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If the topic of child abuse over the summer, makes your stomach turn, you’re not alone. This parent’s guide to prevent child abuse over the summer was curated to help you educate yourself & your child. Child safety over the summer is possible.
If anyone asked me where my “happy place” was growing up, my answer was always Camp Sternberg. The sleep away camp that I attended for nine blissful summers. To me, camp was the epitome of all that is safe, warm, fun and wholesome. I would dream about camp all school year, through the homework, midterms, finals, reports and report cards, I had my countdown ready. CAMP was that safe happy place for me.
I remember the summer when I was about seventeen. I was working as a staff member and I shared a bunkhouse with a few other specialty staff members. A girl I was quite friendly with spent a lot of time with one of the older staff members and I remember thinking at the time how nice it must be for her to have someone like that to talk to.
Fast forward a year, and this girl and I became close friends. One night we were talking and I commented on my feeling happy for her that she had this older staff / mentor to speak to. My friend started crying and pleaded with me to “please never mention her name again.” I was taken aback and asked her what happened. She shared “that summer she molested me almost every night in camp, and the following year whenever I would visit her as well.”
At that moment my perfect world shattered. My dreams of the safest place on earth went up in smoke. And in the longer moments that followed I decided to devote part of my career to helping victims like my friend. It became my mission to once again, make sleep away camp a truly safe and happy place.
In this article I will attempt to guide parents, teachers, and guardians with tips on how to prevent child abuse & keep your children safe in any camp or summertime setting.
How can you prevent child abuse this summer?
1Awareness: The key to preventing child abuse
The first step is be aware. Please don’t falsely reassure yourself or allow yourself to believe that these issues aren’t happening in “your circles”. From the most religious to the completely secular, I have witnessed abuse and I can unfortunately reassure you that sadly no one is immune.
Beyond this first part of awareness which is basically peeling back the denial, lies the second part of awareness which constitutes what parents actually need to be aware of. Everyone can say, “abuse should never happen” and of course they are right, but ask yourself if you know what you are looking out for.
Who can the predator be?
The statistics are high that sexual abuse predators are often related to or feel close to their victims. Although very unpleasant to think about, sexual abuse predators are often parents, siblings, uncles, aunts, cousins, rabbeim, teachers, counselors and friends. This is a fact that should not be taken lightly. This fact also makes the grooming process easier. If a child is accusing someone you know and/or someone you are related to or close to – DON’T dismiss their complaint.
Grooming & its role in child abuse:
It is important to note that abusers usually start by “grooming” their victims. While grooming sounds bad (and indeed it is), in reality it appears quite flattering. It is very important to be aware of what grooming actually is, so that you can explain it to your children.
Grooming is when the perpetrator starts to build a connection with his/her victim. This can be done by singling the victim out with flattery, compliments, private walks, and long conversations. In this stage, nothing bad is actually occurring. In this part of the process the perpetrator builds a connection of trust with their victim.
2 Educate your child:
Parents often ask me at what age should they start having these discussions with their children. My response is always a reflexive “right now.”
In order to prevent child abuse parents should be training their children in appropriate body safety and appropriate touching from a very, very young age.
I advise role playing with young children so that they understand exactly what you are trying to tell them. Explain that if anyone gives them special attention, they should let you know right away. Point out that any area covered in a bathing suit is absolutely off limits to touching. I always add that a parent can change a baby’s diaper or help a toddler in the bathroom, and at times a doctor may need to check that area, but absolutely no teacher, counselor, sibling, friend or stranger should ever be touching that area for any reason.
Rabbi Horowitz’s book Let’s stay Safe is a great way to educate your child. In order to prevent child abuse, I recommend parents read this book to their children at least once a month.
3 Teach your child to speak up for themselves
Teach and reassure your child that in addition to those areas covered by a bathing suit, if anyone touches them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable or in any other area that they don’t appreciate, they can and should speak up for themselves and ask them to stop. They should also stay far away from that person as much as possible.
4Reassure your child that you will always believe them!
It is vital that you communicate to your child or teen that they never need to feel embarrassed to tell you if someone spoke to them, looked at them or touched them in any way that made them feel uncomfortable, upset, and embarrassed. Remind them that even if they didn’t have the courage to tell the person to stop, they should always tell you.
Always reassure them that you will hear them out, and above all that you will believe them. Untold abuse has occurred because the “safe adults” in a child’s life accused them of making up stories. We must believe our children and do everything in our power to keep them safe.
It is important to discuss this (many times!) with your children. It is a continuous conversation and I recommend you slip this into conversation whenever appropriate, specifically before and during the summer and around camp season.
Lookout for signs in the victim of child abuse
Parents, teachers, and counselors should look out for signs that something may be awry. Signs may be a child whose personality seems to have changed overnight for no apparent reason, a child who has gone from happy to sad or from extroverted to introverted. Or, a child who suddenly doesn’t want to go to camp or school for no apparent reason.
Happy children usually continue to feel happy if the setting they are in provides appropriate safety. If you do notice a swift change in personality or behavior, it is vital that you pull the child aside to a place where you can talk privately and ask him/her if everything is ok.
If they can’t seem to talk about it, offer them choices. Ask them if someone touched them in a way that made them feel uncomfortable or if someone asked them to do something that scared them. I have found that if you continue to probe safely and appropriately, you will know if/when you hit “jackpot”. Continue to reassure your child that you will believe and support them, and that it is safe to share as many details as possible.
6Remove the perpetrator at once!
If you have indeed been able to identify the abuser it is imperative that he/she be removed from his/her position in camp immediately. This is obviously easier said than done. The first step is to arrange a meeting with the camp director and share what your child has told you. A child should never be put in a position where he/she needs to “prove” what they have shared. They must be made to feel that the adults in their lives trust and believe them.
There is no way to ensure that the perpetrator won’t find another victim and a child can never feel fully safe if the abuser remains at his/her position. Therefore it remains safest to have that person removed from their position immediately and if that won’t be done, you should remove your child.
I maintain my belief that camp can remain an absolutely safe and happy place for children. However, now I also believe that in order to make it truly happy and safe, parents, teachers, counselors, and directors must do their part. This includes a commitment to be aware, have the appropriate continuous conversations, engage in open communication, look out for warning signs, and address those signs immediately should they arise. If we all approach camp with this same caution, awareness and sensitivity, it will continue to be the place where dreams are made.
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