The recent #MeToo campaign has done much to demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual assault, abuse and harassment.
It has also massively contributed to the creation of safe spaces for many women (and men) to come forward to share their stories, showing that they are not alone and should not be ashamed of what happened to them.
As someone with many years of experience dealing with teens, including many victims of abuse, I believe that in order to prevent sexual abuse, we must instigate therapeutic interventions.
I have found that one of the best interventions for the young victims and potential victims of sexual abuse, and for youth at risk in general is for them to enter into a mentoring relationship.
A structured, supervised mentoring relationship, with clear boundaries, set meeting times, and a carefully vetted mentor, can provide a safe and supportive space for victims of abuse. It can also help prevent sexual abuse, because it combats the qualities that typify a classic victim of sexual abuse, namely poor judgement, low self-esteem, social isolation and limited sense of empathy. Additionally, the mentor serves as a person that the mentee can confide in, and receive a safety-conscious perspective back on whatever situation is on the horizon.
A mentor is someone who is young, typically a student, which makes it easier for the teenager to relate to him or her. It is most effective when the mentors are paid for their time. It is imperative for them to be carefully trained and supervised throughout the relationship.
The mentoring relationship takes place in real time with real life situations. The mentees have the opportunity to practice interacting with the world and dealing with events that come up in general life, like on public transportation, in a club, or a restaurant, where they will learn life skills, which influence their judgement for the better.
The mentor will often discover and encourage a mentee’s talents in the course of their relationship and activities, and will be unconditionally accepting of the mentee, which also strongly boosts self-esteem. The relationship between the two will also feature decision making and problem solving which all raise self-confidence
Regular meetings with the mentor mean the mentee cannot hide away. The relationship is a cocoon where the mentee is protected from social anxiety and peer pressure, and the social skills they learn with the mentor can be applied to other relationships. The mentor can even work with the mentee in real life social situations with another child, directly helping the mentee to form and maintain other relationships.
Limited sense of empathy
Empathy is at the heart of the mentoring relationship. The mentor models caring for the mentee and empathizing and the mentee in turn learns how to empathize, as well as gaining strength and security from feeling understood.
We have come across all types of situations at Kav L’Noar, a not-for-profit organization based in Jerusalem which helps youth at risk in Israel and their families build the relationships and skills they need to secure a more positive future, with a particular focus on English-speaking immigrants.
Immigrants to Israel, especially those in their youth, have extra challenges in terms of integration and absorption into a new culture and language, so we have built specialized mentoring programs to deal with these issues, frequently developing relationships between former immigrants and new immigrants who can best understand what they are experiencing in their new environment.
The reason why we believe that mentoring relationships are a vital form of therapy, especially in the prevention of sexual abuse, is that we hear regularly from mentees that these relationships have helped them in very real and specific instances.
Just some of the recent examples include a mentee who was given an opportunity to help a teacher grade school papers, for money, which he wanted to do even though there were rumors that the teacher had inappropriate relationships with students. He then shared the dilemma with the mentor, who convinced him to turn it down.
Another mentee dumped an abusive boyfriend and told her mentor that she had learnt from the mentor what a relationship should look like and how she deserved to be treated, and was no longer willing to put up with anything less.
A further mentee was offered a ride in a predator’s car. She thought better of it and ran away and related afterwards that it was because of what the mentor had taught her about warning signs that made her realize it was a bad idea
Finally, a mentor noticed a mentee was displaying inappropriate touching behavior, which is a red flag indicating previous abuse. Previous abuse victims are much more likely to be abused again. The mentor reported the issue to the supervisor, and the child was then treated for the abuse, lessening the likelihood of repeated abuse.
These are just a small selection of what our mentors and mentees deal with in our program in Israel, and we are gratified to hear of each of these stories because they are quantifiable successes in the fight against the scourge of sexual abuse, which unfortunately is found at all levels of society.
There is no single answer to preventing sexual abuse or dealing with a victim of abuse. The #MeToo initiative has proven to be a watershed moment in the recognition of the seriousness and prevalence of sexual assault, abuse and harassment.
The next step is to find solutions for this problem, especially for our youth, who are frequently the primary victims. Mentoring relationships deal with the specific issues facing the potentially abused and at Kav L’Noar we stand ready to help.
The writer is Kav L’Noar’s Mentoring Supervisor. She holds a BA in Humanities, and has had training in psychodrama, narrative therapy, and working with abused teens. She has worked for the past two decades with at-risk teens in Israel from Anglo homes. Seeing the special needs of this population prompted her to found an alternative High School that she ran for several years. Before joining Kav L’Noar she worked for the Jerusalem Municipality as a youth counselor and activity program director for the Haredi youth at risk division. There, she developed a community model for crisis prevention & intervention.