A surefire way to gauge the generation in which a person was raised is to have him or her fill in the following sentence: Where were you when ?”
Baby Boomers would ask, “When President Kennedy was shot?” Thirtysomethings would respond, “When the space shuttle exploded?” Today’s teenagers would reply, “On 9/11?”
These were shocking, transformational moments that are etched in our mind’s eye forever. We remember where we were standing when we heard the news and recall the sinking feeling in the pits of our stomachs as we thought this just can’t be happening.
Members of our community had our 9/11 moment last week when we heard that Leiby Kletzky, a”h, was allegedly murdered by one of our own. As was the case on 9/11, people of all stripes banded together to search and later to mourn for that precious neshamah.
In the aftermath of 9/11, a paradigm shift occurred in our thinking about security. No longer would people saunter onto an airplane or enter a New York City tunnel without passing through the watchful eye of law enforcement personnel and fellow citizens alike. The ubiquitous “If you see something, say something,” ads have been extraordinarily effective in training people to be more vigilant and to report suspicious activity to the authorities.
It is of utmost importance that members of our community engage in a similar shift in thinking – and acting – in the aftermath of our 9/11, in the arena of the safety and security of our children.
The two areas that demand our urgent attention are (1) the education of our children regarding their personal space and safety and (2) the critical need to immediately report all predators to the authorities.
Education is extraordinarily effective in training children and preventing abuse. Research shows conclusively that children who are spoken to about their personal space are more than six times as likely to take defensive action when approached by a predator. And all of these messages can be delivered in a perfectly modest manner appropriate for haredi homes.
As of this moment, Leiby’s abduction seems to have been random in nature, and many parents in our community are limiting their discussions with their children to not taking rides from strangers. This is a grave and dangerous error. We ought to use this opportunity to provide each of our children, from the youngest ages on up, with a comprehensive, research-based model of child safety training.
Why? Because even if Leiby’s case was indeed random, it would be an exception to the rule. The vast majority of predators are well known to the victims and are often relatives or friends of the family.
Comprehensive child safety education includes the following components:
● The notion of private space. Your body belongs to you. Worded differently, get children to think of their own bodies like they would a favorite snack – something that is exclusively theirs.
● Good touching/bad touching. One way of expressing this is to tell children that no one is allowed to touch them in a spot covered by a bathing suit.
● No one may tell children keep secrets from their parents; predators naturally want to drive a wedge between the child and his/her parents.
● If someone is making a child uncomfortable, the child has the right to say no. Many victims of abuse felt they had no choice but to listen to the adult or older predator.
(Please note that these few lines do not do justice to a complex subject. Project YES conducted a series of workshops in the month of June to train parents in speaking to kids about personal space and abuse prevention. You can view the 33-minute video of one such presentation at http://vimeo.com/25322132).
On a communal level, we urgently need to adopt and publicize a firm policy that predators will be reported to the authorities.
Contacting someone like me when your child has been molested is analogous to informing me you saw someone carrying a suicide vest and you suspect an imminent terror attack. I have no training in the counter-terrorism field, zero enforcement capability and a day job that precludes me from devoting the 24/7 level of attention to the case it deserves and needs.