Preventing Child Molestation
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Preventing Child Molestation

Preventing Child Molestation

A guide for the concerned parent.

by

Child molestation is a disease. The child molester is a sick person with an illness that he is unable to control or stop on his own. He has a preoccupation and a sexual desire for young children. In order to stop, he needs help through treatment, supervision or incarceration.

In our collective experience working with this population in the Jewish community, approximately one-third of pedophiles have a preference for boys, one-third prefer girls, and one-third have no preference. Some pedophiles also have distinct preferences within select age groups. And one predator may abuse dozens or hundreds of children.

What can we -- as parents, educators and a community -- do to protect and respond to sexual abuse?

Children are sexually victimized because they can be

Children are sexually victimized because they can be. They are trusting, vulnerable, curious by nature, and usually not suspicious of adults -- certainly not of a parent, teacher, counselor or other role model. This can be true of adolescents as well, who can fall prey to sexual abuse even into their mid teens.

Children can be victimized repeatedly because they are often too ashamed or frightened to divulge information to others. They are frightened because the molester has threatened to hurt them or their family members, or frightened that their parents will not believe them or will blame them.

While reliable statistics regarding the prevalence of this problem in the Jewish community are not available, there are a number of protective factors that should lead to a lower incidence. These include our community's strong emphasis on family closeness, and community support programs that provide assistance for stressed-out parents.

Unfortunately, however, there are powerful risk factors as well. Research studies have found that those most likely to recognize and report abuse are policemen or emergency room doctors, while those least likely to recognize and report abuse are people who come from the same community or religious background as the abused child. It is therefore not surprising that when abuse is suspected among our own, the first response might be denial or a tendency to ignore a reality that is so antithetical to our standards and way of life.

This vicious cycle, unfortunately, can inadvertently embolden child molesters.

Body and Brain

In the last decade, a number of adolescents and young married people have self-identified and sought treatment for their serious problems with gambling, drugs and alcohol. It is fair to say that as serious as these problems are, they no longer carry the social stigma and social isolation they did just a short few years ago.

Not so with sexual abuse -- not to the victim or to the perpetrator.

He (95 percent are male) will almost never voluntarily seek treatment. The fears of retribution, social isolation, physical harm, loss of family, loss of work, along with his sexual proclivities, prevent him from disclosing.

Similarly, victims of sexual abuse, unlike other victims, almost never self-disclose. Abusers gain the child's loyalty and confidence, and then convince the child that any "bad feelings" are "all your fault."

A crime victim may report to the police. A victim of domestic violence may seek out a relative, a rabbi, or a mental health professional. A drug user or alcohol binger can often be recognized by a spouse or employer. Not so with a victim of sexual abuse who is embarrassed, who represses, and who, years later, continues to carry the scars of the unresolved trauma of the abuse.

Child molestation is an invasion of the body and brain. The harm is staggering, reaching into nearly all areas of the child's life:

• Ability to trust others: Children abused by a trusted adult may have difficulty allowing themselves to get close to members of the extended family or adults they come in contact with. Young children may become more clingy and older children may develop a hostile or mistrustful attitude in relating to others.

• Impaired self-concept: Abused children may develop a sense of permanent damage, which may include feelings of shame, self-blame, and a general sense that they are unworthy of love. Some react by gravitating to peer groups dominated by rejected or rebellious children, since they view themselves as not deserving to be in the mainstream.

• Difficulty controlling emotions: Increased irritability or difficulty calming down after becoming upset is frequently seen in these children. Younger children may manifest regressed behaviors such as an increase in whining, tantrums or bed-wetting. Older children may become less compliant or more withdrawn. Feelings of sadness, emptiness and hopelessness may be accompanied by physical complaints such as frequent headaches or stomach aches.

• Academic difficulties: A number of studies have documented higher rates of academic difficulties in abused children. Impaired concentration and motivation are among the contributors to school difficulties.

• Religious crisis: We have found that some children may experience a crisis in faith after their victimization. For adolescents, in particular, it may be very difficult to reconcile religious beliefs with actions by supposedly "religious" adults who act in a hypocritical manner.

Oftentimes a child will keep the abuse a secret for 10 or 20 years. Only when the child becomes an adult does he have the confidence to share his story. In the meantime, he bears a heavy burden.

Beyond all this, many abused children grow up to become abusers themselves.

Prevention

What can be done?

Children must be taught about it honestly.

Children must be taught about it honestly. They must be prepared to fend off and respond to sexual advances, nuanced and overt, from persons they know and often trust. Parents need to know that it is not enough to teach children only about being wary of strangers. Sex-abuse prevention techniques have been developed that frame the issue in the context of overall safety, no different than fire safety or water safety, helping children to develop wariness without fear.

The most important thing to do to protect your child is to make sure that he or she will always come to tell the parent immediately if something unusual happens. Every child must know that his parents want him to talk to them. Opening the lines of communication must start very early.

Dr. Susan Schulman, a Jewish pediatrician in Brooklyn, recommends that parents discuss with their children in an age-appropriate fashion:

  • The area that is covered by your bathing suit is your private area. Sometimes when you are little your teacher may help you in the bathroom. That is okay. 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 anyone and no one is allowed to show you. If anyone does this you can say: "No! My mommy doesn't let me!" Go away from that person and tell your mommy what happened.
  •  

  • If someone is touching you, hurting you, or making you feel bad, tell me about and I will stop it.
  •  

     

  • Your mommy and daddy love you. We will always love you. Nothing you will do will ever take that love away from you. We want to hear about things that happen in school -- all the good things and even the bad things that happen.
  •  

     

  • If you have done a bad thing, we may not like what you did, but we will always love you.
  •  

     

  • If anyone hurts or scares you, you should come and tell mommy or daddy. They might tell you that something terrible will happen if you tell your mommy, but you must still tell us. We are grownups and we will protect you. I will give you the biggest hug if you tell me about it.

 

Older children and teenagers need the same reassurance. Tell the child that you are there for him/her, and that you always want to hear about their experiences – good and bad. Tell your child you will always love him.

The larger the family, the more important it is that you give a few minutes a day of eye contact and keep the channel of communication open. Ask, "How was your day?" Even if he doesn't say much, this communicates that you are interested and available when the need arises.

This line of talk should be gently reinforced periodically with the child. There are many milestones where these conversations can occur naturally, e.g. entering preschool, a new school, send off every year to camp, a weekend getaway.

Since the majority of children are molested by people they know – relative, neighbor, sports coach, teacher, bus driver -- you need to discuss trust in older people and role models. This one person did something bad. Place an emphasis on all the other people who are good, loving and kind.

Speak to your children about exercising care not to be caught in a situation alone. Young people should walk in groups, particularly at night.

It is human nature to shy away from discussing sexual issues with our children when they're young adults, let alone when they may be 10 or 15 years old. Yet this is what we need to discuss.

Detection

There are various warning signs and red flags to look for in your child who may have been victimized.

Dr. Schulman lists five behavior changes that may indicate the child is being subjected to abuse:

  1. The child may seem unusually interested in the private areas of the other people's bodies.

     

     

  2. The child may draw pictures of hidden body parts.

     

     

  3. The child may show signs of stress such as sleep problems, appetite changes, behavior changes, tantrums, restart bed-wetting, fears and irritability.

     

     

  4. The child may become unusually afraid or unusually attached to an adult in his life.

     

     

  5. The child might give verbal hints or even describe the abuse to the parent.

 

If your child exhibits a serious problem that appears to be new, you can consider sexual abuse a possible factor without getting alarmed or overreacting. In seeking out professional help for treatment, go to a mental health professional and ask about his or her specialized training in this area.

Recovery

Research regarding the role of religious beliefs in helping victims deal with the impact of abuse repeatedly finds that religion can play a crucial protective role in helping victims find meaning and support, even in the face of cynicism and betrayal. On the other hand, many religious individuals who are victimized by a member of their community experience the additional trauma of feeling abandoned by a religion that they were taught stands against abuse. It is therefore not surprising that a percentage of alienated and rebellious adolescents who "drop out" of active religious observance have a history of being molested.

Identification and treatment can be highly successful as children and adolescents have remarkable resilience. The majority of victims, with proper support, can emerge from the experience strong and healthy.

If we believe that our child is a victim of, molestation and talking is the very first step, what should you talk about? You should emphasize the following to your son or daughter:

  • We, your mother and father, love you.
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  • You did absolutely nothing wrong.
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  • Your body is yours, let's discuss how to protect it in the future, no one can touch your body in any way without your permission.
  •  

     

  • Your body is good, it's not dirty. Someone else who is not good did something that he wasn't supposed to.
  •  

     

  • He was wrong for doing this.
  •  

     

  • You were not in the wrong because this happened.

 

And what about the perpetrator? Pedophiles need to be pushed to seek professional treatment, pushed out of circumstances where they can be in regular contact with children, pushed into supervised and controlled environments, or pushed into the criminal justice system.

Pedophilia is a treatable disease. While it is not curable, long-term treatment can be administered over several years, and if the perpetrator is compliant, this can allow him to return to a relatively normal life. Certainly his family should not be punished, as unfortunately often happens.

In Conclusion

A communal resolve by parents to prepare,
By educators to teach,
By school administrators not to tolerate,
By informing law enforcement and child protective authorities as required,
By each group in our community doing their share,
Can lead to a reduction in the number of children who will be hurt,
An increased vigilance against offenders, and
A supportive environment for victims to disclose and be supported.

 

Published: November 8, 2008


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Visitor Comments: 72

(63) Anonymous, April 9, 2014 12:21 AM

most abuse is by people who you know

As someone who was sexually abused by both parents as a child, I would like to say that in this article you have unfortunately made it sound like only strangers or non-family engage in this kind of abuse. Most crimes are committed by people who know the victim and child abuse is no different, in this respect. This is otherwise a good article and very glad to see Aish publishing something on this grave problem. On a side note about addressing evil and bringing evildoers to justice, as well as making the world a better place - when will we see an article about Hashem's confusing creation of psychopaths. :( Psychopaths are responsible for so much evil too just like abusers and abusive relatives. Maybe the damaged brains fo psychopaths can be given a conscience - if that were to happen the world would be a much better place. i pray to Hashem about this all the time - to being an end to abusive relatives and to cure psychopathy. So no one else has to live with the terrible aftereffects of dealing with these broken souls.

(62) Anonymous, December 10, 2013 8:50 PM

is it their fault?

the first line of this article makes it seem like its not the molesters fault, like he/she cant control it because its a disease.
I dont know if that is legitimate.
Anyone care to clarify?

Deborah Bach, December 15, 2013 3:23 PM

Don't get stuck on one word

Perhaps it depends on exactly how "disease" is defined. In my view it is a disease, it is catching (goes from perpetrator to victim who sometimes becomes a perpetrator without proper treatment). What is relevent is that people over a certain age are responsible for their actions regardless of the "disease." word and most importantly: adults who think that someone they know may be a perpetrator should report their suspicions accurately to authorities so that innocent children will be protected.

(61) Anonymous, December 9, 2013 12:30 PM

BIG PROBLEM

There is one point, though, which has only been mentioned in passing and it's a real problem that's becoming more prevelant as time goes on.

There are a lot of cases that I know where people who've been fighting with each other, or had serious disagreements and one of them is trying to really 'get back' at the other, so they go to the police and report them as being sexually abusive. The police then interrogates the individual whose being accused and he has to prove his innocence, This very often results in the person being banished from his job, or worse. which is what his accuser wanted in the first place.

We live in a crazy world where people do such ugly thing like accusing the innocent and at the end of the day, the really abused will suffer because cases don't get taken as seriously anymore.

I know of a couple who got divorced and the wife accused her ex-husband of abusing their son (many years after the divorce). They didn't imprison him because nothing could be proved, but he's only allowed to meet his son under strict supervision and worse he's being ostracized by some people in the community, but nobody knows if what he's being accused of is true. It could be it is, but on the other hand, it could very well be that his ex-wife wants to stop him from seeing their son, out of hatred towards him.

In another case a teacher had to move to another country because a father who had a dispute with him accused him of abusing his son. Nothing could be proved, but that teacher didn't want to take chances, he lost his job and might not get a chance in his new place either.



What are we to do in such situations? On the one hand we want to protect our children and community more than anything else, but on the other hand, we don't want innocent people to suffer either.

COULDN'T AGREE MORE, December 10, 2013 9:43 AM

Likewise being suspicious out of being so thinking about these matters

And hardly knowing anything about being happy in life and certainly not about chesed; that a lot of people do good for others. Not everything must be suspected and certainly accusations do not necessarily reflect reality

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