention are of utmost importance.
- CoE, 2012, Lanzarote Convention
- May-Chahal, C. & Herczog, M. (2003). Child sexual abuse in Europe. Strasbourg: Council of Europe Publishing.
- Finkelhor, D. (1994). The international epidemiology of child sexual abuse. Child Abuse & Neglect, 18, 5, 409-17. – Gallagher, B., Bradford, M. & Pease, K. (2008). Attempted and completed incidents of stranger-perpetrated child sexual abuse and abduction. Child Abuse & Neglect, 32(5), 517-28. – Finkelhor, D. (1994). The international epidemiology of child sexual abuse. Child Abuse & Neglect, 18, 5, 409-17 –Gallagher, B., Bradford, M. & Pease, K. (2008). Attempted and completed incidents of stranger-perpetrated child sexual abuse and abduction. Child Abuse & Neglect, 32(5), 517-28.
- Finkelhor, D. (1994). The international epidemiology of child sexual abuse. Child Abuse & Neglect, 18, 5, 409-17. – Gallagher, B., Bradford, M. & Pease, K. (2008). Attempted and completed incidents of stranger-perpetrated child sexual abuse and abduction. Child Abuse & Neglect, 32(5), 517-28. – Finkelhor, D. (1994). The international epidemiology of child sexual abuse. Child Abuse & Neglect, 18, 5, 409-17 -Gallagher, B., Bradford, M. & Pease, K. (2008). Attempted and completed incidents of stranger-perpetrated child sexual abuse and abduction. Child Abuse & Neglect, 32(5), 517-28.)
- Smith et al (2000). Delay in disclosure of childhood rape: Results from a national survey. Child Abuse & Neglect, 24, 273–287. – Broman-Fulks et al (2007). Sexual Assault Disclosure in Relation to Adolescent Mental Health: Results from the National Survey of Adolescents. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 36(2): 260-266
Why taking action is of utmost importance
Most often, children are sexually abused by someone they know and trust; for example, a family member, neighbour, or other family friend. Lack of education concerning the recognition of abuse, as well as lack of services dealing with such cases, increase the urgent need for information and prevention. It is of equal importance that children themselves are able to identify and report sexual abuse. They must be informed and educated in order to distinguish between safe and not safe touches and to learn to protect themselves, so that the number of cases of abused children can be reduced.
“Safe Touches” is ELIZA’s primary initiative. With scientifically valid and reliable results, this program offers an effective intervention and educational methods to support a safer future for all children in Greece.
Raising of awareness through the education of children, parents, and teachers
For children ages 5-9:
- To help children distinguish between a ‘safe’ and a ‘not safe’ touch from an adult
- To develop communication and assertiveness skills to protect themselves and learn how to ask for help from trusted adults, to stop or prevent abusive situations
For parents and educators:
- To become aware of and learn about the phenomenon, the symptoms and cases of sexual abuse and be able to identify the factors that increase the risk
- To inform and provide counselling for better communication with children and the course of actions necessary, in the event that an incident of sexual abuse is disclosed
During the implementation of the program, special focus is placed on the training of primary and preschool teachers as well as parents. Furthermore, in the event of a disclosure and a child being identified as a victim of sexual abuse, the appropriate authorities are notified and all procedures required by Greek law are followed.
Collaboration with The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NYSPCC)
The evidence-based “Safe Touches” program is being successfully implemented in schools in the USA by The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NYSPCC); it has been modified and adapted to Greek standards by ELIZA’s scientific team.
The NYSPCC was the first organization in the world founded for the protection of abused children. Since 1875 The NYSPCC has remained dedicated to the design and implementation of initiatives to protect children from abuse and neglect, as well as to strengthen family bonds, and ultimately facilitate the treatment and recovery of abused children. The NYSPCC has been implementing the “Safe Touches” program in the USA since 2007, and has trained more than 24,000 students ages 5-9, almost 600 parents and 300 teachers.
An innovative program with a nationwide impact
With respect to Greek standards, “Safe Touches” is a unique, innovative program, as it is the only evidence based program that trains young children, parents, and teachers, thus offering a comprehensive model of prevention work.
“Safe Touches” teaches children using puppets as props to convey difficult and sensitive information to children about sexual abuse and body safety. With the assistance of expert psychologists and collaborators, basic safety concepts are taught, including:
- The private parts of the body
- The difference between a ‘safe’ and a ‘not safe’ touch
- What a young child should do if an adult makes him or her feel uncomfortable or scared
- How and from whom can a young child ask for help if he or she is or has been abused.
A program which will become the forerunner for all schools in Greece
PHASE A (2016)
During Phase A of the program, the following actions took place:
- The Greek ‘Safe Touches’ team was trained by the respective team from The NYSPCC on a training program which took place in Athens. The Greek team was subsequently trained on legal issues related to cases of child sexual abuse in Greece
- The original NYSPCC “Safe Touches” program and research materials were translated and culturally adapted to the Greek standards
- A pilot phase took place which included workshops at selected schools in Attica, where 700 pre-school, first, second and third grade primary school children, 200 parents and 100 teachers were trained
PHASE B (2017-2018)
During Phase B of the program, the following actions took place:
- “Safe Touches” focused on the delivery and evaluation of the program to a representative national sample of kindergarten and first, second, and third grade primary school children in public schools in the Attica prefecture and on the island of Crete
- A total of 85 workshops were delivered to 1.700 children ages 5-9, while 147 teachers and 542 parents were informed through respective training workshops, thus securing a representative sample for Phase B
The results of the program’s evaluation are published and presented at scientific conventions by the members of our scientific team, such as:
- 6th Panhellenic Conference of Counselling Psychology, Athens, 4-6 November, 2016
- 2nd International Congress of Clinical and Health Psychology on Children and Adolescents, Barcelona, Spain, 17-19 November, 2016
- International Psychological Applications Conference and Trends (InPACT), Budapest, Hungary, 29 April- 1 May, 2017
- 16th Panhellenic Conference on Psychological Research, Thessaloniki, 10-14 May, 2017
- International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (ISPCAN) European Regional Meeting 2017, The Hague, 1-4 October, 2017
PHASE C (2019-2020)
During Phase C, all efforts will focus on the incorporation of the program within the educational curriculum in all the Kindergartens and first, second and third grades of primary schools in Greece, in conjunction with an integrated development program for public awareness.
Collaboration with the Greek Ministry of Education
During Phase A, the Educational Policy Institute approved the necessary legal clearance for access to public schools in the Attica prefecture and on the island of Crete.
The ultimate goal within the next two years is to include “Safe Touches” training in all Kindergartens and first, second, and third grades of public primary schools in Greece.
Exclusive funding by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation
Phases A and B of the “Safe Touches” program were developed and implemented with the exclusive sponsorship of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.
ELIZA’s Board of Directors as well as its scientific team express their deepest gratitude to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation who believed in the program’s potential from the start and fervently supported it.