Changes in the communal response to sexual abuse

Not a week goes by without a new case of sexual abuse being reported in mainstream media. Almost every heartbreaking story is accompanied by numerous articles exposing the layers and layers of institutional, community, and leadership cover-up of those same cases. The community protection of perpetrators, which has allowed the devastating life-altering crime of child sexual abuse to thrive, is now finally being publically acknowledged. The unprecedented level of exposure has forced our community to stare the ugly truth in the face. It is unfortunate that it has taken such a public explosion, which has brought tremendous pain, shame, fear, conflict, and the shattering of communal myths, for this issue to finally be seen and spoken about. For years, the Jewish community denied the prevalence of sexual abuse, so it is undeniable that this discussion is progress.

However, the presence, weight and lengthy continuation of the ‘speaking about the problem’ stage, has created a distraction, allowing many individuals, communities, and organizations to hide behind or disappear within the emotions and details of the chaos.  It is clearly much easier to discuss, criticize, and get angry, then it is to take direct and responsible action to prevent abuse from occurring again.  However, we need to recognize that if we remain comfortable or paralyzed in the analytical space of this painful and shameful history, stuck in the wounds after the Band-Aid has been ripped off, the injury will continue to bleed and children will continue to be abused. It takes bravery and leadership to step up and set standards, and instead of just hoping and discussing that it shouldn’t happen again, implementing training and concrete policies and changes to ensure that it won’t.

Many Jewish summer camps have been taking a strong step forward in the area of abuse prevention by partnering with ASAP’s Camp Safety Program to ensure all their staff are trained before camp even begins. Moving one step forward, a new trend is developing – leaders of the different camping communities, Bnei Akiva of the US and Canada for example, are creating this partnership from the top down, and bestowing the abuse-prevention program as a gift for all of their affiliated independent summer programs. Through this pioneering act, these umbrella organizations have prioritized the safety of the children and youth entrusted in their care above all else, sending a clear message throughout their chain of impact that safety is the new standard.

It is time for us as a community to move to the next stage. We are ready to transition beyond discussions and cultural shifts, and instead take concrete actions that are practical, simple, and most importantly, proven to prevent the next generation of pain, suffering, and public explosions of shame. Preventing abuse is simple, all it takes is willingness and a small amount of effort.

About the Author
Department of Development and Oversight at Yedidut Toronto, supported by the Friedberg Charitable Foundation. Program manager for ASAP: The Association for Sexual Abuse Prevention and Treatment.
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