On a school night when many parents are reluctant to venture out, more than 300 gathered at Congregation Shaare Torah for a sobering talk from clinical social worker Debborah Fox. Addressing the topic of child sexual abuse, the founder and executive director of the nonprofit Magen Yeladim Child Safety Institute pointed out that 68 percent of child molestation cases are committed by family members, and more than 90 percent of predators are “known and respected” by the abused child.
Fox, who created her organization to offer culturally sensitive child abuse prevention materials in the Orthodox Jewish community in Los Angeles, routinely consults with Orthodox Jewish communities nationwide. During her two days in Pittsburgh, she met with parents at Hillel Academy and Yeshiva Schools.
On Monday, Oct. 27, she addressed administrators and teachers from both schools. Rabbi Sam Weinberg, Hillel Academy principal, described her message as “important and relevant.” Later that evening, she spoke to parents at Shaare Torah.
The following day, she joined four colleagues to introduce Hillel and Yeshiva students to the Safety Kid Program, an age-appropriate program that stresses the “ABCs of Safety” — ask for help, bring a friend, check first, do tell, explore the Internet safely — and was created by Fox with guidance from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the Halachic Advisory Board of Los Angeles and Mothers Advocating Prevention.
In her presentations to parents, Fox focused on detecting and preventing child and sexual abuse in the Orthodox community, how to create open lines of communities with children and how to keep children safe in all contexts.
“It’s very hard to see things within our community when it’s our own,” Fox stated, adding that “it takes a community to create a safe environment for a child. It also takes a community to allow abuse.”
Fox encouraged increased familial dialogue.
“The single most preventative tool is open communication between parent and child,” she said.
Fox added that attentiveness is key.
“Pay attention to the people in your child’s life,” she said, stressing that parents should be mindful of babysitters and playdates and that they should “check in with your child” upon returning home.
For some, the most startling element of Fox’s address concerned child-initiated abuse.
“One-third of sex offenses against kids is done by other kids,” she said, noting that parental supervision can largely deter such abuses.
Fox’s visit to Pittsburgh was spurred by Bryna and Hirsch Chinn. Bryna Chinn related she and her family were impacted by the recent death of David Menachem Gordon, a lone soldier in the Israeli Defense Forces who had spent some time in Pittsburgh before making aliyah.
“David, an advocate for survivors of abuse, was himself a survivor of sexual abuse in his earlier years in the frum communities of Oak Park and Southfield Michigan,” said Bryna Chinn. “When we heard of his death, my siblings and I decided that to honor his memory, we wanted to do something positive to make the world a safer place for all children.
“Magen Yeladim has an incredible reputation, so we chose them,” she continued, “and since there are three of us siblings living here in Pittsburgh, we started here. Thankfully, Yeshiva and Hillel were very enthusiastic about the idea, and they were amazing to work with.”
Chinn also thanked Shaare Torah for providing its social hall and acknowledged the program’s sponsors: Hillel Academy, Yeshiva Schools, Tryko Partners, Congregation Keter Torah, Aishel Realty and “other generous donors.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.