Mission Save The Smiles (STS) is an initiative under AWARE that addresses child sexual abuse: its prevalence, prevention and processing/reporting/handling. Accepting the facts and educating adults is the first step to preventing child sexual abuse. We know that prevention is possible, and STS exist to empower adults and children to show that prevention is possible. Our team also explores avenues to improve public policy and criminal justice response to sexual violence. The aim is to achieve a long-term impact, by improving training of local professionals, encouraging participation of individuals in prevention and care, providing support and education for children in their communities.

We are guided by the motto: Children deserve to have happy and healthy childhood memories. And to create such conducive environment that preserves the happiness and innocence of a child- is an Adult’s responsibility.

Who can take responsibility?

It is an Adult’s responsibility to prevent Child Sexual Abuse. It is an Adult’s responsibility to Save The Smiles. By adults, we mean parents, survivors, family members, law enforcement, and professionals of all types. Even people who might sexually abuse a child have an important role to play in prevention.

All adults should take full responsibility for ending sexual abuse.

Where to Start ?

1. Educate Self: Learn Facts. Abolish Myths. There are numerous myths and misconceptions around child sexual abuse and getting sound evidence-based information can be hard. The context of sexual abuse itself is misconceived by many. It is of general opinion that sexual abuse involves contact between two bodies, but did you know that CSA encompass non-contact abuse as well? Know your facts on prevalence of CSA (a hyperlink to the page that lists outs facts and myths). Half knowledge is worse than ignorance.

2. Create Child Friendly Spaces: Home is where your story begins. Child sexual abuse often takes place under specific, often surprising circumstances. 81% of CSA incidents for all ages occur in one-perpetrator/one-child circumstances. Most sexual abuse of children occurs in a residence, typically that of the victim or perpetrator. Learning about these facts allows for the development of strategies to avoid or minimize child exposure to such circumstantial situations (a hyperlink to the page about Creating Child Friendly Spaces). When every adult will proactively seek to keep children safe, CSA will begin to diminish.

3. Intervene early: CSA can lead to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Sexually abused children face extreme trauma, if not properly treated, this can result in a lifetime of PTSD, depression and anxiety. Early recognition of abuse can reduce long-term psychological harm and the potential of future exploitation. Children often show us rather than tell us that something is upsetting them. Changes in their behaviour can be attributed to many reasons, but if we notice a combination of worrying/warning signs, it is time to seek professional help. Learn the signs (a hyperlink to the page about behavioral changes). More often than not, perceived “misbehavior” by uptight society is the coping strategy developed by children who have been chronically abused.

4. Trauma-informed response: Healing begins with guided care. The trauma of sexual abuse can lead to cascading impacts throughout a child’s life—unless trusted actors respond with greater awareness and skill. Abuse takes trust and control away from children. Such a child needs the supportive environment at home, school and public spaces that will look beyond judgments, that can be a part of the solution by helping the child regain their sense of personal power, develop healthy boundaries and learn to re-establish trust. Abuse trauma is a syndrome that affects not just the victim but their family as well. With carefully measured comprehensive systematic approach healing is possible for the whole family (a hyperlink to the page on how to respond responsibly). Recognizing the warning signs combined with compassionate protocols for how to respond can turn an entire community into child advocates.

5. Take it forward: Spread awareness. The first step towards awareness is accepting that CSA is a universal problem and in making the problem visible. Unfortunately, many people feel that talking about CSA is taboo, even though we know it happens and know that it’s a crime. Some survivors are cut off from supports like family, friends and community members when they talk about their experiences. This isolation can make it harder to heal and combat future occurrences. By connecting with other individuals at home, workplace and communities one can put a potential abuser at risk. One can minimize or eliminate the vulnerability surrounding a child by initiating age appropriate dialogue on body, sex and boundaries (a hyperlink to the page on age-appropriate talk). By engaging in proactive conversation on CSA – its prevalence and effects, we as a society can take concrete steps to prevent it from happening in the first place. Break the culture of silence, break the taboo.

6. Step toward change: Nurture safe practices. Children of every gender, age, race, ethnicity, background, socioeconomic status and family structure are at risk. No child is immune. But the good news is that CSA is preventable but we can’t put the responsibility on children to protect themselves. We as adults should change the narrative by Challenging Old Patterns and Expanding New Alternatives in parenting methods. Start by practicing consent with your child, with any child for that matter. Learn the lingo or professional terminologies available. Adopt practices that promote safe spaces while interacting with any child (a hyperlink to the page for title is yet to decided). A change in perspective can arm a child with knowledge and power that might save them from being victimized.