Sunday, November 9, 2008

Child Abuse - Prevention, Detection & Recovery

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.


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.


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.
  • You did absolutely nothing wrong.
  • 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.


  1. But tell me something: if a girl was a victim of rape when she was young... will this not have a negative impact on her shidduch chances? Could it be that the Chatan or his family reject her at the moment were she says what happened?

  2. This is the shame of the Jewish community - religion should be a comforting and supporting factor after a crime like that is committed but instead, too often, it becomes a bludgeoning stick.
    How dare you accuse a rabbi?
    If word gets out, you'll never get a shidduch!

    Oy lanu, ki chatanu!

  3. Well, the problem of "How dare you accuse ...." is also given, for example, if abuse happens within the family, and the society at large is not very strong either when they should convict trusted teachers for this kind of crimes.

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