It's sad to have to watch your 10-year old kid squirm uncomfortably as you discuss with him what he should do if someone at sleepaway camp touches him "in a place ordinarily covered by a bathing suit." Or tell him that no one is allowed to tell him to keep a secret from his parents or the camp administration. But that's become a part of modern parents' pre-camp checklists, along with packing up necessities like flashlights and bug spray and tucking away some money for the canteen.
The Orthodox camp my son is off to tomorrow, and numerous others I'm sure, should be congratulated for being proactive and sending out a sheet of points to discuss with kids developed in conjunction with the Association of Jewish Camp Operators. It seems natural to say that it's a sign of the times. In a sense that's true, because institutions that involve children, from the Boy Scouts to the Catholic Church to camps, Jewish youth groups and yeshivas have been forced to confront the issue by growing awareness and by activists and former victims (the two often overlapping) who, to their credit, won't sit still and watch more abuse unfold and be swept under the carpet, as has happened far too long
Is more abuse occurring today than it did in past generations? There is no way to tell, but one reason why it might be is because a small number of victims of abuse grow up to become abusers themselves, and for so long prevention and reporting of abuse was virtually non-existent, creating a virtual time bomb.
The disturbing fact is that kids at camp are particularly vulnerable to predators because, far from home, they are more likely to invest their trust and security in counselors and authority figures, and abusers may believe the victim is less likely to turn them in. If your camp doesn't have abuse guidelines to review with kids, here is a link to "Say No!", a brochure prepared by the New York State Office of Children and Family Services.
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