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Keeping Kids Safe, Even at Camp, by Phil Jacobs, the Jewish Link

“Don’t forget to put on your sunscreen.”

“Carry your inhaler with you at all times.”

“Don’t forget to write at least one letter to Bubbe and Zayde.”

“No one has the right to touch you in a way that feels uncomfortable. It’s not lashon hara (gossip) to tell your counselor or an adult if you feel worried or confused.”

Over the years, the list of last-minute orders we give children before they depart for camp has grown. In more recent years, the societal conversation involving improper touch or sexual molestation has found its way to Orthodox schools and to summer camps.

There are well over 100 US-based camps now requiring their incoming staff hires, be they counselors or administrators, to complete a sex abuse prevention course, which includes viewing four animated videos and passing a program test.

The camps involved are mostly serving the Orthodox community, though the program, now beginning its third summer, is finding its way to secular Jewish camps as well.

It is all part of ASAP: Jewish Sexual Abuse Prevention and Treatment, a program with a mission of preventing abuse through promoting increased community awareness.

“The relaxed camp environment and lack of supervision and clear safety guidelines in camp have been sadly known to result in crossed boundaries, inappropriate affection and molestation,” ASAP writes on its website ASAP.care. “ASAP’s online abuse prevention program helps Jewish summer camps minimize incidents of abuse and ensure that campers that have been abused in the past will be identified, supported and guided towards professional care.”

Ora Kalfa, ASAP’s program director, told The Jewish Link that the camp program was started after her organization learned through a program for abuse survivors in the Orthodox community that abuse had been happening in what is supposed to be the fun, memorable times of summer camp.

ASAP, according to Kalfa, learned through years of therapeutic sessions that many of its victims were abused in camps. This therapy program is an ASAP-funded program which subsidizes the cost of trauma treatment for hundreds of victims.

“It is important to provide training and protocols for camp counselors,” she said. “We don’t believe they need to be experts in sexual abuse, but as a counselor you need to know how damaging it is, and how to look for signs.”

Rabbi Ari Katz, the owner and director of Camp Mesorah, speaks highly of the program’s importance to Jewish camping.

“It was a program that I was looking for, and as soon as they showed me the information, I went into full force,” he said just days prior to the opening of his camp.

“The staff very much appreciates the program,” he said. “It is very well received.”

This is our third year doing this,” said Rabbi Katz. “Every staff member in our camp is required to watch the videos, take the test and be certified even if they were in camp previously.”

ASAP’s animated training videos show male “counselors” wearing kippot. One title is “The Role of the Counselor in Keeping Camp Safe.” Another is “Boundaries for Creating and Maintaining Healthy Relationships.” Another is “Responding to Boundary Violations And Harmful Behavior.”

The program was created, Kalfa said, for a religious audience. That’s how the images and tsniut (modest) language were selected in designing the animation.

“Our idea is to make everyone an agent of safety,” said Kalfa. “Safety is everyone’s responsibility. Everyone we show this to has accepted it. The films don’t use the word sexual. It doesn’t get anyone’s guard up (offend anyone). We’ve had Orthodox rabbis tell us that we’re not being strong enough.”

“Touching a camper anywhere below the shoulders is forbidden,” advises one video. High fives and other safe touch is okay, according to the video.

Another suggestion is to be caring, compassionate and respectful.

Kalfa added that the problem of abuse at camp has been around for generations. “Friends of ours who went to camp told us of lack of boundaries, and now people are starting to be worried about it.”

Kalfa said that the program is intended to raise the standards of camps, and to make sure that all staffers are clear about guidelines, which sometimes vary. A special needs camp, for example, requires different protocols.

“Abuse happens when secrecy and opportunity meet,” she said. “We help camps create guidelines so these opportunities don’t happen. But it’s time to stop just talking about these issues; it’s not rocket science. This is about accountability and professionalism. Abuse is very preventable.”

ASAP is supported by the Friedberg Charitable Foundation.

By Phil Jacobs

Published in the Jewish Link, June 21, 2018 – https://www.jewishlinknj.com/features/25783-keeping-the-kids-safe-even-at-camp