A new book for haredi children and their families on preventing child sexual abuse tries to educate children without using the words, "penis," "vagina," "groin," or "sex." “It’s like printing a recipe in a cookbook, without saying the word 'food," its co-author said.
The positive reception of a new book meant to help haredi parents teach their children how to protect themselves from sexual abuse is, Tamar Rotem reports in Ha’aretz, a “strong indication that a community once reluctant to acknowledge the crime is now beginning to face reality.”
The book, "Mutav Lehizaher K'dei lo Lehitzta'er" ("Better Safe Than Sorry"), was published privately by two family therapists, Ella Bargai and Nitai Melamed. Bargai is secular. Melamed is haredi.
The book reportedly has the backing of rabbis from almost all haredi communities – hasidic, non-hasidic Ashkenazi and Sefardi – and has sold out its first printing.
But Gur (Ger) hasidim banned the book because there are cartoon drawings of (modestly clothed) women and girls in it. Gur reportedly won’t let the book into its schools unless Bargai and Melamed produce separate versions for boys and girls.
"We aren't sure yet if that's going to be possible financially," Melamed told Rotem.
Bargai and Melamed also run child sexual abuse protection training sessions in the haredi community for rabbis and teachers.
According to Melamed, in schools in Beit Shemesh, Bnei Brak, Jerusalem, Rehovot, Petah Tikva and other cities, these training sessions were imposed on a school by state welfare officials as an alternative to involving the police. Parents are invited to these sessions, and the book is used to help explain to them what their children are being taught about sexual abuse.
Haredi schools have no sex education classes and sexual abuse has been a taboo subject, as well.
But even haredi schools who do want to teach children how to protect themselves against sexual abuse, and that are willing to break the strong cultural taboo against doing so, run into obstacles not found elsewhere.
Books can't show a boy or a girl naked, and genitals can’t be named or described, so the book had to find discreet ways to discuss sexual abuse.
“It’s like printing a recipe in a cookbook, without saying the word 'food,'" Melamed told Ha’aretz.
The book reportedly also does not distinguish between good touch and bad touch.
Instead, to conform with haredi cultural taboos, the book tells children to view all touching of private parts as forbidden.
"In this book we want to talk about your body's private areas. Do you know what your private areas are? Your private areas of your body are those that are supposed to be covered when you are dressed. Nobody has any right to touch your body's private areas and you are not supposed to touch those areas on anyone else."
Using the term “private parts” is itself seen as breaking a haredi cultural taboo.
Melamed told Ha’aretz that the book’s greatest accomplishment is giving language to haredim.
"Parents go over the book and learn a language with which they can enter a dialogue with their children and ask questions," he said.
Better Safe Than Sorry is basically a re-illustrated translation of an American book on child sexual abuse of the same name published 20 years ago by Prometheus Press. It was originally translated into Hebrew in 1996 for a general Israeli audience but haredi schools, rabbis and bookstores refused to use it or sell it.