Elementary School Outreach:
Hugs and Kisses Program
Hugs and Kisses is a traveling theatrical production which educates elementary school children about how to keep safe from, or report, sexual abuse. Families Forward also provides training for professional cast members and teachers.
Performed by the Virginia Repertory Theatre, Hugs and Kisses reaches about 40,000 Virginia elementary students per year.
Families Forward Virginia co-coordinates 160 performances a year in coordination with the Virginia Department of Social Services and local schools. Families Forward also provides training for professional cast members and teachers. Hugs and Kisses is based on a book by Bruce Craig Miller and A. Terry Bliss with music by Richard Giersch.
Additionally, the Hugs and Kisses program teaches educators how to responsibly and respectfully respond to a child's disclosure of abuse and how to route those disclosures to the proper authorities.
For more information, visit the Virginia Repertory Theatre website here.
Click here to learn more about child abuse prevention and how parents and caregivers can support healthy development of children and the prevention of child sexual abuse.
This is the
Hugs and Kisses and to date
Virginia children have disclosed sexual abuse
after watching the
Hugs and Kisses program.
Elementary School Outreach
The Hugs and Kisses theatrical play teaches elementary school children the concepts of good, bad, and secret touching, the right to say “no” to secret touching, secret touching is never their fault, and the importance of disclosure to a trusted adult.
The Hugs and Kisses program arms elementary school teachers with the knowledge of the warning signs of grooming behavior in adults as well as indicators of sexual abuse in children.
Additionally, the program teaches
educators how to responsibly and respectfully
respond to a child’s disclosure
of abuse and how to route those
disclosures to the proper authorities.
Director of Child Abuse Prevention
for Families Forward
Hugs and Kisses Success Stories
Six Young Victims
At one elementary school, six different little girls came forward to report abuse, not knowing any of the others had done so. When each girl told the CPS worker about the man who had been molesting her, it turned out that each described the same person! The ensuing investigation found that a man who lived near the school was sexually abusing a number of little girls. (None of the girls was aware that the others were being abused, for the perpetrator threatened all of them with serious consequences if they told.) He was successfully prosecuted and is currently serving decades in prison.
During a performance at a Richmond City elementary school, the actress playing the lead role noticed a 2nd grade girl in the audience crying softly and made a mental note to seek her out if she didn’t come forward after the performance. Luckily, she did, and told the actress that she was “just like her”, that she was being “secret touched.” The child climbed into the actress’s lap and proceeded to tell her a horrific story about what her stepfather was doing to her. (It is unusual for children to tell their stories to the performers who are taught not to pry but to praise the children for having the courage to come forward. The performers rarely know the outcome of their interventions.)
After the child met with the CPS worker, she insisted on returning to the safety of the actress’s lap. It was difficult for both the child and the actress when the little girl had to return to class, but she was reminded that she would now be safe. A few months later, the actress, who was dressed as Cinderella at the Virginia Rep’s Fairytale Ball, heard a child calling her name. It was the same little girl, looking very different! She had reached a healthy weight, was clean, her hair was neatly braided, and she had new glasses. She had come to the ball with her new foster parents.
Child Sexual Abuse Does Not Discriminate
Several years ago, a prominent private school that “didn’t have those problems” agreed to host the play at the insistence of the PCAV board president whose children attended the school. After the performance, a 9 year old girl disclosed to Child Protective Services that both parents were sexually abusing her in a variety of ways. They were arrested and convicted, and the child is living with relatives. The school has booked the play many times since.
Things Get Better if You Tell
Recently, a little boy who had been sexually abused and has been receiving ongoing services at our Child Advocacy Center in Richmond, saw Hugs & Kisses at his elementary school. The little girl sitting next to him started crying during the play. When it was Q&A time, he asked her if something like that had happened to her but she wouldn’t answer. He then told her that "secret touch" had happened to him and that things would get better if she told. He went with her to talk with one of the actors who connected her with their “special friend”.
From the Stage
Louise Keeton, actress from Hugs and Kisses, discusses her incredible journey with the production.
Thank you to Brad Neff for producing this video.