In light of the news about the conviction and yesterday’s sentencing of a high profile case of a child molester, I’d like to share some thoughts on the general topic. Not specific to this warped individual, who thankfully will now be put away where he can’t hurt anyone else (sorry to pique your interest if you don’t know what I’m talking about, but I prefer to stay away from discussing individuals), but about some general important aspects to understand about child molestation that were clearly evident in this case.
For years when I heard about sexual molestation within religious communities with strong modesty guidelines, I often wondered how this was possible. After all, it would seem that children who are raised with an understanding that the body is private and has been taught to maintain clear boundaries between men and women wouldn’t be easy targets for predators. It was after I learned about the grooming process and the way that sexual predators position themselves that I was able to understand this.
This was very disturbing information to me, but it’s so critically important for parents to understand about this, because this knowledge can help us to protect our kids. Molestation and abuse are unfortunately realities in every community, and I’ve written in the past about the importance of speaking to our children about personal space. When I’ve spoken about different aspects of this topic with people in person, in almost every situation I’ve been met with skepticism or disbelief about the reality of molestation and abuse within the Jewish world.
I understand how hard it is to emotionally accept that people who look like upstanding members of a community – or even just average looking people – would act in such a degenerate and evil way. That’s why it’s so important to at least somewhat understand the mentality of molesters. The development of a trustworthy persona is calculated and purposeful, to position themselves as upstanding individuals above reproach. Once people view them in a positive light, it will be very hard for people to believe accusations of abuse against the predators – and molesters use this psychological phenomenon known as the halo effect along with cognitive dissonance to their advantage. (Read here for a detailed story of how this played out with a well-known sports coach.)
Predators are constantly scanning for targets. They are looking for the weakest and least confident children, those who are troubled, come from difficult home situations, or whose parents are busy and not very available. The most emotionally vulnerable families and children are the least likely to protest wrong doing, and the predator also knows that if a victim does speak up, they won’t be believed because of their social status. It’s an amazing strategy, really – pick someone who is emotionally suffering, then when they try to tell the truth about what is happening to them, claim that because of their emotional suffering, they can’t be trusted.
Once they target the victims, they then begin the grooming process. The abuse doesn’t always begin immediately – the predator softens their defenses and continually tests their boundaries. Even if you don’t usually follow links, please read this one as well as the article above to understand why and how this works.
I’m warning you that this is difficult stuff to read about. But you need to understand this, and realize that talking to your kids about respecting physical boundaries isn’t enough.
We must be actively involved in our children’s lives. You don’t want them to feel there’s no one at home for them to talk to, that you’re too busy for them – that leaves the door wide open for someone else to walk in and fill that need. One goal is that a child will feel able to tell us about what happens in their lives, even the unpleasant things. How would you react if your child came home and said he had been fondled? Would you get angry at him? Tell him it’s not possible, he must have misunderstood? That he brought it on himself by doing something? Would he know that you’d believe him and support him? I’ve read so many horrible stories in which parents refused to believe the child – if a child tells you something, don’t downplay it or ignore it. There’s no one else who’s going to help them if you can’t or won’t, and then the predator has free reign.
Even if you have spoken to your kids about appropriate touch and have a good relationship with them, you still need to keep an eye on them. I see lots of kids locally who have minimal supervision from a young age. I’ve been really concerned when I’m in a park and see a large number of children playing and relatively few parents there to supervise. Who is watching the kids? Kids need supervision. It’s not possible to supervise every child at every minute, but we need to keep an eye on where our kids are and who they’re with. The younger they are, the more careful the supervision has to be.
The fact is that parenting takes time and energy. I know, this is discouraging when a parent feels she doesn’t have enough time or enough energy. But there are really no shortcuts in parenting. Be available, supervise, build emotionally solid relationships, and pray.