Preventing Domestic and Sexual Violence One Classroom at a Time

Feb 1, 2023

“I get to work on prevention in every sense of the word,” said Sarah Shanahan of HAVEN NH.

“Hurters hurt,” says Esta Soler, Founder and President of Futures Without Violence. “With evidence building in support of the link between childhood exposure to violence and abusive and unhealthy relationships later in life, the need for programs that prevent violence before it occurs is clearer than ever.”

Violence Prevention Efforts in New Hampshire

HAVEN NH logoIn New Hampshire (NH), Sarah Shanahan brings such programs to students throughout Rockingham and Strafford Counties. She currently serves as the Education & Training Director at HAVEN NH, formerly known as A Safe Place and SASS, before those two entities merged in 2015. HAVEN NH is the largest violence prevention and support service agency in NH.

“HAVEN serves southeastern NH, or about 1/3 of the state’s population,” Shanahan said. “We send two-person teams into school classrooms – K through 12 – four days a week to share age-appropriate information about sexual assault with the students.” Most days the teams are double-booked. “We also teach adults how to identify and recognize the signs and to be trauma-informed in the event the child or youth responds in a way that was unanticipated,” she said. “When kids come forward, we want everyone to be the ‘right grown-up’.”

HAVEN NH offers learning opportunities for grades K through 12, but scheduling in high schools is more challenging because of varied schedules. “It’s harder to see as many students in the high schools,” Shanahan remarked.

“We don’t do this in large groups. We need to have an eye on every student. We always stay after class because sometimes a child will be motivated to come to speak with you one-on-one,” she said.

The educators see a difference in some towns. “Students come forward and frequently say ‘we had a presentation in class,’” said Shanahan. “Kids who have previously been abused are now more comfortable talking about the issue after the presentation.”

female teacher talking to young students in classroom

HAVEN’s Curriculum
  • K – 4: They share information about personal body safety using puppets. “We talk about safety rules, and how we need to listen to our bodies – that little voice that says something isn’t right,” said Shanahan “When you or your friends feel sad or like something might be wrong, find a grown-up you can tell.”
  • Fifth grade: They concentrate on boundaries: reinforcing listening to instincts and feelings that make people feel uncomfortable.
  • Sixth grade: The presentations look at the qualities the students want in all relationships; what they bring to the relationship.
  • Seventh grade: Covers sexual harassment and bullying in school and the workplace – this is illegal at school and by employers.
  • Eighth grade: The presentations focus on consent awareness, respect, and empathy. “We present a two-part sexual assault presentation; intimate partners presentation images in the media. We also include a suicide prevention presentation that includes help with practicing what to say to friends,” Shanahan said.

24/7 services to anyone affected by domestic abuse, sexual violence, or stalking.

In addition to the school outreach, HAVEN NH provides numerous other supports to children and families dealing with domestic and or sexual violence and its repercussions. This includes a 24-hour hotline (1-603-994-7233); support groups; support attending court, a child advocacy center, or the hospital; shelter; and assistance filing a restraining order.

HAVEN NH also provides a shelter for people in an emergency or imminent danger. The address is known, which is a novelty. That information is kept private at many similar shelters. In this case, people were finding there was cooperative self-policing by neighbors and law enforcement details (drive-bys). Domestic violence is one of the leading causes of homelessness; and one in three women is a victim of domestic violence, which can be physical, verbal, or emotional brow-beating. HAVEN NH works cooperatively with local homeless shelters whenever possible. “There aren’t enough shelters,” said Shanahan.

Shanahan finds there is a huge overlap between domestic and sexual violence and substance misuse. “Alcohol and drugs do not cause domestic violence, trauma does,” said Shanahan. “There are generations of kids who have had trauma without treatment. There’s a close connection between trauma and addiction. They are afraid to come forward. We are slowly getting better, though – the more we talk about it.”

male teen talking to female adult in classroom looking at clipboardWe know that exposure to trauma in childhood and adolescence, or adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), puts children and youth at higher risk of re-victimization, substance misuse, and mental health issues. We also know there are ways to prevent and mitigate these negative experiences. One effort is the Healthy Outcomes of Positive Experiences (HOPE) framework, founded by Dr. Robert Sege, and developed by the Center for Community-Engaged Medicine based at Tufts University. The framework encourages an intentional shift in focus from the negative to the positive. It introduces the possibility that children who have lived through ACEs are not destined to a life of poor health, including mental illness and substance misuse. To learn more about how HOPE is being applied in NH, visit The Partnership @drugfreeNH.

If your child goes to school in Rockingham or Strafford County, check HAVEN NH’s honor roll for your child’s school. If you don’t see it, get in touch with an administrator or guidance counselor to schedule a visit from the HAVEN NH Violence Prevention Educators.

Additional Resources

NH law requires any person who suspects that a child under age 18 has been abused or neglected must report that suspicion immediately to DCYF. To report child abuse or neglect, please call (800) 894-5533 (in-state) or (603) 271-6562.

If you think you, a teen in your life, or someone you love is being abused, the following resources are available.

  • 24/7 Confidential Statewide (NH) Hotline: 1-866-644-3574
  • Love Is Respect is the national resource to disrupt and prevent unhealthy relationships and intimate partner violence by empowering young people through inclusive and equitable education, support, and resources. Visit their website, call 1-866-331-9474, or text LOVEIS to 22522.
  • New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence works with youth, educators, and communities to prevent violence before it happens by identifying and sharing best practices and designing and implementing statewide educational campaigns.​
  • One Love Foundation is a national non-profit organization with the goal of ending relationship abuse. They empower young people with the tools and resources they need to see the signs of healthy and unhealthy relationships and bring life-saving prevention education to communities.

The Power of Prevention Podcast: Working Together to End Teen Dating Violence

On our latest episode of the Power of Prevention Podcast, guests from New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence (NHCADSV) share with us how they and their member organizations are teaching these important skills to youth starting in middle school. Listen now!

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