May 29, 2024
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May 29, 2024
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We all need a minute.

The loss of innocence, the confusion, the sadness, the anger, the betrayal—it’s all coming up, but for anyone who has been working tirelessly in the world of sexual abuse it is not at all surprising. Not for all the trauma therapists, child advocates, survivors, families of survivors, and any rabbi or authority where these cases come across our desks all too often.

Sexual abuse has always existed. Molesters and sexual predators have always been around. It is an illness, after all, and we can be susceptible to illness. What is it about this case that is shaking people to their very core? Is it that Chaim Walder was a public figure? Is it that he seemingly helped so many people? Is it that it went on for so many years? Is it because we all feel a collective guilt for not seeing this sooner? Maybe all of the above.

We all need a minute, it is true. To breathe, to process, to allow whatever feeling needs to course through our bones to happen. Let it in, because we have work to do. If we needed a wake-up call, guess what? It’s here. It can’t be any louder, and yet many are not listening and are covering their ears with their hands, shaking their heads and stomping their feet.

Hey, I get it. This is hard. Well, it’s supposed to be. Nothing about sexual abuse is easy. If it were, all the people that have been on the front lines wouldn’t be so burned out, shaking our heads with a knowing nod that this is the way sexual abuse often occurs. Grooming a victim, isolating and sexualizing them—it’s the process of certain types of predators, while others are merely acting on opportunity or are sexually confused by their feelings with no education, and are not the evil people we may want to believe.

This is difficult. We have a lot to learn.

The point that I have been hearing a lot lately is the concept of lashon hara, and how this is the lesson here—this is the takeaway. It’s being said that social media and technology is the problem because that’s how things spread, and we have to be extra careful with what we do on it. I wholly agree with that statement. We do have to be careful with what we put out there because information is disseminated at warp speed these days.

But can we please take a minute! We have to accept that reality is social media, and we are going to get information, but please don’t get so lost in the smoke that you forget to see the fire. We do not have to be the judge and the jury; we do need to filter the amount of pain and fear we take in from the web so that we can allow our nervous systems to recalibrate and settle, so we are not wound so tightly we will snap.

However, we need to know the difference between several concepts. One is the difference between telling and tattling. This is the difference between night and day, good and evil.

Tattling is for the sake of gossip or to specifically hurt another person. It’s the child telling on her sibling in order to get more treats. It’s the grown-ups discussing someone’s clothes as ugly to make themselves feel better.

Telling has to do with our safety and keeping our kids safe. It’s the kid who comes home and needs to tell you something that happened with another kid that made him feel angry, scared or unsafe. It is our job to protect our children and we need to know in order to keep them safe. Telling is the grown-up whose doctor makes an inappropriate comment that doesn’t feel right, and she calls an authority to find out if she’s crazy or if something is terribly wrong. Telling is to mobilize an action in order to keep others safe. We need to distinguish this for ourselves and for our children immediately. Lashon hara in a general way is the smoke; distinguishing these is protection from the fire.

The next piece is the feeling that now I can’t trust anyone. Really? Take a minute. Is that true? It may be the initial instinct. It may even fit for you if you have a trauma history but, for most, can you close your eyes and tune into your gut? Think of those in your life whom you feel comfortable with. The ones you can lower your shoulders with, take full breaths with, laugh easily with, or have deep discussions with.

This isn’t a black and white issue. That is childlike thinking, and it comes from a childlike part of us. The part that is stomping her feet yelling, “No!” But yes, we need to learn to trust our gut. Trust but verify. We need to focus on learning how to have appropriate boundaries—both internal and external—and to notice that when someone is violating that boundary they lose our trust, no matter who it is. That is not everyone; it’s those who breach our trust. We can learn that, and we should. “I can’t trust anyone” is the smoke; learning that trust is earned and can be broken is protection from the fire.

Lastly, the concept of opposite genders not being alone with each other as the takeaway. Can we take a minute? Yes, there is a place for learning this, and we should. Yichud, after all, is designed to protect us—all of us. And yet, I see more smoke. Do you know that many, many molesters are going after the same gender or that the abuse can be based on opportunities? And since we separate boys and girls, then the opportunity is for abuse of the same gender.

Let’s take a minute. Breathe. We need to look deeper through the smoke.

What are we missing? What can we teach? What can we embody? It is not the whom it is the what. We do not look for specific people that may or may not look harmful on the outside. Clearly that is not working for us.

We need to learn to sense into behaviors, verbal language and body language. We need to teach our children how to tune into their insides and notice if something doesn’t feel right. A twinge in their guts, a racing of their hearts, a pulling in of their muscles. We need to teach that it’s OK to tell or ask another trusted adult what to do and how to make sense of what they are feeling, instead of overriding it as we often do. We need to teach our children that even if they are completely comfortable and someone does something that violates their personal space and bodies, that they need to tell because it’s not safe.

Most importantly they need to know that we will listen, believe, and mobilize to help keep them safe. The smoke is not ignoring the yichud importance because it is, but rather making that the focus, the takeaway. Learning that each person, regardless of gender, is required to act respectfully and not cause you harm. That is protection from the fire.

Let us all take the minute we so desperately need, breathe, put our feet on the ground, let the pain in. And then join all of us who have been fighting for your kids all along, the ones who were not surprised with this story, the ones who have cried endless tears from seeing our kids being hurt over and over again. Join us in clearing the smoke so we can be protected from the fire.

Dr. Shani Verschleiser, LCSW, AuD, is a noted author and speaker on the subject of parenting and child personal safety. She has educated tens of thousands of individuals on the topic of protecting children from sexual abuse. As a licensed trauma therapist Shani runs, which offers a researched-based curriculum to educate parents, children and teachers in sexual abuse prevention.

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