Preventing Child Sexual Abuse:

Research Inconclusive About Effectiveness of Child Education Programs

GGD-96-156: Published: Jul 26, 1996. Publicly Released: Jul 26, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed research results on programs designed to educate children on how to avoid becoming victims of sexual abuse.

GAO found that: (1) of the numerous studies that are being done on the effectiveness of child sexual abuse education programs, there is no direct evidence that any of these programs are effective in reducing the incidence of child sexual abuse; (2) although the research focused on whether children could acquire knowledge about sexual abuse and learn skills to avoid abusive situations, it was not clear whether children actually retained or used the knowledge they acquired in these programs; (3) research reviews agreed that these programs were most effective in teaching concepts to older children and when using active rather than passive methods; (4) definitive conclusions regarding program effectiveness could not be drawn because of numerous methodological limitations; (5) the outcome measures used in the evaluation studies were not valid indicators of prevention because many of the results were self-reported and outcome measures were not standardized; (6) many of the research studies lacked comparison groups, did not pretest children's knowledge, skills, and anxiety prior to their entrance into programs, and had inadequate follow-up periods; and (7) better research is needed to demonstrate the effectiveness of sexual abuse education programs.

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