Helping keep kids safe by broaching a difficult topic: Unsafe touch - Stavros Niarchos Foundation

Helping keep kids safe by broaching a difficult topic: Unsafe touch
28 MARCH 2022

Their cheeks are pinched, their hair is stroked, their backs are patted, and their foreheads are kissed. It’s not always easy for a child to distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate touch by others, to voice concern, or to seek help—even when the stakes can be devastating.

Unfortunately, statistics show that unsafe touches—sexual abuse—are not a rare occurrence. According to research, 1 in 5 children will experience at least one incident of sexual abuse, with 90% of cases perpetrated by a member of the immediate family. And while these incidents occur frequently and sometimes repeatedly, many of them are never reported.

In an effort to change this situation, to get these numbers—numbers that represent thousands of children— to zero, ELIZA (the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) took the initiative to implement a specially designed school program for children ages 5-9. We at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) knew we need to stand by their side and support them in this important effort. Through a grant from SNF, the SAFE TOUCHES program from SNF partner the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was adapted for a Greek context by the experts at ELIZA. The program, launched in 2016, expanded gradually from an initial pilot in a few schools to more schools across Attica and Crete.

How does SAFE TOUCHES work? The program works to explain difficult concepts to children, such as which parts of our bodies are private; how we can tell the difference between a safe and an unsafe touch; the fact that unsafe touches can come from anyone, even someone you love and feel close to; and that it is not your fault if you, as a child, experience an unsafe touch. These topics and more are covered through discussion and sketches featuring puppets acting out various roles. Approximately 4,000 children, 315 teachers, and 890 parents have received training, since the beginning of the program.

The program has now been digitized and is available via asfalesaggigma.gr so that more schools can include it in their curriculum and spread the knowledge to even more children.

Surveys show that among children who participated, knowledge of what constitutes an unsafe touch has increased significantly since implementation of the program began. Against the deplorable number of sexual abuse incidents in Greece now stands solid knowledge. And in some cases, knowledge may be the very thing that can help thousands of children avoid an unsafe touch.