Debbie Gross

A New Year: A new standard of Child Protection for our communities

Rosh Chodesh Elul has come and gone. The Chagim are approaching. And I am tired. Exhausted. Drained. It has been a long year. There have been too many cases of abuse. Too many attempted suicides as a means of dealing with the pain from the abuse. Too many cases of children being molested. Too many cases where the perpetrator has been a respected figure in our communities. I am tired.

I began Tahel – Crisis Center for Religious Women and Children over 25 years ago. It wasn’t that I ever planned on setting up a center in Israel which would serve religious women and children who are victims of abuse. It was more like I heard G-d whisper in my ear. And the message was clear. Something must be done to help those who have been hurt, violated and are so alone with their pain. And so we set up Tahel.

Tahel provides a 24 hour crisis hotline which serves women and children throughout Israel who are in crisis and in need of a listening ear. Tahel began providing workshops throughout the community on the very sensitive topics of sexual abuse and domestic violence. It is our belief in Tahel that education can be a means of preventing many cases of abuse. We have trained volunteers who escort victims to the hospital, social services, police and courts. We are there with the victim as she undergoes interrogation and we are there for her as she sits in the court room and gives testimony. Our motto at Tahel has always been: “No Woman Should Cry Alone.” I can’t take away the abuse. I can’t take away the violation. But I can guarantee that she is not alone as she copes and tries to begin her life again.

And, yet, I sit here before Rosh Hashana and I am depleted of energy. It just seems like we are not working fast enough or making enough headway to stop the vicious cycle of the epidemic of child sexual abuse. Today more children will be molested in our communities. This pains me because I know that we can prevent it. I know that we are not doing enough to stop the epidemic. And we must.

We hear much about prevention programs today. Every community has joined the chorus with acceptable responses –“We have programs. We are a safe school” etc etc etc.

And yet – has anyone actually examined what these programs are? Has anyone actually determined whether these programs are effective and actually protecting our children and our communities?

Tahel has developed the Tahel Standards for Child Protection Certification (Tav Tahel). Tav Tahel was developed to provide standardization and tools for implementing child protection policies and procedures in schools, organizations, communities and synagogues. This certification is based on the need for comprehensive policies to prevent child sexual abuse and to provide tools for intervention in cases of abuse. There can never be a guarantee that standards can totally prevent the occurrence of abuse, but it is believed that by undergoing the certification procedure by Tahel, the risk of abuse can be minimized. This certification process is intended to help the organization develop a comprehensive approach to the protection of children and to ensure proper reporting and intervention in the cases of abuse.

Tahel Standards for Child Protection Certification (Tav Tahel) entails standards which are tailored to the specific characteristjcs of the organization and , in addition, takes into account the Jewish and halachic perspectives involved. Each step towards the certification process requires that appropriate steps be taken towards the establishment of the child protection environment. These standards will promote child safety while reducing the risk of child sexual abuse. The standards are in strict coherence with the existing laws of the state, government or country in which the organization resides. There are 10 steps towards certification. An organization can go through the entire ten stoep process with Tahel or can come with some of the steps already in place and have Tahel check the step to insure standardization.

Does your organization, school, synagogue, community have Tav Tahel? If not, why not? Doesn’t it make sense that every organization, school, synagogue guarantee that there are programs in place to adequately protect our children? Why are we allowing the epidemic of child sexual abuse to run rampant in our communities? Why aren’t we demanding that every school; every synagogue; every organization be certified by Tahel? Why aren’t we sufficiently protecting our children?

It is erev Rosh Hashana. And I stand before G-d. I bring Him the stories of pain that have approached Tahel over the past year. I bring before Him the cases of rape and domestic violence and child sexual abuse that have come to Tahel from religious communities throughout the world. These are my stories. I have done my best. But it has not been enough. I need your help. I need you to help me guarantee the safety of our children.

Call your rabbi. Call your school principal. Call your community leaders. Tell them about Tav Tahel. Explain to them the importance of the Tahel Standards of child Protection Certification. And then demand that they respond by following the ten step process towards the goal of receiving the Tahel Standards of child Protection Certification.

I pray that I can stand here one year from now be able to report to you then that we have made significant changes in protecting our children within our communities. That every school, every synagogue, every organization , every community now has the Tav Tahel. That we are doing our job. We are providing safe environments for our children. May it be His Will!

About the Author
Debbie Gross is the founder and director of Tahel - Crisis Center for Religious Women and Children. Debbie is the recent recipient of The Sylvan Adams Nefesh B’Nefesh Bonei Zion Prize which recognizes the achievements of outstanding Anglo Olim.
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