This past Shabbos we had friends over for lunch, and talked about a number of topics. At one point we segued into her advocacy for sexually abused children, and since this is something I feel strongly about, we ended up discussing it for a while. She asked me if we talk to our kids about healthy boundaries, and I told her the guidelines I give my kids. I asked her if she had any additional suggestions, and she said, no, that was just right.
The challenge in discussing a topic that is so sensitive is that we tend to avoid it, because it makes us uncomfortable or afraid. I handle it pretty matter of factly – we shouldn’t get emotional and scare our kids.
For my kids, I stress respecting the personal boundaries of others and expecting others to respect those same boundaries. No one should touch them on private parts of their bodies, and no one should tell them to keep something a secret from us. Here’s an article that author Bracha Goetz shared with me after our discussion on Shabbos; it’s very important reading and she gives good guidelines for how to handle this.
I also strongly believe that we all need to learn to hear and respect our gut feelings about people – often, someone makes us uncomfortable but we rationalize it away. I’ve mentioned this before in the past here, but it’s worth repeating. I tell my kids to listen to their gut feelings and act on them, even if they feel like it looks foolish. There are always yellow lights before red lights; the challenge is being willing to pay attention to and recognize the yellow lights.
Though the Orthodox Jewish community has many, many wonderful strengths, protecting our children from molestation isn’t one of them. Actually, I think our community out of misplaced sympathy protects predators and thereby puts children at increased risk. It has been very disturbing to me that pedophiles aren’t paying the price for their crimes in our community – we’re taught to give people the benefit of the doubt, and this works against us when dealing with perpetrators of evil who know how to makes themselves look good and position the victim as the one responsible.
This makes it even more critical that we as parents are paying attention and equipping our children with the tools they need to deal with this. For those who live in Baltimore, Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz of Project YES will be addressing exactly this topic this Saturday night, June 11, at 10:15 pm at Bnei Jacob Shaarei Zion (6602 Park Heights Ave. 21215). There is no charge to attend. He’ll also be speaking on this same topic in Monsey, Brooklyn, and Queens (for details of times and locations, check here.)
I plan to attend the talk on Saturday night, and whether you can be there or not, encourage all parents to be sure you have the tools to discuss this important topic with your children. There are unfortunately evil and sick people in the world, and we must not pull the wool over our own eyes and increase the risk for our children.