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Voices from the Field: Denise Kerkhoff on Child Sexual Abuse Prevention

It sounds like you try to get people in your community talking about child sexual abuse. What are some of the things you’ve done that have worked really well?

“Big events are great and create excitement and a lot of buzz but don’t discount the smaller round table type of interaction.  I think it is the small group talks that really spark passion and interest; civic organizations, professional staff meetings, small groups within churches, study clubs, any and all youth related organizations. Writing guest columns and/or letters to the editor on current topics related to sexual violence is always a free and easy way to provide information to the public.  Often you can also clear up stereotypes and misperceptions related to that current event, while encouraging the readers to have a family conversation about the situation.

This fall as part of “Let’s Talk” month in October, we did a weekly session on our local radio station. One week I focused on talking with really young children, then with elementary age students, then I talked about pornography, and finally I talked about what teenagers need to know. It really helped because people who heard the first one told others so the audience built. I still get calls from people who heard me on the radio so we’ll try to do that again. During a side conversation with the Radio Host, we talked about trafficking which led to her interviewing our Regional Navigator! “

What are some lessons you’ve learned along the way?

“Get into churches!!!  Work with them on their safety and screening policies!  Having strong effective policies in place at churches is crucial to primary prevention.  It also gives you the opportunity to provide education on the issue of sexual abuse in general and your organization and the services you provide.

Also, it can be very hard to get parents and community members to come out for events related to child sexual abuse—for a variety of reasons!  While we still do these, we’ve learned to really have an impact and draw people in, we need to get someone well known as a speaker. This April we’re hosting Patty Wetterling and Alison Feigh from the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center. They’re going to be both talking with adults (at Rotary and an evening community event) and to youth in the local school. I’m really excited because the funding for this came from a family member of some survivors who wanted to spread the message that if you’ve been sexually abused or assaulted you are not alone and there are places to go for help. “

What are some of the ways that you try to bring primary prevention into your child sexual abuse prevention work?

“Anytime we talk about grooming practices or how to have a conversation about consent, we are teaching primary prevention. When we teach personal body safety to children we don’t just focus on how to keep them safe from others but also talk about their own boundaries.  “Is it okay for you to ask someone else to touch and see your private parts?” should be a question posed in every personal body safety presentation.  We just modify the question as the children get older.  No matter the presentation, article, interview we can always work in statements or questions that teach primary prevention. “

–         Denise Kerkhoff, New Horizons Crisis Center