Lifting the Veil on Sexual Abuse with Courage to Heal

By Frieda Schweky Jul 05, 2018 01:51 PM

Sexual abuse is a topic that, for years, has been ignored, denied, or swept under the rug. This should no longer be the case. Sexual abuse happens in all communities throughout the world, including the Jewish community located within the tri-state area, and it must be discussed in order to be prevented.

“It’s not about living in fear, it’s about being aware. Get educated and get empowered," proclaims Sephardic Bikur Holim's Courage To Heal.

Courage To Heal is a division of the SBH Mental Health Resources that deals with sexual and domestic abuse. In the more recent years, they have been sending trained individuals to speak to parents in private group settings about abuse. Courage To Heal also goes into schools to speak to the administration on how to hire staff and trains teachers on how to recognize abuse. They have a hotline that provides anonymous and confidential support to anyone who might need it as well.

The statistics cannot be ignored so let's address them right now. Accoring to Courage to Heal, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be abused in some way. 90% of victims are abused by someone they know and trust. These two facts are reason enough to turn on your parent radar and become aware of certain situations that may not be as innocent as they seem.

First, let’s define sexual abuse so there's no confusion. Sexual abuse includes physical touch, directly or through clothing. Non-physical sexual abuse includes indecent exposure, pornography, sexting, explicit talk, and obscene phone calls. Incest is a form of sexual abuse in which the perpetrator is a family member. It’s also important to note that not only children are victims of sexual abuse, adults can fall into the category of abuse victims as well.

Here are some basics every parent should know when it comes to sexual abuse according to Courage to Heal. Please make yourself aware of these important signs in order to prevent further abuse from happening in the future.

Signs of Vulnerable or ‘Target’ Children 

  • Middle child, quiet, meek, and shy.

  • One who is looking for attention/approval.

  • Not likely to speak up about something that may happen to them.

Signs of a Potential Predator

  • Can be anyone we know including a family member, teacher, tutor, babysitter, housekeeper, counselor, aide, bus driver, mentor or nurse, sibling’s friend, doctor; even someone who is held in high esteem and respected.

  • There isn't always an obvious outward sign in a predator to indicate that they would abuse someone.

  • Could be a professional con-artist. This means they can get the trust of both adults and children easily.

  • Looks for jobs and positions around children.

  • Takes advantage of people in stressful situations.

  • If a predator chooses a child, chances are she or he WILL get them.


  • This is the term used to describe how an abuser may gain their victims' trust.
  • The predator befriends the child, gives them special attention, offers money or advice, or buys candy or presents to get the child to want to be around them.

  • It’s a slow, calculated, and carefully planned process.
  • Once the child feels close to the predator, the child doesn’t realize when the line was crossed and they are in too deep to get out.

  • Predator tries to separate a child from their parents.

  • It’s important to pay attention to who is paying attention to your children.

  • One can be groomed at any age, even young adults, and married individuals.

How to Properly Prepare You and Your Children

  • Creep Factor - We all feel it, even our kids. It’s a confused uh-oh feeling you get around certain individuals. One should pay attention to it.

  • Teach children to run away if their creep factor is up. It’s more important to be safe than polite.
  • As parents, we need to “deal” instead of “deny.” Don’t dismiss a gut feeling. Hashem gave women a sixth sense, don’t ignore it.

  • Kids need to know we stand by them no matter what they feel.
  • If what children say is minimized or denied, they will question their judgment.

  • A red flag does not mean abuse, it just means that, as a parent, you should ask questions. Be aware and set boundaries.

  • A smart thing to do is have a code word for you or your children to shout when they are put in an uncomfortable position and need and out.

Signs of Abuse 

  • Drop in grades, change in personality, avoidance of school or shul, behavior problem or sudden ADHD, depression, fear of people with a certain feature, inability to focus, change in eating patterns, nightmares, regression, bedwetting, isolating themselves or afraid to be alone, risky teen behaviors.

  • These signs may not always signal abuse but they can be signs of other problems. Talk to your child and allow them to open up and express to you what's bothering them.

Why Children Don’t Speak Up

  • Children feel threatened. 

  • Some are told it’s a game, some fear blame or punishment, some feel guilt or shame, some fear to break up their family, and some like the presents and attention and don’t want it to stop.

How to Keep Yourself in the Loop and Open the Relationship with Your Child

  • Our best protection is our relationship with our children; be a ‘tellable’ parent.

  • Encourage children to talk from a very young about little things so as they get older, they will be comfortable telling you bigger things. This includes things they think might upset you.

  • Children are the bosses of their bodies. They have the right to say NO to any touch to their body or touch to anyone else's body. Empower them with that information.

  • Personal space and privacy are important. Teach young children that private parts are those that are covered by a bathing suit and they should not be touched by anyone.

  • Teach children to come to you when they are told by anybody to keep a secret from mom and dad and reward them when they do.

  • Teach children and practice with them to say in a loud outdoor voice, “It’s my body and I say NO!” as well as, “I’m the boss of my body, no touching allowed!” and, “You have to stop, my private parts are private!”

  • Have this talk from time to time including before a child goes to a new environment and even when they go to college, seminary, or Israel.

  • Get your children to trust you and have confidence that you will believe them and take care of ANY situation for them. Remember, you want them to confide in you.

  • Recommended reading for parents and younger children: “Let’s Stay Safe” and “Talking About Private Places” both books by Bracha Goetz.

Creating Safe Environments

  • Your impact as a parent makes a difference. Speak up if there’s something you don’t want your child to be doing. Set boundaries, privacy, and rules. Be the kind of parent that scares away potential predators.

  • All lessons with outside individuals should be held in rooms with an open door on the main level of one's home.

  • Screen all tutors, nannies, babysitters, playgroups, housekeepers, and teachers that you hire to care for your children.

  • Remind your child to keep boundaries and privacy when they sleep outside of your home and to call if they are uncomfortable in any situation.

  • Teach your children to avoid strangers. Normal adults don’t ask children for directions or help.

  • Create a family code word for all situations of danger or discomfort.

For more informationreferrals, or to set up a parent training class in your home with Courage to Heal, call (718) 787-1300 or e-mail For further information or help call the Sexual and Domestic Abuse Helpline (718) 787-0009.

Author Image

Frieda Schweky is Sephardic.Org's official community events reporter. For inquiries and to get involved with our site, please contact Frieda via email.