Child Safety First: a new report

Jumpstart, in partnership with Sacred Spaces, has today released a new report: “Child Safety First: Closing the Gap in Best Practices for Prevention and Response to Sexual Abuse of Minors in Jewish Organizations.” The report was written by Dr. Shira Berkovits and based on a Jumpstart study of Jewish overnight camps and Jewish day schools conducted by Prof. Steven M. Cohen.

From the report’s Introduction:

Any setting that provides regular access to minors will attract individuals seeking to sexually abuse children. Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to distinguish these predatory individuals from their non-offending peers. While this risk is present in all youth-serving organizations (YSOs), the danger is compounded within religious communities because sexual predators report specifically seeking out faith-based institutions to gain access to children. In the Jewish communal world this means that every synagogue, school, camp, and youth group is a potential magnet for sexual predators (emphasis added).

Sexual predators target religious environments because they are places where it is easy to establish trust due to shared concepts, customs, and vocabulary. Religious organizations are filled with individuals who are warm and welcoming, quick to accept and forgive, and generally more reluctant to intervene for fear of challenging hierarchies, accusing respected leaders, or exposing institutions to harmful publicity. At times, the very warmth and openness on which the Jewish community prides itself creates easy access to children and a respectable cover for predators. As such, Jewish institutions without robust child protection programs in place may inadvertently become safe-havens for child predators.

No matter how committed an institution is to protecting its children, when faced with an instance of ongoing or historic abuse by a known and trusted individual, leaders may dismiss or forget important response steps. They can become susceptible to pressure, and, even with the best of intentions, deviate from best practice protocols. In so doing, they introduce the children under their protection to ongoing risk and their organizations to increased liability…

Protecting our children from sexual predators must also be standard operating procedure for Jewish organizations (emphasis added). Unfortunately – as this study reveals – these protections are not uniformly understood or implemented, and those efforts that exist may be insufficient to accomplish their goal of creating environments that keep children safe from sexual abuse.

The complete report, “Child Safety First: Closing the Gap in Best Practices for Prevention and Response to Sexual Abuse of Minors in Jewish Organizations,” is available here for download.