Circles of Safety In Higher Education Settings

We believe that individual investment combined with team effort can change organizational culture and bring about lasting proactive prevention of child sexual victimization. 

Circles of Safety for Higher Education addresses the need for a campus-wide, multidisciplinary team approach to the prevention of child sexual abuse. Grounded in a process-oriented pedagogy, this training provides the tools for the prevention of child sexual abuse and helps college campuses begin to create a culture of prevention.

Circles of Safety for Higher Education integrates previous Now! trainings, knowledge of the barriers to taking action and an understanding of what mobilizes adults to be preventive.

"Colleagues leaving the training will become highly informed individuals who will be prepared to integrate this 'new information' within their sphere of influence both on and off campus. - Kathleen Howley, Deputy Vice Chancellor, Academic & Student Affairs, PASSHE

  • “How to Speak Up and Keep Children Safe from Sexual Abuse”
  • “Recognizing and Responding to Children’s Sexual Behavior”
  • “Recognizing and Responding to Adults’ Behavior”
  • “Fostering a Culture of Prevention in your organization”
  • “Team Action Planning”

Stop It Now! and the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) have collaborated to customize Circles of Safety for the higher education setting. The Circles program relies on a tiered approach involving System leadership, key university representatives and a cross-disciplinary team from each of the 14 universities in the System. The Circles of Safety for Higher Education program trained prevention team members to be resources to the larger university community and to introduce the community to effective practices to create safer environments for children and the adults who care about them. 

Program activities include:

  • Consultation with Now! staff on organizing your team and preparing for the training
  • Two-day training delivered by Now! trainers
  • Follow-up consultation to support team efforts 

Stop It Now! has invested over the years in providing services which go beyond training and include our Helpline program, web-based prevention tools, specialized materials,  and customized consultations. These support services further ensure the success of implementing a successful child sexual abuse-free environment on higher education campuses.

For information on how to bring this program to your campus, contact:

Deborah Donovan Rice, Program Director
Email: drice [at] or Circles [at]
Phone: 413.320.6113

Additional information available upon request. 

Through the generosity and vision of Sue Paterno and the Paterno family, Stop It Now! was able to customize and implement the  Circles of Safety training program for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education and member universities. Staffing, data collection, curriculum adaptation, delivery of training and external evaluation were supported through this grant.

By bringing the program to your campus you will help administration, faculty, staff and students:

  • Learn practical steps to prevent sexual abuse
  • Identify risks and opportunity for prevention
  • Develop the confidence and comfort to act preventively
  • Implement a prevention focused action plan
  • Understand how policies and practices can be used to help prevent children from being sexually abused
  • Define behaviors along a continuum from appropriate to inappropriate to harmful to illegal
  • Define at least two critical strategies in each of these four areas: 
  • Screening and selecting employees and volunteers
  • Guidelines on interactions between individuals
  • Monitoring behavior
  • Responding to inappropriate behavior and breaches in policy
  • Commit to shared responsibility to take action before a child is harmed

Customization and Implementation - Sample Steps

Once Stop It Now! is contracted to bring Circles to your campus:

1. Now! staff meet with team leaders both virtually and onsite to determine campus needs.
2. Assessment steps begin to determine current programming and knowledge using  questionnaires,  and individual and team discussions.
3. Customization of the  curriculum is developed
4. Training implementation plan is developed
5. Two-day training onsite
6. Online coaching and phone consultation
7. Evaluation steps continue throughout

Frequently Asked Questions About Circles of Safety

Why is it challenging to address CSA?

Let’s be clear. Almost all adults are convinced they would speak up and intervene if they became  aware of a child at risk of being sexually abused. But research and the experience of many  survivors of sexual abuse demonstrate more often than not, adults don’t speak up.

Why? Because we all want to view people that we know as “good,” and to believe naively that  we’ll recognize the “bad” ones.

One of the greatest barriers to preventing childhood sexual abuse is this either/or thinking.  When any of us has to choose between two extremes, we’re generally reluctant to re-categorize  someone we respect into the negative category without absolute proof. But research shows  most people who sexually abuse children are complicated individuals with good qualities as well  as a horribly destructive problem. They are not solely manipulative monsters.

To be safe, children need the adults in their lives to embrace this complex reality.

What is true for individuals is also true of systems since they are made up of individuals.  Adults  within systems don’t need to determine what bad intentions someone has to take decisive  action. They need to recognize when good, interpersonal boundariesi are being violated.  Whatever the intentions, the person at risk to abuse a child is setting dangerous precedents.  These are the warning signs adults can learn to recognize and use to prevent abuse – before it  happens.

Why is prevention of child sexual abuse important to campus life?

Students are on the cusp of adulthood about to enter the work force and take on the responsibility for the next generation of children. For this reason, Circles is expected to have an exponential impact on eradicating child sexual abuse. 
Implementing Circles of Safety sends a message to the 1 in 10 students who likely had the experience of being sexually victimized as children that their institution cares about them and will support them to address the impact of their experiences.

In addition, the number of children and youth coming  onto the campus can be quite large. The PASSHE system calculated over 300,000 children on their campuses a year. In many cases, a college campus is a community resource for the larger community. By bringing prevention to college campuses, we are increasing the odds that a child is protected from sexual harm.

Why focus on higher education?

 In the words of Dr. Victoria Sanders, Assistant Vice Chancellor/Chief Compliance Officer and Title IX Coordinator for PASSHE:
• University administration, faculty and staff are stewards of thousands of college students and thus are in a unique position to start the uncomfortable but necessary conversation about preventing the sexual victimization of children.
• Since many college graduates enter the workforce as frontline providers of education, healthcare, and social services to children and families, they will be empowered to know how to identify abuse and to create safe environments to prevent it.
• Educating employees about awareness and prevention helps to create a culture where the abuse of children is known to be intolerable and does not occur and the role of prevention is well understood.

How can policies and practices be used to help prevent children from being sexually abused and create safer conditions?

Effective policies:
• Set the framework for what is required to prevent and intervene when necessary
• Encourage people to speak up about concerning or uncertain behaviors and practices
• Give professionals safe and efficient ways to speak about warning signs of risk to abuse in an adult without making accusations
• Balance caution and caring
• Define and discuss what is okay and not okay in your organization

Prevention Innovations evaluated Stop It Now!’s Circles of Safety for Higher Education program for higher education. The results of our assessment demonstrate the efficacy of the Circles of Safety bystander-focused curriculum for preventing and ending child sexual abuse in higher education settings.

For Prevention Innovations Research Center's evaluation briefing sheet, click here.

Media Clips from the Circles of Safety announcement with the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education funded by Sue Paterno

The Paternos' quest for redemption
ESPN, January 22, 2015

PASSHE fighting child sexual victimization on college campuses
PUblic Opinion, Chambersburg, PA, March 31, 2015

Training to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse on College Campusus Proven Effective; Sue Paterno Urges Broad Adoption Nationwide
PA Information News Service, April 9, 2015

Paterno's Push Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Program
ABC27 News, Harrisburg, PA, April 9, 2015

Sue Paterno Backing Program that Prevents...
CBS21 News, State College, PA, April 9, 2015

Sue Paterno offers her take on Penn State's debate over honoring JoePa, April 9, 2015

Sue Paterno spearheading child abuse awareness program on college campuses
The Morning Call, April 9, 2015

Sue Paterno at forefront of anti-abuse program
NBC8 News, Susequana Valley, April 9, 2015

Preventing Child Abuse on College Campuses, April 9, 2015

Paternos back anti-abuse program at state colleges, April 10, 2015

'We've got to get this solved': Paterno family takes key role...
Pittsburg Post-Gazette, April 10, 2015

Sue Paterno personally funds more than $200,000 in child sexual abuse prevention training
The Daily Collegian, April 16, 2015

Sue Paterno’s new program important step in fighting abuse
The Daily Collegian, April 17, 2015

Financed by Paterno family, program targets child sex abuse on campuses
TribLive, Pittsburg, PA May 3, 2015