IPT Book Reviews

Title: Designing Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Programs: Current Approaches and a Proposal for the Prevention, Reduction and Identification of Sexual Misuse  Positive Review Positive Review
Author: James J. Krivacska
Publisher: Charles C Thomas, 1990

Charles C. Thomas, Publisher
2600 South First Street
Springfield, Illinois 62794-9265


In this 328 page book Krivacska examines the premise of current child sexual abuse prevention (CSAP) programs gaining broad support in schools across the country.  The author examines the basic elements of CSAP programs and suggests that the approach is inappropriate for the target population.  Instead, an alternative model for prevention is presented that details a new strategy based on three major components: a) promotion of normal childhood sexuality, b) enhancement of social competency, and c) age-appropriate instruction in child sexual abuse concepts.  The new model, entitled the PRISM (Prevention, Reduction, and Identification of Sexual Misuse) program, is based on theoretically sound methods that have a great deal of potential.  The book is relevant to the work of educators, school social workers, prevention specialists and parents who are interested in a suitable education for their children.  The contrast between what is and what might be in the field of prevention allows the reader to consider which model is most appropriate for children of all ages.


The author tackles an issue that is highly controversial and approaches the subject from an analytic perspective that may prove unpopular with traditional CSAP program promoters.  CSAP programs are well-accepted among the general population and have been provided in the school setting with little information about their true experimental nature.  The programs are appealing to parents and school staff because they apply seemingly elementary procedures to an extremely complex problem.  Their presentation is usually accompanied by songs, rhymes and puppets that appear to be directed at children's development.  But as Krivacska shows, the presentation masks the content of the programs; the premise of the programs themselves is anything but appropriate for children's developmental abilities.

This book details a number of problems with traditional CSAP programs.  For example, the majority of the programs are based upon rape prevention strategies employed by women.  These tactics are applied to children with the expectation that they will be equally useful for a younger audience.  The premise of the programs is largely built upon a model of empowerment wherein children are taught that they have rights to assert themselves and to protect their bodies.  CSAP program promoters assume that children can and will make careful distinctions about the nature of a touch by providing language regarding a "touch continuum," or rules that determine "safe" or "unsafe" touches.  The model also presumes that children will be able to overcome powerful feelings of attachment and affiliation and will report instances of abuse by a close friend or family member.

Krivacska reviews each of the program concepts and scrutinizes their meaning based upon developmental theory.  He also examines CSAP program implementation using learning theory as a backdrop to his argument.  An analysis of other prevention approaches (i.e., smoking prevention, alcohol abuse prevention, etc.) is also provided with a full discussion of the elements that make for their success.  In his attempt to feature each of the areas in which CSAP programs are unsuitable for the goal of child abuse prevention, the author may lose the reader in detail.  CSAP programs can certainly be examined along a number of dimensions, however this breadth takes away from the main focus of the book and it is sometimes difficult to bring the reader back to the original point.

In contrast to the traditional methods of child abuse prevention, Krivacska offers a new approach which he calls the PRISM method.  This program is outlined in Chapters 7 and 8, with separate activities and concepts delivered to children of differing developmental abilities.  Starting in the preschool and early elementary years, children are provided with "sexuality enhancement" education and "social competency enhancement" skills.  The later elementary curriculum builds on skills learned in the earlier years with the continuing development of social competency.  At this time, children are provided with a limited role in first identifying, and then reporting sexually misusive behavior.  In early and late adolescence, sexuality education is expanded to discussion of the importance of mutual respect and responsibility in sexual relations.  The concept of body rights is also proposed at this stage.

At each developmental stage a different form of teaching method is described, including modeling, behavioral training, and group discussion.  Krivacska also suggests that the implementation of the program cannot be done in one or two lessons such as traditional CSAP programs.  He contends that the model might require 45 to 50 lessons, including two or three lessons per week.

One of the most compelling elements of the newly designed PRISM program is its inclusion of sexuality education in any discussion of child sexual abuse prevention.  The author makes a convincing argument that the development of a healthful understanding of childhood sexuality and the bounds of appropriate sexual activity will give the child a context for understanding the misuse of sexuality.  This education will also go a long way in providing true primary prevention as it will teach children about mutuality and respect in physical and social interactions and will therefore interrupt potential misuse of sexuality into adulthood.

While this is the most interesting aspect of the proposed program, it is also the most controversial.  Given the current social climate, parents and teachers may find it difficult to accept the school's role in providing sexuality education.  The author's response to this potential resistance can be seen in his reaction to a concerned school board member regarding the tradeoff between providing sexuality education and sexual abuse education:

The first view says that to teach children about their own bodies, about the feelings their bodies give them, about love and sexuality which is a natural part of all of our existences from the day we are born, will corrupt, damage, or cause harm to children's development.

The second view says that instruction in the most socially abhorrent and aberrant form of sexual deviation, including the most disturbing distortion of human sexuality as expressed in incest, is beneficial and helpful in the protection, maturation and nurturance of the child's sexuality.

The argument is persuasive, yet it may not be sufficient to sway large groups of parents and teachers.  Instead, readers could benefit from a full description of the procedures that may be necessary to gain the endorsement of a school community for the provision of such an education.  While the inclusion of sexuality education may be essential to a discussion of child sexual abuse prevention, its ready acceptance in the schools may take some time to realize and Krivacska may be ahead of his time with this suggestion.

Despite its intermittent lack of focus, Krivacska's book offers a much-needed review and critique of child sexual abuse prevention programs.  He provides a thought-provoking model for an innovative prevention approach with clear instructions for its presentation.  The model, however, is speculative, supported by theory and reason but as yet unsubstantiated by research.  Using this book as a guidepost, schools and communities are challenged to implement this creative approach and evaluate it for its effectiveness.

Reviewed by Jill Duerr Berrick who is a psychologist and Project Director of the Family Welfare Research Group at the University of California, Berkeley.

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