Dealing with the epidemic of sexual abuse without panic

It is frightening today to be a parent.

A child wearing a Kippah (photo credit: REUTERS)
A child wearing a Kippah
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It is frightening today to be a parent. Everywhere we go, everything we read seems to indicate that sexual abuse has become a universal threat, particularly to women and children. Unfortunately, as a result of my work of over 30 years in the area of sexual abuse and domestic violence, I must agree that child sexual abuse has reached epidemic proportions. It has infiltrated every community, every nation, every religion, every culture.
I am often asked, is it actually happening more today? Is it really more of a threat today? Or is it rather that there is more awareness and more willingness to come forward and talk about abuse. The answer is yes and yes. There is more sexual abuse today and there is more awareness.
One of the reasons for the epidemic today is the influence of the media. The easy availability of pornography (which 80% of the time is also violent or aggressive in nature) has significantly increased the proportions of sexual abuse. But there are other significant factors as well.
The recent #MeToo campaign has increased the awareness of sexual abuse. Victims are coming forward and telling their stories all over the Internet. These campaigns are good in many ways. They raise awareness of the problem of violence and sexual abuse. They allow the victims to have a voice. But there are significant problems with such campaigns as well.
First, talking about abuse is not enough. We must be demanding programs to prevent abuse and facilities to allow healing and recovery. Second, sometimes when there is exposure to too many difficult stories, people tend to either not believe the stories, or become immune to the pain of the victims. The abundance of stories has also made many people question if we are now claiming that “everything” is sexual abuse. Then there is the worry about the copycat effect that the over-exposure of stories can facilitate.
I would like to invite all parents, all women, all men, to come forward and join me and Tahel in our battle to fight, stop and prevent the epidemic of sexual abuse. We must learn how to build safe and supportive communities which do not allow for sexual abuse and violence. If you really want to make a change, if you really want to cry out against sexual abuse, if you really want to create safe communities for our women and children – it is not enough to simply write #MeToo.
I suggest that we as parents, professionals and citizens demand the following of our communities and institutions: 1) Every school should provide yearly workshops to all the children on safety and prevention skills.
2) Every school should provide yearly lectures and training to teachers on the problem of child sexual abuse.
3) Every school should provide lectures to parents on the problem of child sexual abuse and safety skills.
4) Every school should have official protocols for the prevention of child sexual abuse.
5) Every synagogue should have official protocols for the prevention of child sexual abuse.
6) Every rabbi should be trained in the area of child sexual abuse.
7) Every community should have a trained board to deal with cases of child sexual abuse.
8) Every company should have yearly lectures on preventing sexual harassment in the workplace.
These suggestions can begin our obligation to keeping our children safe and providing safe communities. Tahel is dedicated to helping communities with any or all of the above. We are now producing a Tahel Tav Teken – A Standard for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse, which can be awarded to schools, synagogues, communities and institutions that meet the necessary requirements to prevent child sexual abuse. It is our hope that we can stop the epidemic of child sexual abuse from spreading, and finally make a strong and dedicated commitment to building safe communities that protect our children.
The author is director of Tahel – Crisis Center for Religious Women and Children. This article is one in a series The Jerusalem Post is publishing on the issue of child sexual abuse in the Jewish community.