Beyond the Mandate: Moving “Upstream” to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse

When we think about CSA (Child Sexual Abuse), it’s easy to feel overwhelmed at the scope and seriousness of the problem. It doesn’t help that the issue is steeped in stigma. Many people feel incapable of talking about it, let alone actively working to stop it.

For mandated reporters, this uneasiness is even more complicated. We know we are required to report abuse. We may work directly with children day-to-day, and we know what to do if we suspect that a child is being mistreated. We’ve gone through the training for mandated reporters that teaches us how to recognize and report CSA. But what further steps can we take to promote children’s safety and wellbeing?

This question is at the core of why NOVA promotes Upstream Prevention.

What is the theory behind Upstream Prevention?

If you or I spotted someone floundering in a river, we’d call for help or go to rescue the person immediately. But what if, moments later, another person appeared? Then another, and another, until the river was filled with people struggling for life?

The situation would become more dangerous by the second. We might not be equipped to save each person swept away by the current.

At some point, we’d ask how all those people fell in the river in the first place. We’d have to move upstream to find the source of the problem. Only then would we be able to get people out of harm’s way, rather than saving them at the last minute.

What is the mandated reporter’s role in CSA prevention?

In Child Sexual Abuse prevention, “going upstream” is critical to children’s safety. Being able to spot signs of abuse and respond appropriately is an important first step, but we must then learn ways to stop it from happening to begin with. The responsibility lies on us, as adults, to advocate for children’s safety in all areas of life.

Mandated reporters are responsible by law for being the child’s voice when we suspect abuse. But the role we fill in our communities goes beyond dialing a hotline number. When we are entrusted with children’s wellbeing, we’re the ones who have a full view of the systems in our workplaces, homes, and organizations — and who can work to improve them.

How can we go beyond the mandate?
What if we mandated that two adults must always be present in all youth-serving settings? What if we always instituted an open door policy for private music lessons? What if we taught every child it’s OK to say “no” to unwanted physical touch? Such principles are designed to help you go beyond the mandate to prevent Child Sexual Abuse, and are taught as part of NOVA’s CSA Stoppers Training curriculum.

Research tells us that putting such rules into practice is vital to children’s safety. We can create far safer environments by taking small, easy steps like these.

There is no magic wand to stop CSA for good. Despite current prevention efforts, it’s still happening, likely to at least one child you know (it’s estimated that 1 in 10 children are sexually abused before they turn 18). That’s a sobering statistic. Fortunately, the research-based strategies mentioned above not only teach us how to recognize the signs of abuse, but to understand the situational factors that allow it to occur. This is an area where mandated reporters can further their training to create safer environments everywhere, ensuring that children stay protected from sexual abuse and fewer reports need to be made.

NOVA’s CSA Stoppers Training is available to Bucks County residents at no cost. We teach evidence-based strategies that take the mandated reporter training a step further. The program presents practical tools that you can easily take back to your home, workplace, school, church, or other organization. CE credits are available for many licensed or certified professions.