Montpelier child sex abuse prevention group’s work wins $1.6 million CDC grant

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A Montpelier-based nonprofit group is about to help push the boundaries of scientific research into how to prevent child sexual abuse. Prevent Child Abuse Vermont’s curriculum is one of just three programs of its kind nationwide that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are enlisting for a new study.

Prevent Child Abuse Vermont is teaming up with two researchers. One of them is at Northeastern University in Boston, while the other is at the University of Illinois-Chicago. PCAVT executive director Linda Johnson has known the two of them for more than 20 years.

“When we saw this request for proposals come out — to investigate, and evaluate rigorously, sexual abuse prevention programs that were well respected, had good evidence, but had never been rigorously, scientifically evaluated — we just felt they were calling to us,” Johnson said.

That call came from the CDC Injury Center in Atlanta. The trio’s answer has won a $1.6 million dollar grant, and the CDC should give the researchers the funding before the end of the year.

They’ll use the money to study two PCAVT child sexual abuse prevention programs to the test, with the results likely to eventually appear in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. The programs are aimed at preschoolers through fifth-graders, their parents and school staff. Sixteen public charter schools in Washington, DC will put those programs through their paces.

“We wanted to be able to have the rigorous evaluation done in a more diverse community,” Johnson said. “People will say, ‘well, you know, it worked in Vermont, but how do we know it’s going to work in Baltimore?’.”

She expects the PCAVT programs to make a noticeable difference. Johnson cites existing data from Vermont which dates back to 1992, before the prevention programs were developed.

“There’s actually a 77% decrease in the number of victims (since that time), and only 12% now of all child sexual abuse is committed by youth,” she said. “When we started, it was 47%.”

The two PCAVT programs to be studied have been used in no fewer than 30 U.S. states. They even have some international demand.

“Including a kindergarten in Teheran (Iran),” Johnson said. “Canada. We just had some interest from Morocco, which is exciting. Alaska, Oregon and Texas reached out to us on Monday.” However, even with the national and international attention, she wants to make sure anyone in our region that wants PCAVT’s programs can use them.

There are two ways you can call the organization toll-free. From within Vermont, you can reach them at 1-800-CHILDREN. If you’re outside of the Green Mountain State, that number is 1-800-975-7147. There’s also a contact form on PCAVT’s website which you can use to write to them.

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