ARE THE CHILDREN SAFE?
I got a call this week from a woman, I will call her Miriam, asking for guidance in dealing with an all too common problem. The children in her building are playing inappropriate games with each other. Many families in the building have multiple young children who often play together, especially on Shabbos, in stairwells, hallways, and parking lots around the building. Sound familiar?
During lock-down, when children have nowhere to go and not much to do, child abuse is on the rise in our homes and communities. Children are playing for longer periods unsupervised, as stressed parents struggle to cope. As a community we must stay alert, educate ourselves and our children, and keep a close eye on the dynamics between children and adults.
In this particular case six families are involved. One child in particular, a nine year old girl "Sarah" seems to be the instigator. She is touching the younger children (three and four years old), and has told at least one of them that if they tell she will hurt them. Miriam's child told her. She is lucky.
Most children, about eighty percent don't tell, even if the topic has been discussed and they have been instructed that it's important to tell their parents. Sometimes a child has been threatened. Sometimes the reason is simply that it's just too embarrassing and shameful. There is also the excitement of illegal play, and often a feeling of collaboration and loyalty among the children.
Miriam's instinct was to speak to the other parents in the building, as well as the parents of the instigator. I encouraged her to try to get all of the families on board to help keep all of the children safe. I advised Miriam to let Sarah's parents know that all of the parents are concerned about stopping this play and this is a serious problem. I suggested Miriam tell Sarah's parents that everyone in the building cares about all of the children, including Sarah, and everyone wants Sarah to be able to play, so all are helping to keep an eye on their daughter by not allowing her to play unsupervised with the other children. (I'm sure some parents will not let Sarah play with their children at all, which is completely understandable.) I encouraged Miriam to let Sarah know that all are aware that she has been playing this game, and that no one allows it because it is not appropriate and absolutely not okay. The message to Sarah and all of the children is one of firm, loving, boundaries and heightened supervision.
I advised Miriam to be prepared for a defensive or blaming attitude by Sarah's parents. It is very very difficult to be "that" child's parent in this situation. Most parents have no idea why their child is behaving in this way. Sarah was probably exposed to something inappropriate and she needs and deserves help from a professional to process her feelings. So many of our children have access to inappropriate material if not at home, then through friends or neighbors, and may be exposed to things we can not begin to imagine. If you are a parent of a "Sarah" your child needs and deserves support and help to process her feelings in order to stop acting them out with other children. If your neighbors respond in as loving and caring a manner as Miriam, you are very fortunate. As hard as it is to cooperate, please work with your neighbors, reach out for support, and know that you are not alone.
Silence, Secrecy, and Lack of accountability, is what allows child sexual abuse to continue to flourish in our community. It affects all of us! It takes a village to allow molestation to continue, and it takes a village to stop it! We must break the stigma and protect our children. We must stop pointing fingers and blaming, and work together to keep our children safe. We are especially vulnerable now, during Corona.
Educate yourself and your community, shul or neighbors, by viewing the award winning documentary Unkept Secrets, https://www.youtube.
Together with Magen, Victim Advocacy Organization , I offer at no charge:
Zoom sessions for parents on prevention.
Support for parents whose child has been a victim or perpetrator.
Zoom sessions on healing for adult survivors and their loved ones.
Genendy Radoff firstname.lastname@example.org 0526516582
Magen Victim Advocacy: 02-3724073