Thursday, May 21, 2009

Gender Separation and Sex Abuse

Is the Charedi and religious world more vulnerable to sex abuse than secular society? One would not think so. After all very few societies are as gender separate as is the Charedi one. And very few are as sheltered from erotic images as they are. But according to rape center manager Debbie Gross it is exactly that gender separation that makes it more vulnerable. It seems there is no real difference between secular society and the religious one other than the vulnerability factor.

Ms. Gross was interviewed by Ynet about her new program designed to help the religious community learn how to prevent abuse and better deal with it - should it happen.

It seems like educators in Israel are taking some positive steps in addressing the issue of sex abuse in the Torah world. But her comments revealed that Charedi and religious Jews are indeed more vulnerable. She called what is happening there an epidemic. Here are some key excerpts from the Ynet article:

'Sexual assault is made much easier in haredi society, because kids are separated from their mothers at a younger age.

"There's an epidemic of sexual abuse of children in Israel," said Debbie Gross, who runs the center. "This epidemic exists in all the sectors, including the religious and haredi ones. We are talking about a very serious phenomenon, which I believe can be substantially reduced through these workshops.

"The only difference (between secular and religious society )is that in the religious and haredi society abuse is made much easier, because of the gender separation. A predator would go to places where there are no mothers to protect their children. For instance, a haredi mother can't take her son to the swimming pool from the age of 8-9. So the kids sometimes go with an older brother, who doesn't always keep an eye on them.

Additionally, in our education system we have men teaching children from the age of three. This doesn't exist in the secular system, where one can graduate from high school without ever having a male teacher. We know that an attacker usually seeks a profession that allows him to be close to kids.

Is there anyone that would argue with any of this? I think she is right on target. And I applaud her concrete efforts here in changing the dynamic of sex abuse in the Torah world in Israel. I just hope she isn’t thwarted by some overly zealous Askanim who fear the very mention of the word sex in a classroom.

It will be interesting to see how this develops.