Sexual Abuse and Necessary Guidelines
If you aren't living under a J-blog rock, I'm sure you are well aware that an ugly subject has reared its disgusting head. I think I'd be hard pressed to find a subject that horrifies me more than the very fact that my children might not be safe around the authority figures that they will encounter over the years.
I'm not going to give any background on the sexual abuse case that is being covered in a prominent New York publication, since this particular case is not the focus of my post, nor is any other case in the frum community that has come to light in the past few years (and, sadly enough, I'm familiar with a number of cases including one from a camp where a good friend worked).
The focus of my post is two fold:
1. To bring to light the fact that there are sexual predators in every community out there, including our own, that we need to protect our children from.
2. To bring to light the fact that we need to protect ourselves from potential false accusations of sexual impropriety by enacting common sense guidelines for this day and age (which ties in directly with the first subject of my post: protecting our children).
It is Our Problem Too:
Many people in our community would like to believe that frum Jews are immune from problems of sexual abuse, impropriety, and misconduct, merely by the fact that they are "frum" Jews. Even an amateur study of the perpetrators of sexual crimes against children will be able to draw the conclusion that pedophilia is not restricted by race, religion, socio-economic status, ethnicity, or creed. Pedophilia is a disease that affects all communities, everywhere.
A perusal of the Sexual Offender Registry for my neighborhood indicates that my neighborhood has a sexual offender in frum uniform, and I'm sure that if you are living in a sizable frum neighborhood, that you too have a convicted sexual offender in frum uniform in your neighborhood.
Some Facts about Sex Offenders:
Once you have removed any rose-colored glasses and are able to admit that the frum community is not immune from harboring sexual offenders , you might want to arm yourselves with some Facts about Sex Offenders (a summary is below, please see the link for more important facts):
- Most men who commit sexual offenses know their victim.
- Most sexual assaults are committed by someone of the same race as the victim.
- Most child sexual abusers do not use physical force or threat to gain compliance from their victims.
- Most child sexual abusers offend against children whom they know and with whom they have established a relationship.
- Most sex offenders are male, however, there are some female sex offenders.
- The majority of child sexual abusers attracted are not exclusively attracted to children.
- Victims of sexual assault are harmed with or without the use of force. Emotional and psychological injuries cause harm that can last much longer than physical wounds.
- If a child does not tell anyone about the abuse, it is not because he or she consented to it.
- It is common for both child and adult victims of sexual assault to wait some time before telling someone about the abuse.
- Some sexual offenders prey on one type of victim (child or adult), others prey on a variety of victims and precautions should be taken regardless of his crime of conviction.
- It helps the victim to talk about the abuse.
- Sexual gratification is often not a primary motivation for a rape offender.
- Offenders need interventions and treatments. They cannot stop their sexually violent behavior on their own if they wanted to.
- Men who rape do not do so because they cannot find a consenting sexual partner.
- Drugs and alcohol do not cause sexual offenses to occur.
- Adult and child victims of sexual abuse are never to blame for the assault, regardless of their behavior.
- Sexual assault victims may not say "no" or not fight back for a variety of reasons. Lack of saying "no" does not mean that a victim was not assaulted.
So, what can we do to protect our children?
A good resource can be found here. I've highlighted some ideas and added some thoughts below.
Speak to our children in an age appropriate way about sexual abuse. For those that are worried a talk about sexual abuse is a premature chatan or kallah class, you will be glad to know that talking about sexual abuse to young children, does not have to include talking about sex/sexuality at all. In fact, it really should only be an extension of ideas that have already been introduced to them as they learn about the Jewish way and halacha.
Younger children should know that their bodies are private, that nobody should touch them underneath their clothing, that they should only go to the bathroom with Mommy or Daddy, that they must tell Mommy or Daddy if someone makes them feel uncomfortable in any way (which includes touching, but could be something as "little" as not giving them adequate privacy or personal space), even if that person said it was a secret or that they would hurt them if they told someone. Older children, can obviously be introduced to more "adult" concepts as they become more mature.
Parents should pay attention to the relationships that develop between their children and the adults (or older children and young adults) in their lives. The facts about abuse show that abusers do not randomly grab people off the streets, to abuse them. They use familiarity to gain access and within a long-term, ongoing relationship, the abuse escalates.
Parents need to pay attention and listen to their children. When something is not quite right, children often make that known, even if they do not use words to express themselves. Pay attention if your kids to not want to be around someone or if someone is giving them attention that seems out of place. If something doesn't seem quite right, it may not be.
We as parents and community members need to make ourselves into leaders. We should be asking our children's schools, camps, and daycares about what their hiring process and insisting in no uncertain terms that it must include a thorough background check. Obviously, when hiring caregivers for the home, the same background check should be performed. If our children are away at sleepaway camp, we should have a schedule and know where our children are and who they are with.
What can we do to protect ourselves?
I am surprised that when sexual abuse is brought up in the frum community, the missing element is a discussion about protecting adults from (false) accusations is not a focal point.
Those of us who have worked in a professional capacity, be it in civil service or private industry, have been subjected to the sexual harassment workshops. These workshops educate employees about how they should be behaving in the workplace in order to avoid accusations down the line. E.g., when one meets privately with a subordinate after hours, it is hard to protect oneself against an accusation, true or false, because the behavior was inherently unprofessional. Contrast this to meeting with a subordinate in an office during regular business hours where the secretary is sitting right outside the door and is free to walk in anytime.
I find it shocking that in today's day and age, that many of our schools have not instituted codes of conduct and safeguards that protect the school and its employees. Lawsuits can cost a community dearly, especially if there is negligence and the insurance will not cover such! While safeguards are not foolproof, I believe they go a long way in protecting everyone: employees and students.
Our Rebbes and teachers are to be commended for the great amount of energy that they expend on keeping students up to speed, in making learning enjoyable for their students, and in forming relationships with their students. But, lines still need to be drawn in the sand, made known to the parents, and enforced by the administration. (And, I would say that actual sexual abuse that is discovered, needs to be dealt with by the authorities) .
I'd like to hear my readers ideas of appropriate guidelines. Some of my ideas would include: Tutoring outside of class hours should be done in public places, either in the Beit Midrash or at the home of the parents. Overnight trips and Shabbatons should include supervision beyond that of the Rebbe and his wife.
Schools should perform background checks and maintain accurate personnel records. It is imperative for schools to enact guidelines and it is imperative for parents and community members to have a place where complaints can be brought and investigated without bias.
I would also say it is imperative that all authority figures (administrators, teachers, and camps counselors) be registered in a central data base and that any complaints be recorded there for a hiring school to take into consideration. Without a central database, we have to rely on those who hired the Rebbe before. Unfortunately, we can't always rely on all employers and need a greater level of protection.
I'm open to reader comments. Please chime in.