by Sandy K. Wurtele, Ph.D.
Preventing Sexual Abuse of Child
Sexual abuse of children was just a dirty little secret when Sandy Wurtele was growing up in all-American Nebraska City, a small town on the western bank of the Missouri River.
After a B.A. at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, and a master's degree and a doctorate in clinical psychology at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, Wurtele found herself in 1983 teaching at Washington State University, where she determined that a behavioral skills training program was more effective in teaching kids about sexual abuse prevention than a film on distinguishing "bad" from "good" touching.
Because of her practicum and internship while completing degrees, the psychologist already knew she wanted her focus to be prevention of abuse rather than treatment of victims.
"During my practicum I saw how incest by her father had transformed a 6-year-old into what looked and acted like a 20-year-old prostitute," remembers Wurtele. "During my internship at the University of Mississippi Medical Center I ended up even more frustrated with therapy vs. prevention."
With support from principals in elementary schools in two small towns nearby, Garfield and Palouse, Wurtele began evaluating different ways of teaching school-age children to recognize and resist inappropriate requests. In 1988, she moved to the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, where she offered programs on body safety to parents and children at local preschools and in Head Start classrooms.
"Working at Head Start was especially valuable in teaching me the importance of involving parents in body safety education," she says. "My research shows that children learn best when taught by their parents."
While at UCCS, Wurtele has also been able to survey hundreds of molesters to determine what childhood experiences can prompt sexually offending behavior. Even more important for parents of today's children, she has learned how offenders typically groom children. This information is an important part of Out of Harm's Way: A Parent's Guide to Protecting Young Children from Sexual Abuse (Parenting Press, 2010, $9.95) and Safe Connections: A Parent's Guide to Protecting Young Teens from Sexual Exploitation (Parenting Press, 2012, $9.95).
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