(Thousand Oaks, Ca) “Survivor experience is so unique there is no way we can predict it,” shares Gwendolyn Bouchie of Darkness to Light, a non-profit committed to empowering adults to prevent child sexual abuse. “We need to get beyond a ‘one size fits all’ approach.”
In a typical high school classroom of thirty students, an average of three of those students are survivors of sexual abuse – and the teachers have no way of knowing which ones they are.
On September 4, The Conejo Valley Unified School District (CVUSD) Board of Education formally passed a policy that notifies students and parents when there are titles on the syllabus with potentially traumatizing content and provides a way for survivors of sexual assault and other trauma to select an alternative book if desired. The process is completely confidential with no mandatory disclosure of the reason required. The policy has no impact on other students in the classroom that choose to read the regularly assigned book.
“Trauma informed education is not about banning books,” explains Katie Rhodes, Director of Local Programs at Forever Found, a non-profit organization dedicated to support the prevention, rescue and restoration of child trafficking victims. “At times it means introducing content to victims and helping them process it and become aware of what should happen, such as reporting a rape or violent act. Trauma informed education is about allowing the survivor to process at their own pace.”
The new policy passed in the CVUSD ensures students and parents are provided with an idea in advance of what is contained in some of the required English literature so victims of abuse or trauma are not unwittingly blind-sided and experience re-traumatization through such content.
“Darkness to Light applauds the efforts of the Conejo Valley Unified School District to bring trauma-informed care into their classrooms and to their students,” states Katelyn N. Brewer, President and CEO of Darkness to Light, a non-profit organization focused on the prevention of child sexual abuse. “With the many challenges students face, it’s vital that educators and other adults partner with students to show we see them, hear them, and are prepared to help them overcome those challenges and head toward bright futures.”
Helping the Public Better Understand The Need for Trauma-Informed Education
Even though most high school classrooms have students who are survivors of sexual abuse, it is easy to think that this only happens elsewhere. We want to believe that it cannot possibly happen here in the Conejo Valley. Unfortunately, it does.
“At Forever Found, we have seen the tragic reality and regularity of child sexual abuse here in Ventura County,” observes Rhodes. “Abusers use power dynamics, manipulation, and threats to control victims. Therefore, it is crucial to give young people choices in their healing process–to empower the return of their autonomy, dignity, and free thinking. We support any efforts to be sensitive to young people who maybe have been traumatized and to educate adults in helping roles on the importance of being trauma-informed.”
Definition and Statistics Regarding Child Sexual Abuse
According to the RAINN website, a national anti-sexual violence organization, “child sexual abuse is a form of child abuse that includes sexual activity with a minor. A child cannot consent to any form of sexual activity, period. When a perpetrator engages with a child this way, they are committing a crime that can have lasting effects on the victim for years. Child sexual abuse does not need to include physical contact between a perpetrator and a child. Some forms of child sexual abuse include:
- Exhibitionism, or exposing oneself to a minor
- Masturbation in the presence of a minor or forcing the minor to masturbate
- Obscene phone calls, text messages, or digital interaction
- Producing, owning, or sharing pornographic images or movies of children
- Sex of any kind with a minor, including vaginal, oral, or anal
- Sex trafficking
- Any other sexual conduct that is harmful to a child’s mental, emotional, or physical welfare.”
People are generally very shocked to learn the percentage of our students that are impacted by sexual abuse. A study from the organization Darkness to Light provides some additional little-known facts about sexual abuse including:
- About 1 in 10 children will be sexually abused before age 18
- 1 in 7 incidents of sexual abuse perpetrated by juveniles occurs on school days.
- Of children who are sexually abused, 20% are abused before the age of 8.
- A history of sexual abuse increases the chance of dropping out of school.
- Use of alcohol or drugs at an early age can be a sign of trauma such as child sexual abuse.
According to the Journal of Child Sexual Abuse 16(1), the public is not fully aware of the magnitude of the child sexual abuse problem and one primary reason is that only about 38% of child victims disclose the fact that they have been sexually abused. An article in Child Abuse & Neglect, Issue 24, reveals that some survivors never disclose.
CVUSD Takes Steps Towards Trauma-Informed Education
Many required reading lists for high school English classes, including in the Conejo Valley Unified School District, have books that contain graphic and potentially disturbing portrayals of child rape and other violence.
The new CVUSD alternate assignment policy empowers students so that, if they choose to do so, they have a private and embarrassment-free way (with no questions asked) to receive an alternative reading option if they feel it is necessary for their emotional and mental well-being.
Providing alternative choices signals to the hundreds of abuse victims that attend CVUSD schools that they are cared about, understood and that the teachers and staff are willing to do whatever possible to ensure they are emotionally, as well as educationally, supported at school.
All victims of sexual assault, rape and abuse are encouraged to confide in a trusted friend or loved one and to seek help from professionals. They need to be believed and provided with assistance. Their well-being and recovery should always be of the greatest concern and importance.
UPDATES: Additional quote added by Katie Rhodes.
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