Lately, it seems like whenever we turn on the news there’s another story about a Hollywood director, doctor or community member being accused of and indicted for sexual assault or abuse. And you know what? That’s a good thing. Sexual abuse is not a new phenomenon and it is not a growing epidemic. Sexual abuse has been happening behind closed doors to the same extent that we are hearing about it now—but no one was talking about it. Never before have victims felt as able to come forward with what has happened to them and to confront their abusers. The more we empower survivors and educate our children, and the more we call out abusers (instead of protecting them), the safer the environment we will create. Project S.A.R.A.H. is on the front lines of this battle by not only working with survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse but by doing preventative work.
Project S.A.R.A.H. regularly goes into the classroom to educate children in preschool through fourth grade about personal safety rules and what they should do and who they should turn to if they do not feel safe or something makes them feel upset, nervous or uncomfortable. Our cyber-safety program is presented to the fifth through eighth grades and helps students think about how they spend their time online and how they can maintain their safety in an environment that has no formal safety net. Trigger videos followed by discussions about healthy relationships facilitated by our staff are shown in the high schools. Project S.A.R.A.H. goes to synagogues and summer camps to train youth leaders and day camp counselors to recognize and respond to signs of abuse, and offers behavioral guidelines to protect campers and counselors alike. Project S.A.R.A.H. clinical staff provide small in-home workshops for parents about making sure their children are able to keep themselves safe at camp.
As parents and as concerned community members, what can we do to help our children? How can we create a safer environment and empower our children to assert their right for personal safety in the face of threatening personalities and people who want to hurt them? When you attend a Project S.A.R.A.H. program as a parent, we encourage you to:
- • Have a conversation with your child about how if anyone or any situation makes them feel uncomfortable, nervous or upset they should tell you and you will always believe them and do your utmost to help them.
- • Discuss with your child who are the “trusted adults” in their lives. A trusted adult is someone they feel comfortable talking to about their personal safety and could be a parent, other family member, teacher or nurse. Children should be able to identify more than one trusted adult in their lives.
- • Teach your child the difference between a surprise and a secret. A surprise is something that eventually everyone will find out about, such as a surprise birthday party. Surprises can be fun and make you feel happy and excited. Secrets are things that people tell you that you can never ever tell. Secrets can make you feel yucky or sad or frightened. Tell your child that secrets are not OK and that if anyone, especially an adult, asks them to keep a secret they should tell you, or another trusted adult, right away.
Children may have difficulty talking about the things that make them uncomfortable, especially when it comes to disclosing abuse. Even if a child has difficulty verbally disclosing what happened to them, parents can often identify indicators of abuse. Physical indicators include uncharacteristic toileting accidents, pain and discomfort in their private body parts and they may be covered in multiple layers of clothing, especially when it is not seasonally appropriate. Behavioral indicators of sexual abuse include a child demonstrating sexual knowledge beyond what is developmentally appropriate, sexual behavior with other children or their toys, seeking opportunities for private touch with other children or adults and any sudden change in their overall behavior or personality.
Project S.A.R.A.H. is always available and dedicated to helping anyone concerned about their child’s safety as we navigate the increasingly complex world we live in.
If you are interested in having any of the Project S.A.R.A.H. programs introduced to your community or school, please call Project S.A.R.A.H. at 973-777-7638 and ask to speak to a member of the Project S.A.R.A.H. team.
By Lauren Halpern-Klahr, LMSW
Lauren Halpern-Klahr, LMSW, is a licensed therapist and Project S.A.R.A.H. team member. Project S.A.R.A.H. (Stop Abusive Relationships At Home) provides treatment and resources for Jewish victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse throughout the State of New Jersey. Contact Project S.A.R.A.H. at 973-777-7638 or on the web at projectsarah.org.