© 2005 By S. M. - reprinted by permission
Whether you're old enough to remember, or have just heard it referenced to, I think most of us have heard about the commercial that used to play on television: "It's 11 o'clock. Do you know where your children are?" This upcoming holiday season, a question I'd like you to keep in mind is… It's musaf time. Do you know where you're children are?
It's no secret that abuse increases during the holiday season. Parents are often stressed out, and they may act out this stress on their children. Parents that are already abusive in some way just become worse during a time that is meant to be a time of repentance and reflection. While this is a concern and something to be aware of, that's not what this article is about.
I'm talking about the sexual abuse, and sometimes, rape, that happens at the hands of relatives or family friends during holiday meals, when there are more guests over than normal, when things are busier and we're more distracted with being good hosts, instead of watching our children. We spend so much time telling our children to not talk to strangers. But the sad fact is that 93% of child sexual assault victims knew their attacker. Even more upsetting, 34.2% were family members, and 58.7% acquaintances. Only 7% percent of the perpetrators were strangers to the victim. [Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement. Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice, 2000]
We encourage our children to accept touch they don't want, making things even more dangerous. We tell a child to be a "good girl" or "good boy" and let Aunt or Uncle So-and-so give them a hug, a kiss, a pinch. "Let grandpa hold you in his lap." We send a message that teaches our children, "Not only do you have to let them touch you when you don't want to be touched, you're a bad boy or girl if you say no." Not all touch is bad. But teaching children that they can't say no to touch because someone is a relative or friend is wrong and danergous.
You may not want to hear this – but just because your in your own home, your parent's home, your dearest aunt's home, your child may not be safe.
The home is not the only place molestation is more likely to happen during the holiday season. How often do we let our children run around and play during holiday services? We tell them not to bother us, let us pray, and go play with the other children. But while you're praying, another member of the synagogue may be looking for a lonely, dejected child to pray on. How many candy-givers in the synagogue have later been exposed as pedophiles? Yes, it does happen. And not as rarely as you'd like to think.
In one community, after living there a year, one of the members was suddenly missing from services. This was a 50-year old man who made every effort to attend the daily minyan services. He looked kind, and always had a smile. He fit the image of a perfect grandfather-type. So why was he suddenly missing from services? This "kind", "religious" man broken his parole and was forced to serve time in jail. His crime? Sexual assault of a minor.
So, how can you help protect your child?
- Keep an eye on your children, especially children that are under 12, or children that are naturally timid or quiet. Not to say this sort of thing doesn't happen to out-going children, but most pedophiles profile their victims. A quiet, reserved child makes for an easier target.
- Don't force your children, either through guilt or words, to accept kisses, hugs, or any other kind of touching from relatives. It doesn't matter if the relative is a grandmother, uncle, or older cousin, male or female, in their 30s or 90s. Children must be taught that they can *always* say no to touch.
- Talk to your children about good touch and bad touch. There are several books on these topics. Make clear to your child that good touch and bad touch doesn't apply only to strangers, and that if anyone touches them in a way that makes them feel worried, nervous, or scared, that they should tell you right away. And reassure them that no matter what the other person tells them, they will not be in any trouble.
- When in synagogue, do not allow your children to wander the grounds without supervision. Even if they are being watched by a hired babysitter or a relative, come to check on the children periodically. If the person watching the children knows that you will drop in on and off unexpectedly, they are less likely to try to do anything.
- If you notice a drastic change in your child's personality or behavior, at any time of year, but especially after holiday gatherings, find time to sit with your child and talk. You can see a complete list of warning signs to look for here: http://www.stopitnow.com/warnings.html If you think your child is being abused by a relative, you may need to ask the child directly, but in a calm manner, if someone touched them. It's important that you ask the child in a way that doesn't show any worry or extreme emotion, because the child may misinterpret your upset and believe they are going to be in trouble if they tell you.
- Don't be ashamed or afraid of seeking professional help for you or your child, whether they tell you someone has hurt them, or you suspect someone might have hurt them. No harm will come from a consultation with a psychologist, but great harm can come from ignoring a real danger.
Just a bit more time given to watching your child can make a world a difference. I wish someone was watching me. Because not only did a relative repeatedly steal my innocence from me on the High Holidays. He stole the happiness and holiness from every holiday since my childhood, leaving behind memories of pain and terror that are triggered by the shofar's call.