Swimming pools, watermelon, ice pops, and campfires are all hallmarks of a childhood summertime experience, but so are a loosening of rules, newfound independence, and the introduction of counselors and friends whose boundaries might be inappropriate. How do we balance letting our kids enjoy their summer, while teaching them the best way to set limits and be sexual predator-proof?
There is a movement under way in the charedi world to educate camps, counselors, and parents on how to handle these issues. Rabbi Zvi Gluck, founder and director of Amudim, explains that while 93% of sexual abuse occurs in the home, we still need to make sure our camps (and schools) are safe for our children. Camp counselor training is an essential piece to this puzzle, and ASAP, an organization created to address the critical and intolerable reality of molestation and abuse, has developed a course to educate counselors on how to be appropriate with campers.
“Many camps sent home information to parents on keeping kids safe, more than ever before,” notes Gluck, “but in the charedi camp space, I want to especially commend the Shma Camps and Camp Romimu for running counselor training for their staff.”
Rabbi Yakov Horowitz of Project YES, who has a book and video course on child safety, agrees that camp training is essential. Do they train their counselors on what touch is appropriate vs. inappropriate? What is there procedure if an incident were to occur? “If they have no policy in place, run away. This is not the camp for you or your children,” warns Rabbi Horowitz.
Both Rabbis Gluck’s and Horowitz’s organizations have put out safety tips across social media, especially on ultra-Orthodox sites and platforms for parents to learn how to prevent and, God forbid, deal with abuse if they suspect it has occurred.
Some of Rabbi Horowitz tips include:
1 – Don’t Frighten Kids. Studies show that the more scare tactics are used, the less children will remember in what to do in a sticky situation. Instead, talk to them in a calm, friendly way when bringing up the topic.
2- Teach Kids the Basics. Teach them that they have the right to never have anyone touch them in their private areas. They should never be alone with anyone else and should always stay with a group. If they are made to feel uncomfortable in any way, they should say no, yell or demand to call home immediately. “Tell your child, ‘Your body belongs to you. You have a right to your own personal space.
3 – Have Healthy Alternative Activities for Teens. If kids only hear where they can’t go, and don’t have anywhere to go, they will find somewhere to go. Giving them healthy alternative options is the best way to know that you approve of what they are doing and with whom they are doing it.
4 – Trust Your Instincts. If you trust your instincts and teach kids to do the same, you can navigate challenges much more easily. “The biggest piece of all of this is to teach children to speak up and step away if they are ever uncomfortable. They will be supported, even if what they say doesn’t seem to be bad. Even if nobody did anything, if you feel uncomfortable around somebody, speak up, call your parent, tell the staff, and we’ll support you.” Letting children know that their feelings are important empowers them to speak up if they are ever uncomfortable. “The good news is that you can stop your kids from being targets by educating them, getting close with them and being proactive in knowing who and where they are.”
Some of Amudim’s list of tips include:
5- No Secrets. Because every child molester asks their victim to keep the abuse between the two of them, there should never be secrets between children and parents (unless it has an expiration date, like a surprise party).
6-Know Who Can Help. Make sure your child has a list of adults they know they can turn to for help, including parents, head counselor and camp director.
7 – Proper Names for Body Parts. When speaking to your child about their anatomy, use specific names for body parts. If a situation ever, God forbid, arises, having proper language will help them effectively communicate what happened.
“We still occasionally hear from a parents who asks, ‘Uch, what’s the big deal? It happened to me,'” explains Gluck, “but we hear it far less today than we heard it even five years ago. Awareness is on the rise and awareness is the key to keeping our kids safe.”