School-Based Education Programmes for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse : A Systematic Review
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Childhood sexual abuse is a serious problem for school aged children worldwide. There is no consistent definition of sexual abuse. Some studies restrict sexual abuse to instances of sexual body contact with the child, while others define sexual abuse as any sexual behaviour in a child's presence. Whatever its form, childhood sexual abuse can have a very negative impact on a child. The United Nations' Convention on the Rights of the Child states that "children have the right to be protected from being hurt and mistreated, physically or mentally" and the international community needs to investigate ways this can be done effectively. One widespread method used is to teach school aged children, using school-based programs, about child sexual abuse and how to protect themselves from it. It is important to know if this approach works, for how long it works and if it causes any unintended harm to children and adolescents. This is the purpose of this systematic review. While this review found improvements in knowledge and protective behaviours among children who had received school-based programs, these results should be interpreted with caution. The reasons for a need for caution is that there were problems with the way that many of the original studies were analysed, children's knowledge was tested only a short time period after the program, the studies were conducted in North America and therefore may not apply to other countries and cultures, and several studies reported harms, such as increased anxiety in children. Potential harms need to be closely monitored in future studies and existing school based programs. It is difficult to know if the changes in children's knowledge and protective behaviours seen in the studies will result in prevention of child sexual abuse. As such, school-based programs should, at best, be seen as part of a community approach to the prevention of child sexual abuse.