Stop It Now! was founded in 1992 by Fran Henry. A survivor of child sexual abuse, Fran had a unique vision of empowering adults and communities to prevent abuse before a child was ever harmed, rather than waiting for a crime to be committed, or a child to have the ability to report, or the system to have enough information and evidence to respond.
In 1992, public conversations about child sexual abuse were limited. When stories were covered in national media, they were generally cases of extreme violence of kidnapping, rape, and murder by a stranger. Prevention programs were focused on teaching children to say “No!” and to get help. This programming was important, but Fran recognized that it was only a partial solution. She believed that the enormous scale of the problem required adults to take responsibility for their own actions and the actions of others.
Fran’s visionary understanding of the complexities of prevention was due in part to her personal history: the person who abused her was her father, who she also loved and admired. She recognized that contemporary prevention programs did not account for familial sexual abuse – the majority of sexual abuse – and would not have protected her. Although she courageously spoke up as an adult, she understood that the vast majority of child victims would not report their abuse while it was happening, not wanting their family to break up and fall apart.
To develop Now!’s programs, Fran reached out to experts in the field and hired staff to ask the difficult questions. They approached each of their target audiences: adults who had previously abused, these adults’ friends and families, and parents of children and teens who had problematic sexual behaviors.
- What would have made a difference?
- Who would you have listened to? What could they have said?
- Was there a time you would have heard these messages before anyone was harmed?
Now!’s staff gathered these findings and concluded that giving people information would not be enough; they would need someone to talk with, without shame. As a result, Now! developed resources that could help adults interrupt sexual abuse before a child was harmed.
The groundbreaking materials created from these initial conversations include:
- A checklist of warning signs in adults that they may be at risk to abuse.
- Let’s Talk, a guidebook about how to have difficult conversations about problematic sexual behaviors with people we know and love.
- The first helpline in the world committed to helping adults concerned about their own thoughts, feelings, or behaviors and the adults who care about them and want to take action to prevent sexual abuse.
- A series of public service announcements to encourage conversations about child sexual abuse. (See examples from the 1990s below.)
This early work became a hallmark of Stop It Now!’s practice of asking tough questions, gathering previously undiscussed ideas, and sharing the findings with important communities.
Our early work had a significant impact on national policy and research. Founding members initiated and guided important conversations with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that led to child sexual abuse being recognized as a public health issue.