Dear Dr. Yael:
I thought I was doing a huge mitzvah; I didn’t realize it would destroy my family.
Baruch Hashem, we are well off and can and do give a lot of tzeddakah. We opened our home to a meshulach from Israel who we felt was trying to raise money for a good cause. We gave him a private room and bathroom; he joined us for supper on some nights and most Shabbos meals. He became like a part of our family.
And then something happened. Our children started acting out in ways we didn’t understand. We took them to see a therapist, who, after spending some time with them, discovered that our guest had been abusing our children while he lived with us.
Now all our children are in intensive therapy. The man in question was asked to remove himself from our home and told to go back to Israel and get psychological help. We also told him that if we find out he has come back to the United States we would file a lawsuit against him. I wanted to do sue him now, but my husband feels sorry for his wife and large amount of children.
Dr. Respler, I ask you to please share this letter with your readers. Please tell people to be careful whom they let into their home. A separate chesed apartment is one thing, but the guest should have no free access to a family’s home or children.
My husband and I are overwhelmed with guilt over what we allowed to happen to our children. I hope this letter serves as a warning to other parents.
A Guilty Mother
Dear Guilty Mother:
I am so sorry at what happened to you and to your family, but please, do not feel guilty; it is not an emotion that will not be productive for you. You had no way of knowing that the person you were bringing into your home was dangerous.
That being said, I can’t tell you the number of times adult patients have told me that they were the victims of abuse by guests in their homes when they were children.
Readers, we have made this point before, but obviously, it needs to be repeated: Do not leave your children alone with people you don’t know. Do not leave them alone with guests who offer to watch them so you can get some rest.
What else can we do? Make sure our children know basic information. My thanks to Dr. Susan Schulman for allowing me to share what she tells her patients to say to their children.
Children must be told that anything that is covered by a bathing suit is private, or kadosh. No one can look or touch there – other than a doctor during an examination or a parent if the child has said that there is something wrong.
Tell the child from the time he or she is able to speak and is sent away from the house even to playgroup the following information, on his or her level:
1) There are no secrets from Mommy and Daddy/Ema and Abba/ Mommy and Tatty. If someone tells you that we are doing something that is a secret and you should not tell your parents, you must tell.
2) If someone tells you he (or she) will buy you a present or tries to give you a present to go with him somewhere privately, don’t go. We are your parents and will buy you presents and everything you need.
3) If someone tells you he will hurt your parents, tell him that your parents are very strong and you know that he is just trying to scare you.
4) Tell your child never to go anywhere where there are no other people. “Hide and seek” must be played in safe places in your house where you can supervise.
5) Even the mikvah can be a dangerous place. Do not send your son alone to the mikvah, even if he is over bar mitzvah.
6) Sleepaway camp and dorms can be dangerous as well. Children must be taught to be cautious in all situations.
The following signs may mean that your child has been molested but is either afraid to tell you or does not even understand what has happened.
2-9 years of age:
- Fear of certain things: people, places, activities
- Behavioral regression – bed wetting for example
- Trouble eating or changes in appetite
- Nightmares, trouble sleeping
- Withdrawal from loved ones
- Feeling shameful or guilty
- Depression Nightmares, trouble sleeping
- Suddenly doing poorly in school
- Promiscuous activity
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Signs of aggression
- Running away from home
- Suicidal thoughts and gestures
- Overly mature behavior
- Exuding anger at being forced into situations out of their control
Warning signs of abuse:
Although physical signs of abuse are rare, if you see any of the following, have your child examined by a physician:
- Pain during urination and/or bowel movements
- Bleeding, discharges or pain in mouth, genitals or anus
- Difficulty walking, sitting, standing
- Self-induced injuries such as cutting, burning, suicide attempts
Guilty Mother, thank you again for writing to us and please take comfort in the hope that this letter will help other families avoid the trauma yours is experiencing. Hatzlocha!