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Shana Aaronson
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How one little girl and her mom gave me hope

Advocating for sexual abuse survivors, I hear all about the predators, but I also know the heroes who have the tough conversations that stop abuse
A coloring page from Magen's website: 'My body is mine, and only mine.' (courtesy)
A coloring page from Magen's website: 'My body is mine, and only mine.' (courtesy)

As the director of Magen, I don’t usually hang up the phone with a smile.

Magen supports sexual abuse survivors who are suffering post-traumatic stress. Our role is to support the victim while greasing the wheels of a flawed justice system. Meanwhile our clients get tangled up and re-victimized in the machinations of perpetrators pressuring their victims.

Again, I rarely hang the phone up with a smile. My work is heartbreaking more often than not. I am a daily witness to the most horrible things that threaten to break a person’s spirit.

And yet.

The people who work with me, and the people I work for, refuse to be defeated.

It feels like Passover was three months ago (anyone else? Just me?), but it was just a couple weeks ago, which means Magen is still dealing with a post-holiday influx of new cases. Things tend to be pretty quiet over the holidays. People are home and their kids are home or they’re with extended family and there really isn’t time or space for them to have conversations about abuse.

We also know that, unfortunately, rates of abuse spike over the holidays.

Which equals a jump in calls post-holiday. So here we are, and I’d like to tell you about a little girl and her mom who called me right after Pesach.

Over Pesach, one little girl, her mom, and the rest of their family spent a few days with the mom’s extended family. To the mother’s complete shock, the little girl suddenly disclosed to her that her teenage cousin, the mother’s own nephew, had been acting “weird” to her. She didn’t understand what was happening; she just knew that it made her feel uncomfortable and that was something she was supposed to tell her mom.

The mom (my hero) stayed calm, on the outside. Inside, she was screaming, while she listened to her 8-year-old daughter describe extremely inappropriate grooming and attempts at touching.

They talked it out. The little girl was believed, and supported.

Her parents praised her for telling them right away when she felt uncomfortable.

The appropriate professionals were contacted.

The perpetrator was immediately sent for an assessment with a therapist who specializes in working with teens who act out sexually against other children.

A few days later, in a routine meeting with her parents and the school guidance counselor, the little girl was asked how she feels now about what happened. She said “I feel fine. I feel good. Actually, I feel proud, like I’m one of those little kids in the Magen coloring book that I got before Pesach that puts their hands up (she demonstrated) and says ‘I’m the boss of my body!'”

I got off the phone with the mom with a smile on my face. That is so rare in my line of work.

There are so many different kinds of heroes, and this mother is one of mine.

Why?

She is raising an empowered and educated daughter. Her daughter was confident enough to disclose immediately, before the abuse could escalate at all.

But as we know, that is not enough.

Children cannot protect themselves from abuse, no matter how educated they are.

The mom took her daughter seriously, even when she was initially vague. She stayed calm (on the outside!) and she was supportive.

She had tough, awkward conversations with her family.

She advocated for her daughter and at the same time made sure the necessary steps were taken to get her nephew, the adolescent perpetrator, the treatment he needed.

Like I said, most of the stories I experience do not have such positive, or even fast results.

But I think this is the angle I’m proud our campaign is broadcasting: that these kinds of situations are possible, that there is hope for a better future.

We can believe victims.

We can have the tough, awkward conversations required to stop abuse from continuing.

We can build safer communities of empowered children and survivors.

And I want to go one step further:

I want to show survivors that our community stands with them, and that they have an army of support. That there are thousands who #ShowUpForSurvivors.

That we stand with victims, and survivors, and WANT TO PREVENT child sexual abuse.

And while the change is slow, it is happening. In fact, last year, thanks to those who stood with us in supporting survivors, we were able to scale our operation significantly and hire a new investigator and case manager, who in turn were able to help hundreds of survivors and their families.

This year, we already have over 1,000 supporters, standing up and supporting our heroes.

I meet heroes in my line of work, every day. Hopefully, telling their stories will help shed light on the darkness and build a safe future for our kids.

Please #ShowUpForSurvivors and donate to Magen today.

About the Author
Shana Aaronson is the Executive Director of Magen for Jewish Communities, an Israel based non-profit providing education, awareness, mental health support, advocacy, and investigations around sexual abuse and its effect on individuals, families and communities. Shana holds a degree in psychology, certification in educational guidance counseling, training in abuse prevention with at-risk youth, and IFS therapy. Shana formerly served as the Assistant Director at Tzofiah, as social services coordinator for Magen Child Protective Services, and as COO of US based Jewish Community Watch. She volunteers as a madrichat kallot and birth assistant to women with histories of sexual and physical trauma. Shana lives with her family in Mateh Yehuda, Israel.
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