3 Ways to Protect Children from Sexual Abuse

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Last week, a Nachlaot resident was arrested for molesting a large number of neighborhood boys over the course of several years. Like his young victims, this man was an Orthodox Jew.

In the aftermath of this local nightmare, I decided to speak with our dear family friend Harabbanit Tami Samet, a senior psychologist in the Israeli school system, in order to learn what parents can do to protect their children from sexual predators.

The following are HaRabbanit Tami’s 3 main suggestions about how parents can keep their children safe:

Psychologist Tami Samet advises:
1. Do you know where your children are?

It is imperative that parents know where there children are every minute of the day.

I know this isn’t easy. Many women have large families, and/or live in closed religious communities where the accepted norm is to let children play on their own. But from experience, I have seen again and again that the worst things can happen in the least expected places. Children have been molested in their front yard, in the lobby of their family’s building, in the playground next to their home, etc. And the people doing these terrible things are often the people you would least suspect.

Therefore, as a rule, young, pre-school-age children must never be allowed to play outside the home unsupervised. If your child is playing outside, and you need to go inside, you should appoint another trusted adult to be responsible for watching your child while you aren’t there

Careful adult supervision is especially important for young children since children under the age of 6 have notoriously poor judgment. A stranger could give a child candy, and then that child might think that she must do whatever the stranger tells her to do. We absolutely cannot trust such young children to make wise decisions in dangerous situations.

For children who are already school-age, while you don’t have to supervise them at all times, you must make sure that you know where they are at all times. Some children come home from school and inform their parents that they are leaving the house “To play with a friend until dinner.” As a parent, it is your responsibility to ask that child “Which friend are you visiting?” “Where will you be?” “Who else will be there?”

At times, living in a “safe” community such as a settlement or a religious neighborhood can in fact lead to a false sense of security and lack of supervision which could, G-d forbid, endanger our children.

2. Bad People don’t Always Look Bad
In the religious community, we raise our children to respect adults. So if an adult looks religious, a child will generally assume that this is a good person that he or she can trust. We must teach our children that bad people don’t usually look like the evil characters in children’s books with a patch over one eye and a keffiyeh wrapped around their necks. In real life, we must teach our children that a bad person can also look like a good person or a religious person.

In general, we need to teach our children that dangerous things can happen, and that a bad person might try to seduce them G-d forbid, and that they need to be careful.

Parents must tell children explicitly that if another person asks them to do things that make them feel uncomfortable or that are forbidden, then they must say “No!” We need to teach our children that nobody is allowed to touch the private areas of their bodies, or any other area of their body without permission.

3. Keep your Eyes Open
If your child is exhibiting unusual behavior, or comes home upset, you should check out what happened. There is no need to interrogate your child, but you should ask your child what happened or if something upsetting took place at school that day. And if your child tells you about something that sounds like sexually inappropriate behavior, you should definitely investigate the matter seriously.

To learn more about how to discuss sexual abuse with your children, watch this video with Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

May our increased awareness of the dangers of sexual abuse keep our children and all children everywhere safe!

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  1. First time commenter

    I appreciate these suggestions but I have more to add.

    1. The most common situation is one where the perpetrator is well known to the child.

    2. Perpetrators “groom’ their victims by gaining their trust over time.

    Having good communication with your child on a daily basis might reveal information about suspicious behaviour please G-d in the initial stages. More challenging is finding a way to let your child know that they can trust you enough to tell you about situations that arouse feelings of shame in them.

  2. Tamar Miller

    Thank you Jenny for bringing up an incredibly important matter in our communities. I also would like to add that if your child (son/daughter) is being driven to school by a male driver, this should also be a red alert for parents. In other words, the driver needs to be checked out thoroughly (however, sometimes he might have a great reputation and yet no one knows that he’s a danger around children). My husband and I were looking into a private driver who took other girls to school and we were told by our Rav that if our daughter was the last one to get off that we should not continue using him. She actually ended up being the last one off sometimes and so we had to stop using him. Alternatively, I have heard that now many school buses etc (for boys) have a female escort on the bus with them in order to avoid these types of occurences.

  3. This is a great article and should be re-posted in all community magazines. Thanks.

  4. two resources recommended to me by people who read this post:
    An excellent article about discussing sexual abuse with children by Bracha Goetz

    a video made by the Boy Scouts called “A Time to Tell.” I didn’t watch this, though it was highly recommended by a reader

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