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From its origins as a nine-month community program the Canadian Red Cross was asked to supervise in Vancouver in 1984, Respect Education (also known as RespectED) has striven to stop child abuse. Speakers address the spectrum of abusive behaviour, including emotional, mental, physical, and sexual, giving students a deeper understanding of the surrounding issues. Adults are encouraged to watch for signs of abuse and harassment, adding an extra layer of protection for children in their community.

Leslie Dunning, former Canadian Red Cross Director General of Violence and Abuse Prevention, was given an art card titled “Acceptance” as a thank you note during the late 1990s. It depicted children from across the globe within a protective set of adult arms. “It was such a powerful image for me,” Dunning noted. “You could not tell if the arms were of a man or woman or what kind of person or role they might be in – it just spoke to me about the responsibility of us all as adults to protect children.”

“It just spoke to me about the responsibility of us all as adults to protect children.”

Dunning sought out the artist for permission to use the image on thank you notes. ”It turned out that she had full size prints of the artwork and offered to donate them to us or provide them at cost,” Dunning recalled. Copies were acquired for the Red Cross’s regional offices across western Canada, as well as the national office.

One of the most prominent speakers involved with Respect Education has been former professional hockey player Sheldon Kennedy, who advocates for protection of youths involved in sports. “In my case, I believe there were a lot of bystanders,” he reflected. “A lot of people knew what was going on and didn’t know what they could do or just put blinders on. These issues scared people — we needed to eliminate that fear.” Kennedy was a founding partner of Respect in Sport, which has worked with Respect Education in promoting violence prevention.

Beyond Canada, Respect Education has been used as a model for programs elsewhere in the world. In Sri Lanka, the Red Cross partnered with local officials in 2007 to create “Be Safe!,” which was targeted at five- to nine-year-olds. “The belief that abuse is inevitable is a myth,” noted Red Cross delegate Gurvinder Singh. “When we work together, violence against children can be prevented.”


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