Children face danger no matter what community they’re in, so we have to make sure they have support and protection in every community institution they are a part of. Child safety in Jewish communities is no different!
From the Temple, to schools, to the corporate sector, it’s clear that community leadership is key making safer spaces for children. Institutional leaders–Rabbi Avremi Zippel, Debbie Fox, LCSW, and Rochel Leah Bernstein–offer insights about what a community of prevention looks like in each of these sectors.
First and foremost, each advocate emphasizes that children who experience harm must be believed. Fox suggests that prevention starts in the family, because abuse has ripple effects from the family to the larger community. “We have to empower parents to have conversations and be the go-to person,” says Fox, clarifying that it’s the parent’s responsibility to have clear conversations about sex and boundaries. We have to equip parents with the tools they need to do this.
Rabbi Zippel, a survivor, dean, and parent himself, talks about the power of disclosure and the many ways it can effect survivors. He advises parents and Rabbis to make sure that children know they are not guilty for being abused or disclosing. One of the greatest concerns for children in the Jewish Community, he suggests, is that disclosing could tear their family apart. We have to teach children that if they disclose, “I’m not doing anything to my abuser; they are experiencing the consequences of their actions.”
He calls on Rabbis to make their stance on abuse very clear, to the whole community. “If you don’t believe that children who have been sexually abused are tarnished, get up on your pulpit and say as much. Don’t leave it to vague unspecifics… call it for what it is. Children who have gone through these experiences should bear no guilt, should bear no shame, they are not tarnished, they are not sinful, they are absolutely beautiful and wholesome in the eyes of God. And if that’s what you really believe, call a spade a spade and get out there and say as much. Short of that, you leave kids to their anxieties and their worst fears.”
Bernstein agreed that the community needs to be taught to rally around survivors. “We need to create support and safe havens for families so that they know they won’t be cut off from their communities.” Ultimately, the advocates advise, protecting Jewish kids comes down to raising awareness, removing the shame for children, and providing whatever resources necessary for community institutions to support survivors. At the end of the day, Fox says, “it’s your responsibility to stand for children, and not predators.”
This discussion is taken with permission from Honest Conversations, a Live series of roundtables from Darkness to Light where experts have an authentic discussion about stigma and child sexual abuse. Click here to watch the episode.