Sunday, January 16, 2011

Addressing Abuse in Our Community

These were sent by a friend recently, and I requested and was given permission to post them publicly. While I'm posting this, it's a good place to write that I've also been pointed recently to a new book called Hush by "Eishes Chayil", reviewed in Tablet, by Chana, and by Bad4. It apparently is rather highly regarded by all who've read it that I've seen.

Addressing Abuse in Our Community
By: Shloimie Zimmerman, Psy.D.
General Community:
  • Annual – Children’s safety shabbos- Rabbonim and/or professionals address these topics
    • Educating the community and normalizing addressing these issues
  • Creating universal precautions and guidelines
  • Education, Education, & more Education!
    • Aimed at prevention & intervention
    • Must be ongoing & developmentally appropriate – Cannot rely on a one-time “talk”
    • For: parents, school personnel, children, Rabbonim and community members
    • (Areas of education to focus on are contained below)
  • Reporting alleged abuse to civil authorities (RCA resolution 2010)
  • Adjudicating cases in civil courts (RCA resolution 2010)
  • Publicizing the policies of organizations regarding abuse (e.g., reporting, adjudicating, behavioral guidelines, dealing with allegations, etc.)
  • All pediatricians are instructed to inform children at their annual checkup (and initially at their next contact) that any unwanted approach/touch/threats should be dealt with by running away and yelling for help as loud as they can (R’ Matisyahu put this in place in Lakewood and it has met with success)
  • Remember the majority of perpetrators are familiar to the child and/or family and utilize the relationship to gain access to and the cooperation of the child
    • It is much harder to see/ respond when it’s our “own” / when we know the person
    • Remember: Abusers don’t wear a sign & nobody is infallible
    • Combat the drive to ignore the signs and to maintain the status quo
    • Stanger abduction/abuse is rare- yet it gets much more of our attention
  • Children should never request or take rides from individuals they do not know and do not have express permission from their parents to take rides with
  • Children should not have their names (even just their first names) visible (e.g., on Yarmulkes, Backpacks, etc).
  • Parents should be advised to supervise any meshulach and /or guest and not allow them unrestricted access to their children.
  • Child Protective Services (CPS) attempts to keep children in homes and families together
    • They will work with our community and its resources to serve the family
  • The Orthodox community has professionals/ organizations to help you through this
  • How the parents and community respond is predictive of how the victims will fare
  • Collectively we can literally save countless lives
  • Children can heal and lead healthy, productive, and happy lives after abuse

  • What does NOT Work:
  • Ignoring the victims!
    • We must take allegations very seriously and ACT thoughtfully and appropriately
    • Sweeping it under the rug fosters the continuation of the abuse cycle
  • Threats: including exposing perpetrator to family and/ or community, any form of harm e.g., physical, emotional, financial, etc. (Actual public exposure can help maintain safety)
    • This is a serious illness that needs to be addressed –they know they are doing something that can lead to all the aforementioned forms of harm but do it anyway!
  • Relocation – They will just prey on other innocent victims
  • Silent Resignation (i.e., allowing individual to leave position without disclosure)- If there are grounds for resignation there are grounds to protect others outside that organization as well

Shuls/ Mikvaos/ Community Centers:
  • Youth events/ groups (e.g., shabbos groups, pirchei, melava malka) should always have at least two staff members present at all times and staff should not be allowed to split off with individual children (see bathroom policy under yeshivas)
  • Parents should be encouraged to be present as chaperones and/or to check frequently and randomly on the children
  • A child should never enter/ be sent to the mikvah alone. A parent should always go with the child or only allow the child to go when there are many people present
    • Teach children  that no one (only parents) should ever ask them to go to the mikvah

  • Absolutely no concealed private time with students- Concealed private time is immediate grounds for firing
    • Policies must be clearly stated and publicized
    • Strict and immediate consequences for any policy infractions must be enforced
  • Windows on all classrooms and meeting rooms
  • Any private meeting takes place in a room with window and/or with another staff member in hearing / seeing distance
  • [If unable to have windows – video cameras in all class/meeting rooms with banks of monitors in multiple locations (e.g., secretary’s desk as well as at least one other location). Additionally, information should be stored (easy to do digitally) in case no one is manning the bank and to deal with any allegations.]
  • No male staff member is to take children to bathroom alone – always need a 2nd staff member present (advisable for female staff as well)
  • No staff member to take children to any secluded area alone e.g., park, museum, etc.
  • Require criminal background checks for workers with youth (see RCA resolution 2005)
    • Should also include all school staff e.g., janitors, cooks, etc. & outside contractors
  • Reduce access to any potentially secluded areas

  • Employees and other customers (non-caregivers) never allowed to be alone with children
    • If a child goes to a part of the store not visible to the staff, a staff member should maintain the child in his/her sight at all times (similar precautions used by stores suspecting someone of shoplifting).
    • If there is only one employee in store, all dealings with children should be done as openly as possible (e.g., close to the store window, front door, main part of store, etc.)

Some Areas of Education to Focus on:
  • Greatest preventative measure is having a healthy relationship with children and children feeling good about themselves and the supports around them- the Relationship is Key
  • Encourage open communication in families- develop safe, supportive, & secure relationships
  • Expressing that you always want to know what happened to them or they did- even if they feel bad about it or think you will be upset
  • Teaching safety around abuse just like we teach all other safety (e.g., fire, strangers, etc.)
  • Explicitly teaching about secrets that don't feel good & that they should never be kept
  • Reiterate that you will always love them no matter what they do
  • If you don’t teach your children about their bodies, sexuality, and intimacy who will?
  • Address issues of body awareness, good/bad touch, right to say “NO”, etc.
    • Give children language to talk about these issues
    • “Your body belongs to you. No one has a right to tickle you or touch you in a way you don’t like” (Uncle Willy’s Tickles, p. 20)
    • Model dealing with uncomfortable situations
    • Utilizing Role Plays / What if game (e.g., unwanted hugs/kisses, unwanted tickles)
    • Utilizing Books e.g., Uncle Willy’s Tickles by Marcie Aboff (Magination Press)
    • Teaching that it’s not chutzpa to say “No” regarding their bodies even to a grown up
    • They SHOULD tell another grown up about something uncomfortable someone did
      • Even if another grownup says not to tell (tell a parent!)
  • Encourage children to keep seeking help until they feel like they are safe and being heard
  • Reinforcing “running and screaming” and any material/ skill used in a curriculum in a different setting (e.g., review/ practice what was learned in school)
  • Attempt not to leave it up to children (especially young ones) to avoid harm - Supervision
  • Create relationship where they can talk about anything (even if it is wrong/ inappropriate)
  • Not addressing abuse properly is much more detrimental to life e.g., mental health, shidduchim, becoming “at- risk”, etc. than addressing it
  • Do not cave in to fear tactics e.g., threats of ruining shidduch, community alienation, ostracism, not being accepted in yeshivas, etc.
  • Supply information regarding community resources for prevention and intervention
  • Just scaring people does not help, they need to feel motivated, encouraged, and optimistic

Additional points for parents addressing abuse with their children:
Reasons for not disclosing (bus study):
  • Tell my parents the disgusting things Mr. Bob did to me, they would kill me!
  • Abuser threatened the kid

Approach to Education:
  • Process not Proclamations – need ongoing dialogue re: all safety issues
  • This is a safety issue like any other – matches, walking safety (street, dark, etc), what happens if you get separated from parent, a stranger offers you candy or tries to talk to you, etc.)
  • Kids don’t panic or become fearful unless you convey high levels of anxiety. At worst what you say may go over their heads and they will look at you funny
  • There is a latent effect where they may not show a response now but should the issue arise they may remember

4 major points to convey (exact words not important) from D. Pelcovitz’s talk citing Susan Schulman, M.D.
  1. Mommy and Daddy love you and nothing you do will change that and nothing will take it away. If you did something bad I may not like what you did but I will always love you. I want to hear the good and bad things that happen to you.
  2. Three kinds of touch: Yes: like when mommy hugs you and you feel good. No: Like a friend hits you and it feels bad. I don’t know touch: Doesn’t hurt but makes you feel funny. Say no, run away, and tell mommy.
  3. No one is allowed to hurt you or make you feel sad or scared. If someone hurts you or makes you feel bad tell me about it, I will try to find out what happened and stop it.
  4. The area covered by your bathing suit is your private area. Sometimes when your little your teacher may help you in the bathroom and that’s ok other than that you are not allowed to touch someone else and no one is allowed to touch you in the area covered by your bathing suit. You are not allowed to show those parts to anyone and no one is allowed to show you. If anyone does this say:  no, my mommy doesn’t let me, go away from the person, and tell your  mommy.

  • No secret that is supposed to be kept forever is ok – have to tell mommy or daddy about any secret that is supposed to be forever

  • Can educate through and in play – puppets, people, imagination, role-play – create scenarios in play for child to process and deal with.



  1. Some of these ideas are wonderful, but some are overblown. Windows and open doors in schools yes, constant supervision of kids no.
    "Kids don’t panic or become fearful unless you convey high levels of anxiety."
    That list gave me high levels of anxiety.

  2. I'd rather they err on the side of caution on this, personally, but a) I don't believe it says constant supervision - just that there should be checking in every once in a while and it should be random and b) I'm guessing it was written more for NY/NJ where it's not as open area as most places.

  3. Wow, thanks for posting that! I think it could have been written more clearly, however.

    One point that either I missed when reading this, or should be added: while it is quite controversial outside of the survivor community, most of us agree that the education CAN NOT come only from the home, or only from the doctor! We need to have a real team of people teaching our children how to keep safe, and NO ONE should be assuming that someone else taught/will teach any given child about issues surrounding abuse. As educators, you must remember that there will be times when it's the child's parent(s) who are abusing, and where will the child turn in that case? How will the child know to turn to anyone if we leave it up to the parents to educate?

  4. Little Sheep - I don't know if it was originally intended as a public guide; it was simply forwarded around by a friend and I asked about posting.

    Agreed on the parents issue and that it needs to come from multiple sources - perhaps having a group of qualified individuals (including doctors with whom the kids are familiar with) present to young children in a school setting would help.

    The hardest abuse to catch or stop would seem to be by parents and/or siblings, because they are able to teach ideas that fit with what they do and also will always have access to private time. :(

  5. Ezzie, is this based on speeches from the even in Queens earlier this month?

    Also, I have a recording of it that was emailed to me, if anyone is interested in hearing it, they can email me and I'll forward them the link.

  6. I don't believe so (I received it two months ago, but didn't post until now).

    Please send the recording to me, I'd be interested in hearing it!

  7. Are there programs for educators and other people who work with kids about this stuff and what to look for, how to talk to kids about it, what to do if you suspect anything, etc.? I know there's a lot of talk in schools and workshops about bullying and what to do about bullies, but this is different.

  8. >No male staff member is to take children to bathroom alone – always need a 2nd staff member present (advisable for female staff as well)

    this reminds me of this:

  9. Holy Hyrax, I didn't read the whole article you linked to, but I think the point in not allowing anyone to take a child to the bathroom alone is for the safety of EVERYONE involved, adult and child. Many schools and camps have this policy in place. This is so that if a kid comes home and says "______ touched me", there is always someone else who can clarify.

    (I'm on very little sleep, so I'm probably not making much sense, if someone else can expand and clarify this, it would be helful)

  10. little sheep, you made yourself clear. That is actually the point of the article. That we have made society used to first being suspicious of every "I was touched.." story, when in reality it may well just be nothing at all. And obviously, if we constantly teach our kids about not letting anyone touch ever, then of course they would come with those stories.

    I don't know if I agree with that article, but its still an interesting perspective on how we look at things now.

  11. HH - Perhaps if schools etc. would follow good, reasonable sets of guidelines there would be less confusion and less misunderstood stories.

    It's definitely an interesting article with a lot of sad aspects, especially for someone like me who is a rare father picking up his kids from school most of the time.

    I'd say that in the frum community at least, though, I'd rather start by erring on the side of caution and worry about overreactions later.

  12. Just read this post - I have to agree with Little Sheep, the main thing that was missing and was not adressed is when the abuse happens within the home, parent or siblings. We really must do a better job in the frum community of educating our children on abuse, and I am happy to see that people are at least starting to address this in public settings.