Understanding Sexual Abuse, Professionally and Personally

Personal and Professional Roles

It is difficult at times to separate our personal selves from our professional roles. 

People who choose to enter law enforcement or other service professions often have personal histories that include various types of childhood trauma.

Such backgrounds often motivate people to help others avoid or survive the traumatic events which they themselves experienced as children. 

One of the goals of this training is to increase your ability, both personally and professionally, to recognize and understand child sexual abuse and increase your level of comfort when talking about child sexual abuse.


Why might we, professionally and/or personally, avoid the topic of Child Sexual Abuse?

  • The reality that this type of abuse exists is difficult to comprehend
  • Negative messaging learned from our own cultural background
  • The challenge of talking with children about CSA prevention
  • Lack of time in our settings to build a safe space within which to address the topic
  • Our own history of abuse
  • Lack of training

We cannot help but bring our own beliefs, life experiences, and backgrounds into our work. And that’s okay!  But being aware of these issues and asking ourselves a few important questions will increase our comfort level and help us gain insight as to how this affects our professional interactions with students and teachers. 

1.Was sex, sexuality, and normal sexual development spoken about in a comfortable way within your home of origin?

2.What messages did your culture, religion, or place of birth teach you regarding talking about sexuality and abuse?

3.Did you learn what Child Sexual Abuse was from your family? Friends? Media? The internet? 

4.What have you learned through life experience about preventing abuse? Raising safe kids? 

5.Do you understand the often-indirect language of children in need?

Take time to explore your own understanding of child sexual abuse and how it impacts (often silently) the children and adults you work with. 

Understanding the important role SROs can play in the ongoing battle against child sexual abuse.

As School Resource Officers you play an integral role in safe-guarding the students, staff and campus. 

Your presence is seen and felt by the students in your school’s common areas, the halls, the cafeteria, and upon entering and exiting the school campus. 

To many students, even those with whom you might never speak, you serve as a role model. You are looked up to!  And for some you might become the mentor they desperately need.  

Your everyday demeanor, communication with students and teachers, and visual presence sends a direct message to students and staff as to whether you are an approachable SRO. An approachable SRO carves out time to be present routinely on campus. This gives children the opportunity to seek help. 

Understanding and Modeling Professional Boundaries in a School Setting

The reality that child sexual abuse does occur in school settings means that every professional working in a school—SROs especially—must strive to model safe and proper boundaries to every student. 

To help guide your own thinking and boundary-setting decisions, ask yourself each day: Might anything I am doing, saying, or asking of a student be misinterpreted by anyone, including other staff and the students themselves?

To further guide your thinking and decisions, familiarize yourself with the three categories of behaviors by professional staff in school settings. 

Green Light Behaviors 

Behaviors that are appropriate and acceptable

  • Using age-appropriate humor and friendly comments
  • Modeling age-appropriate communication with students
  • Giving compliments that are not overly personal
  • Spending time with all students, not with just one child or a single group of children
  • Setting a tone of mutual respect
  • Modeling appropriate boundaries. When alone with a child, make sure the door to the room is open and that you and the child are in plain sight. 
  • Practicing “safe-touch”. If you do have physical contact with a child, make certain it occurs only on “safe touch” areas (shoulders, upper back, arms, hands, and head). 

Yellow Light Behaviors 

Behaviors that may be misconstrued or are signs of grooming, need to be addressed by administration

  • Singling out a student for favors
  • Giving overly personal comments, gifts, notes, etc.
  • Teasing that references gender or contains sexual innuendo 
  • Making sexist comments 
  • Playing physically with students in classrooms or hallways 

Red Light Behaviors 

Behaviors that cross professional boundaries and need to be addressed immediately. 

  • Touching children frequently 
  • Being alone in a room with a child or teen 
  • Commenting on children’s bodies 
  • Talking to a child about sexuality 
  • Talking about your own sexuality 
  • Talking about your personal problems 
  • Meeting children outside of school and away from school grounds  
  • Driving with children/teens  
  • Lap sitting  

Congratulations!  You now have increased awareness and knowledge of the complexities and impact of child sexual abuse. 


Understanding the silent epidemic of CSA will enable you to spot the signs of abuse, connect students with appropriate resources, and view children and their behavior through a trauma-informed lens. 

Remember that most children will never report abuse.  They will display their pain in ways that impact their experience at school. Children often communicate something through their behavior, such as truancy, aggression, self-harm, or acts of harm toward others. 

Having this training information available in your SRO toolbox will assist you to identify students in need – and may even save a life. 

Child sexual abuse is never a child’s fault. It is always the perpetrator’s fault. 


Victims rarely lie about sexual abuse.

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