How to keep the focus on prevention amid the noise of current events
by Ann Snyder, Public Affairs Coordinator, Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers
One of the maxims for PR specialists when dealing with an issue is, “Answer the question you want to be asked, not the one you are asked.” It’s become a truism because it works. It’s all about the pivot.
Pivoting to the topic you want to discuss, rather than allowing the other person to drive the conversation, helps you cut through the noise of current events. So how do you pivot to prevention while still being responsive to the many questions and concerns about sexual abuse you receive from the media and general public? It involves four simple steps:
- Know what you want to say,
- Practice saying it,
- Understand how that message relates to current events, and
- Pivot to that message using a three-step process that 1) acknowledges, 2) corrects, 3) and educates the person with whom you’re talking.
How does this work in practice? If you want to focus on prevention, be prepared. Develop key talking points you can keep on hand. Save them on your phone, carry them on a card in your wallet, keep them on your desk. Make sure they are easy to understand. Use short sentences and avoid technical language. Practice saying them until they come easily. Your goal is to deliver your prevention message every time you speak with reporters or the general public about sexual abuse.
When someone talks with you about sexual abuse, the questions they ask may not be about prevention, but you can make them about prevention by 1) acknowledging, 2) correcting, and 3) educating the person asking the questions. The following examples are for talking with the media, but they apply equally to talking with elected and appointed officials and the general public. These are just examples; you will want to use the key prevention messages your organization promotes.
- A reporter calls for your comment about proposed legislation to increase residence distances from schools for individuals on sex offender registries. You can respond by saying that:
- you support and share the legislature’s goal of promoting public safety, but
- residence restrictions don’t address the fact that most sexual abusers assault people they know, and
- a better means of PREVENTING child sexual abuse would be to invest in educating parents and children about such things as personal boundaries, healthy sexuality, grooming behaviors, and factors that can lead to abuse.
- A reporter calls for your comment on a court case involving a celebrity who is on trial for sexual assault. You can respond by saying that:
- you understand that people may be surprised by this story, but
- unfortunately, sexual abuse occurs at all levels of society and it is not uncommon for sexual abusers to harm others from a position of power and trust, and
- businesses and other organizations can help PREVENT sexual abuse from occurring by taking steps such as implementing and enforcing sound HR policies, educating managers and staff on what to look for, and teaching people how to safely speak up and intervene.
- A reporter calls requesting statistics on sexual assaults because s/he is writing about a local campus rape. You can respond by:
- sending not only the specific statistics requested, but
- also statistics about offenders, victims, trends, and other issues, and
- include information about effective PREVENTION measures such as campus safety policies and practices, parent and student orientation programs, and other topics.
- A reporter calls about the number of registered sex offenders living in the community. You can respond by saying that:
- you share everyone’s concern for keeping children and families safe, but
- public registries are not very effective at reducing risk to the community because most people who have sexually offended once do not do so again, so registries don’t help reduce crime rates any further; registries use a one-size-fits-all approach based on stranger-danger and do not address the fact that most perpetrators offend against people they know; registries take scarce resources away from law enforcement by requiring monitoring of everyone on a registry rather than focusing on those who present a higher risk to reoffend; and
- the best way to keep communities safe is to focus on effective PREVENTION techniques such as educating parents and children about such things as personal boundaries, healthy sexuality, grooming behaviors, adequate group supervision, and factors that can lead to abuse, and by ensuring people at risk to offend receive the treatment and supports they need to change their trajectory.
Shifting a conversation about sexual abuse to a discussion about prevention raises people’s awareness about the factors that can lead to sexual abuse and helps them understand how they can play a role in stopping sexual abuse before it starts. By following these guidelines, you can respect individuals’ original concerns and questions, while at the same time reframing the issue and educating people about effective prevention strategies. It’s all about the pivot.
Public Affairs Coordinator
Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers