Children and adolescents

  Population considerations:

  • Underreporting. Children are less likely to report that they have been abused for fear of family embarrassment, shame or disbelief. Children are also easier to manipulate and may not report the abuse if they have been threatened by the perpetrator (Pierce, 1984).
  • Cognitive development. Sexual assault prevention programs that are geared toward school-aged children are often too complex for younger children, and younger children may have difficulty processing intervention messages and strategies (MacMillan, 1994). Likewise, younger children learn differently than older children and may forget what they have been taught (Rispens, 1997), which can decrease the effectiveness of prevention programs.
  • Access to education. Most sexual assault interventions that target children occur in school settings. While these types of interventions are useful, they fail to reach children and teens not in traditional school settings and who are more than likely to be at higher risk for becoming victimized (Vezina, 2007).
  • Parental consent.Parental consent is generally required for child participation in most activities. If parents object to their children participating in an intervention, the intervention may be less effective, and access to help may be restricted (Hickman, 2004).
  • Limitations with self-report. Many interventions involving adolescents rely on self-reported information from the participants to determine whether or not they have been victims of violence and what effect it has on them. The problem with this method is that adolescents often have different opinions of what constitutes abuse and have different ways of interpreting the abuse (Wekerle, 1999), which could have an effect on how they perceive the situation. Consequently, how victims perceive the situation affects how receptive they are to the intervention.

  Strategies to address these considerations:

  • Reinforce intervention messages. Repetition can help young children comprehend and apply intervention messages. For example, if school boards implement prevention programs into the regular curriculum at their schools, it will increase the likelihood that the children will remember what they are learning (Rispens, 1997).
  • Provide community-based opportunities. Community-based outreach and interventions can be useful in targeting children who do not attend school (Vezina, 2007).
  • Use different intervention methods. In addition to self-report, interventions should include other objective methods that can determine whether abuse has been perpetrated and what emotional effect it has on the victim (Wekerle, 1999).
  • Tailor interventions.Interventions should be tailored to meet the needs of the populations of interest. This means developers should consider age, maturity, attention span, cognitive development and learning style.Involve parents.Increase the likelihood that parents will consent to education programs by raising parental awareness of sexual assault and involving parents in the development of the intervention.

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