Dear Rebbetzin Heller: How to Discuss Sexual Abuse with your Child


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Nachlaot is reeling this week from news of a neighborhood resident who, it turns out, had been molesting neighborhood children for years. Before he was arrested, I saw this person almost every single day and he never aroused any sort of suspicion in me. Like his victims, the abuser is an Orthodox Jew. Beyond terrifying.

Here’s a few things I’ve learned over the past few days about sexual abuse:
-The vast majority of cases of sexual abuse involve an adult the child knows and trusts: relatives, family friends, and people in positions of trust.
-Children often do not realize that what is being done is abuse
-Children don’t always tell parents about abuse. If your child tells you about sexual misbehavior, take it seriously.
– Sexual abuse can have very damaging effects on a
child, which can last into adulthood. However, for many
children the effects may be relatively short-term,
depending on the individual child, the nature of the
abuse and the help they receive. How adults respond to
children when they tell them about abuse can be a very
important factor in how seriously they are affected in
the long term.
-If you have concerns about your child, or any child, and
sexual abuse you need to seek professional help.
– Help is available to deal with sexually abusive behavior.*

In her Question and Answer series Rebbetzin Heller presents a clear approach to protecting children from abusers. I already had the conversation the Rebbetzin recommends with my kids last night. (The only thing I would add to the Rebbetzin’s advice is that children need to be wary as well of inappropriate touching by people of the same gender).

(forward the video to 39:59 to watch)

Achieving Balance: G-d, Family, and Work – Clas…, posted with vodpod

Here’s a very short video about identifying a potential abuser that I found really creepy but that will definitely make me more careful in the future…

Learn more about preventing sexual abuse here


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*Guidelines taken from the booklet “Protecting Children from Sexual Abuse” by the NSPCC


  1. I am not a professional, and this is solely my own opinion.

    I think that what she says to tell children is too simplistic, and too complicated at the same time. Complicated because if the child finds himself in an uncomfortable situation, he has to remember, is this person one of the people mommy said is okay? Is this part of my body okay? But the measure isn’t who is doing touching or where they are touching. A teacher can put his arm around a child and it can be either protective and comforting, or threatening.

    I think we need to measure inappropriate touching by how it makes the child feel. That’s the simple part. If it makes the child uncomfortable, it’s not okay and she or he must tell you. It might not even be touching–it might be gifts, phone calls or preferential treatment. Or a private conversation behind a closed door.

    How do children learn what type of behavior is inappropriate? This is complex and can’t be taught in one conversation: Some of the messages we need to convey to children: “My body is mine, and no one can touch me in a way I don’t like.” That we the parents are not going to blame them for something that someone did to them, even if it’s an authority figure. That the line of communication is always open. That we trust them. That they should not keep secrets from us. And much more. And modeling these things to the degree that we can, in our own lives–for example, not letting people push us around.


  2. I agree with Hannah. I respectfully disagree with Rebbetzin Heller’s approach and also feel that it is too simplistic. Children CAN be taught from a very young age about their bodies (understanding their bodies, etc.)…about their feelings…about secrets vs. surprises…and about empathy. Research has shown that children who know the above are less likely to become victims of sexual abuse.

    Predators of abuse are very smart and very patient. They often take months or even years before they actually abuse their child victims. I have heard predators actually say that they ‘pick’ the kids who know the least about their bodies and sexuality so that they can ‘teach’ them what sexuality is and what a ‘loving relationship’ looks like.

    It is up to us parents to have ongoing, open, developmentally appropriate conversations with our children about their bodies and healthy relationships,etc. and at the same time take the responsibility to know who our children are with, as opposed to leaving the responsibility on our children to protect themselves (much like Rebbetzin Heller mentions.)

    When the State of Vermont started to teach a ‘healthy sexuality’ curriculum (and it is not as scary as it sounds) to the children in their schools, the rate of sexual abuse was cut in half.

    The more our kids know – the more it scares away predators. They seek out the kids who don’t know. Predators thrive on secrecy. It is our responsibility to speak openly about this subject matter and create more open spaces – and take away the ‘amunition of ignorance, denial, and secrecy’ from these predators.

    Anyone who would like to know more about the curriculum or anything else I mentioned above can contact me privately.

    Thank you for creating a space for subjects like this to be discussed openly and respectfully.

    ~ Jenny Sassoon


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