The feeling of safety and comfort often associated with living in a small city or town is a wonderful thing.
But when it comes to abuse and assault, particularly against children, that feeling is based more on perception than reality, said Victoria Strong, executive director of the Front Range Center for Assault Prevention.
More than 90 percent of abused children are assaulted by someone they know and trust, and giving kids the power and strategies to recognize and prevent abuse are the goals behind a four-day Child Assault Prevention, or CAP, program at Whiteman Primary School.
Through a series of group discussions and role playing, Strong and two other CAP workers aim to give Whiteman students the "toolbelt" to effectively deal with uncomfortable and unsafe situations.
The CAP programs vary depending on the age group targeted, and the primary focus for elementary school students is on bully assault, stranger abduction and sexual assault.
All kids have the right to feel safe, strong and free, Strong told a group of attentive fourth- and fifth-graders Wednesday afternoon inside a Whiteman classroom, and no one has the right to take those things away.
Using skits that incorporated the students, Strong, Sarah Adams and Kathryn Chambers acted out three situations: one involving bullying, one stranger abduction and one sexual assault. Each role play initially was acted out to show kids how easy it is to feel powerless in the difficult scenarios. After a discussion and strategy sharing, each role play was acted out a second time with the actors providing examples of how to protect and defend against dangerous situations.
Telling a trusted adult, such as a teacher or parent, about any situation when a child feels uncomfortable or unsafe is one thing CAP instructors hope students take from the program.
"Tell and tell and tell until someone believes you," Chambers told the students. "No one has the right to touch or kiss you in an unsafe way. You have the right to tell anyone about it."
Perpetrators of abuse and assault often target children who seem unlikely to resist their advances or bribes. Teaching all kids how to handle uncomfortable and unsafe situations is one of the best ways to prevent instances of abuse and abduction, Strong said.
"It's so important to educate all kids on their options," she said.
But working with children is only half the solution. The CAP team spent Monday night training Whiteman staff and parents in a variety of related areas, including characteristics of abused children, dynamics of assault, identifying community resources and providing prevention strategies for parents to use at home with their children.
"Without the adult buy-in it's going to be really hard to keep our kids safe," Strong said, adding that keeping tough-to-discuss issues from children only makes them more vulnerable.
"This doesn't just happen in a bad neighborhood on the other side of the tracks," she said.
"We want to empower communities to take on these issues."
Whiteman Director Nancy Spillane said she heard about the CAP program from a school in Boulder, and after discussing it with parents of Whiteman students she decided to bring the program to Steamboat Springs.
"People think we're so isolated here," Spillane said. "But we're not that isolated. Better to give a child tools and them never have to use them. If they have the tools, we've done something."
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