REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION from the Florida Jewish News, pp. 22, 24 [edited]
The Florida Jewish News of Jul 22-Aug 4, 2005 published a lengthy article describing a case of child sexual abuse allegations. Although the accused family was cleared by three governmental bodies, there are still bad feelings and fear in the community. The accused family has sued the accusers and been shunned in the community. How are we, the readers—who are members of our own communities—to use this information? How can we enable it to help us rather than be a source of divisiveness? I offer five points for consideration:
Sexual Abuse Exists In Every Community.
It is absolutely necessary for the average reader to know, without a doubt, that sexual abuse does exist in every community. From Brooklyn to Florida, from London to Israel, sexual abuse is a problem that has lain hidden under the fear of exposing something ugly and dirty. Unfortunately, this permits perpetrators to continue abusing.
Known Sexual Abuse Should Be Reported.
The worst fear in reporting sexual abuse is of involving the world in our lives. That fear is understandable, especially in light of the degree to which governmental agencies have so frequently bungled their investigations in past years.
Nevertheless, the damage done to victims—which could be a large number of victims from any one individual perpetrator—means the right thing to do is to report known abuse. Damage is an individual matter, but even one inappropriate sexual contact can ruin a life. Don’t ever assume “she” (or he) “will get over it.” They won’t.
It is best to report the abuse and see that an investigation follows. The process in Florida is to report to the sex abuse hotline, 1-800-96ABUSE (1-800-962-2873) and then to the local police precinct. Each precinct has a Sex Crimes Unit that knows how to question both children and adults such that the questions don’t implant suggestions in the person’s mind. Both investigations will work simultaneously.
My experience is that the police will do a careful and professional job in their investigation process. Only God knows what is in the heart, but He placed us here to improve this world. Part of our job should be to rid ourselves of evil in whatever way is available. This should include making proper reports. If our loved one were robbing banks, we would report that, wouldn’t we? This is a lot worse.
How To Determine If There Is Sexual Abuse.
Sudden or unexplained changes in a child’s behavior in the following areas are indications of the necessity for sitting down and talking to your child:
- Nightmares, trouble sleeping, fear of the dark, or other sleeping problems.
- Extreme fear of “monsters”.
- Spacing out at odd times.
- Loss of appetite, or trouble eating or swallowing.
- Sudden mood swings: rage, fear, anger, or withdrawal.
- Fear of certain people or places (e.g., a child may not want to be left alone with a baby-sitter, a friend, a relative, or some other child or adult; or a child who is usually talkative and cheery may become quiet and distant when around a certain person).
- Stomach illness all of the time with no identifiable reason.
- An older child behaving like a younger child, such as bed-wetting or thumb sucking.
- Sexual activities with toys or other children, such as simulating sex with dolls or asking other children/siblings to behave sexually.
- New words for private body parts.
- Refusing to talk about a “secret” he/she has with an adult or older child.
- Talking about a new older friend.
- Suddenly having money.
- Cutting or burning herself or himself as an adolescent.
(from the website www.stopitnow.org)
Remember, many stresses and pressures could cause some of these symptoms. Seeing the symptoms means you need to talk with your child. Such a conversation should be open-ended, allowing for the child to fill in the blanks rather than you supplying and suggesting the reason for the behavior change. For example, you might ask an older child: “What’s happening with you lately?”
You might decide to take a very young child who exhibits some of these symptoms to someone who specializes in testing young children for sexual abuse.
Physical signs such as unexplained bleeding, soreness, or emissions from genital areas certainly require a medical checkup.
Adults With These Behaviors Raise Red Flags
- Talks again and again about the sexual activities of children or teens?
- Masturbates a lot or takes breaks from other activities to go masturbate?
- Talks about sexual fantasies with children and is not clear about what’s okay with children?
- Encourages silence and secrets in a child?
- Looks at child pornography?
- Asks adult partners to dress or act like a child or teen during sexual activity?
- Often has a “special” child friend, maybe a different one from year to year?
- Spends most spare time on activities involving children or teens, not adults?
- Makes fun of a child’s body parts, calls a child sexual names such as “stud”?
- Refuses to let a child set any of his or her own limits?
- Insists on hugging, touching, kissing, tickling, wrestling with or holding a child even when the child does not want this affection?
- Is overly interested in the sexuality of a particular child or teen (e.g., talks repeatedly about the child’s developing body or interferes with normal teen dating)?
- Manages to get time alone or insists on time alone with a child with no interruptions?
- Spends most of his/her spare time with children and has little interest in spending time with someone their own age?
- Regularly offers to babysit many different children for free or takes children on overnight outings alone?
- Buys children expensive gifts or gives them money for no apparent reason?
- Frequently walks in on children/teens in the bathroom?
(from the same website, www.stopitnow.org).
If this is your loved one, you must get him help immediately. He may not have harmed any children—yet. Or he may have. The fact is that perpetrators will not just stop by themselves. The power of the addiction is too great. They also will not stop with ordinary family therapy or psychological counseling. They need the direction and guidance of someone trained to treat sexual addictions.
False Accusations Of Sexual Abuse Are A Common Weapon In Divorce Cases, Court Battles, And, Lately, Community Politics.
The foregoing sections make the case of how serious sexual abuse is and that it must be addressed. It must be investigated and prosecuted. Sexual addiction, in the absence of known victims, must be treated. It is precisely because the damage is so great that there can be a tendency to jump to conclusions after hearing stories about people. That would be just as evil as perpetrating the sexual abuse.
If we are to judge people favorably, we must not listen to unconfirmed stories. If we inadvertently hear it, we must be highly skeptical. The case in the FJN’s last issue resembled a case with which I was involved and where the accused was exonerated by investigators, but not before he and his family were ostracized in their community.
A logical question that you, the reader, surely asked yourself when reading the original story was: “The accusing families were described as ‘sane and credible’; why would such people level false accusations?” There are two explanations:
The first explanation is consistent with giving both parties the benefit of the doubt. In cases where there actually was no abuse, it is possible that a parent, confronted with one or several symptoms listed at the beginning of this article, draws the conclusion that sexual abuse must have taken place. She or he then begins to question the child in a way that plants suggestions in the child’s mind. One byproduct of all this, for the child, is a lot of wonderful attention. The child is therefore motivated to go along with the suggestions in order to get more of that attention.
Thus, an overly worried parent jumping to premature conclusions can create a case where none existed. This phenomenon has been studied for two decades under the category of false accusations. Fifteen years ago, I interviewed the judge in a sensational Miami case in which the names of the accused were cleared because the accusations could not stand up in court. The psychologist, who I also interviewed, nevertheless believed the accusers. Although we may believe, with that psychologist, that the guilty often go free, it is also possible that the innocent are exonerated.
The second explanation is more sinister. I’m sure it doesn’t happen often, but there are people who will hurt others maliciously. There are a host of reasons that all lie in the psychological sphere. (Vindictiveness, power, attention, playing victim, appearing like an authority) Because of these possibilities, it is not a good idea to use the “sane” or “credible” demeanor of people as a measure of the accuracy of their stories. You will remember that Dennis Rader, the killer who pled guilty in Kansas to10 serial murders in a 31 year period, was President of his Church Council.
Thus, false accusations are a very real problem. The community should be as alert to the possibility of false accusations as to the possibility of real abuse. The key to deciphering which you are dealing with is a thorough investigation. Those responsible for the community’s well-being must be careful on both sides of the issue.
Take Decisive Action.
That care must lead to action. Anything less is an injustice.
Over a lifetime, one unstopped man could have, literally, hundreds of victims. Because of this, kicking a known abuser out of the community amounts to perpetration of the abuse on another community.
On the other hand, if the accused person has been cleared, then isolating him or asking him to leave the community amounts to hating your neighbor in your heart, also a great sin.
Ostracizing someone is not the answer. A known abuser must be reported; a suspected abuser must be reported for investigation. Victims and their families need to heal; counseling will help move everyone forward.
A smart step for non-involved people in the community is to be cautious of whom your child is with when you are not there and to educate you children on the importance of keeping their private parts private. Obviously, the very best tool in your arsenal will be a healthy, open relationship with your child.