The spotlight is on Pennsylvania where a grand jury reported roughly 300 priests abused more than 1,000 identifiable victims over a period of 70 years. Yet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sexual abuse is a national epidemic that transcends cultures and religions, impacting 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys across the United States.
One of the CDC’s primary recommendations to prevent sexual abuse is community-based education. During the 2018 session, Wyoming legislators passed a bill authorizing school districts to integrate sexual violence prevention into health and safety programs for kids.
Jody Sanborn is a prevention specialist for the Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. She says the legislation intentionally does not mandate a statewide curriculum and the hope is that schools will collaborate with local resources to develop programming that works for their community.
“It really just comes down to being able to work with the schools and being able to connect the schools to the local entities and community-based organizations that are the experts in doing this,” said Sanborn.
Sanborn said the legislation opens up the possibility for more collaboration.
“We don’t expect teachers to be the experts in these topics, however they have this influence on these kids,” said Sanborn. “So why not work with experts at the state and local level to bring them into the schools and do the prevention that way."
Sanborn said it’s important for kids to learn about boundaries and healthy relationships right along with other essential life skills like reading and arithmetic.
The legislation also encourages schools to train parents and school staff to identify signs of sexual abuse and to intervene effectively.
Sanborn said it’s too early to tell how many school districts plan to teach sexual violence prevention.