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April 2016Vol. 17, No. 2Special Initiative Article: National Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Child maltreatment can take many forms—neglect, emotional and physical abuse, and sexual abuse. During Federal fiscal year 2014, there were over 48,000 instances of child sexual abuse in the United States.1 The trauma from this maltreatment can have a lifelong effect on a child's well-being. Fortunately, there are many resources available to families and child welfare professionals that help with recognition, treatment, and prevention of sexual abuse. In addition, Sexual Assault Awareness Month is nationally observed during April, bringing groups and organizations across the country together to spread awareness and resources for prevention and treatment. This year's theme, "Prevention Is Possible," aims to help move people away from the mentality that there isn't a solution or, if there is, it is impossible to achieve. By promoting safety, accountability, thoughtful policies, and healthy relationships, prevention becomes part of a broader societal change.

Experiencing childhood trauma, such as sexual abuse, puts children at risk for poor mental and emotional health later in life. Since children are more likely to be sexually abused by someone they know and trust, it is important for professionals and interested parties to recognize the signs of abuse and teach prevention methods to children and their families. While awareness and prevention are priorities, trauma-informed practice is just as important. As the short- and long-term effects of trauma have become better understood, more specially designed programs and services have emerged. Visit Child Welfare Information Gateway's Trauma-Informed Practice webpage at for information and resources on assessing and treating trauma. Other resources professionals can leverage include:

Finally, possibly the most important step one can take to help children who experience sexual abuse is to listen and believe them when they speak up. Many prevention programs rely on children reporting to adults they trust. With these and other tools and strategies, prevention is possible.

1 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children's Bureau. (2016). Child maltreatment 2014. Available from