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Sexual Abuse Prevention Program Q&A with Noni Classen

Your College and You spoke with Noni Classen, Director of Education for the Canadian Centre for Child Protection (C3P), about the many benefits of the sexual abuse prevention program and how C3P is working with the College to tailor it for teachers. The mandatory online program launches on January 1, 2022. Members will have until August 31, 2022 to complete it.

For more information about C3P and their initiatives, please visit their website at protectchildren.ca.

How will teachers benefit from completing this program?

Noni Classen: This training is a collaboration between the College and C3P to increase the capacity of teachers to safeguard children in their care and reduce the risk of child sexual victimization within communities and schools. Teachers hold a unique position of trust and develop authentic and meaningful connections with their students every day. The program helps teachers recognize signs that a student may need support or be in distress and provides the tools to respond in a supportive and protective way. It also helps teachers recognize the importance of professional boundaries, offers a standard of measure for healthy interactions with students, and encourages bringing forward concerns if they witness boundary transgressions between an adult and a student.

What makes this program different from other available resources on this issue?

Noni Classen: While educators already receive information and training on child protection—for example on duty to report—this training is designed to help educators recognize and respond to signs of student sexual abuse and reduce the risk of it occurring. It addresses what constitutes child sexual abuse, grooming, handling a disclosure, the impact of abuse, and the critical role healthy professional relationships have in the protection of students.

What makes healthy professional relationships so important?

Noni Classen: Educators play a vital role in communities where close and caring relationships with students are fostered, which is vital to overall well-being and development. Positive experiences are tied to healthy relationships between teachers and students, as well as to safe environments where there are clearly established guidelines for professional boundaries between adults and youth.

The community turns to teachers to model behaviour that builds resiliency and trust in students. A clearer understanding of appropriate behaviour helps educators maintain boundaries while also being more vigilant about behaviour that is inappropriate. We know that concerning behaviour, even if it is not criminal, erodes trust because it crosses boundaries that should not be crossed.

What does the program have to say about disclosure?

Noni Classen: It’s an unfortunate reality that most young people who have been sexually abused do not disclose. For those that do, disclosure is rarely a one-time event. It is a process that typically begins with them “testing the waters” with a trusted adult, often in a non-verbal way.

Healthy relationships establish the trust necessary for a student to initiate disclosure, and teachers are better equipped to support them throughout the disclosure process. Not only does trust allow for earlier intervention, we also know that survivors who feel supported throughout the disclosure process are more likely to successfully recover.

In the past, we’ve waited for the child to say something. Everything hinges on disclosure. But it is not realistic or responsible to have that expectation.

How does this program set a new standard for regulated professions in Ontario?

Noni Classen: This is a provincial first, and it is really setting a high standard of child protection that goes beyond a common duty to report. I’ve had numerous conversations with people across the country, and they are following this very closely.

Many adults have a gap in identifying signs that children are being sexually abused. This program fills that gap by giving teachers an enhanced awareness of those signs and really recognizing and honouring the important role teachers have in the lives of students.

What else can you tell us about C3P’s work?

Noni Classen: In 2017, C3P launched Project Arachnid, a web platform designed to detect known images of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) on the clear and dark web and issue removal notices. Since its launch, Project Arachnid has detected more than 41 million suspect images and sent more than 8.8 million removal notices to content providers.

Around the same time, we released the results of our first International Survivors’ Survey, in which survivors voiced valuable information about their experiences to help us better serve Canadian families and children, as well as provide important recommendations for the services and organizations that intersect with survivors.

Through these results, and our subsequent work with survivors, we are learning to better understand the life-long impacts of child sexual abuse material and its distribution in order to create tailored education and prevention resources and support services for victims. These two key initiatives are the cornerstone of C3P’s organizational pillars of reducing the availability of CSAM online and supporting survivors.


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