Friday, June 30, 2006

Case of Cantor Philip Harold Wittlin

Case of Cantor Philip Harold Wittlin
 (AKA: Phillip Wittlin, Philip Wittlin, Phillip H. Wittlin)
Cantor - Chisuk Emuna Congregation - Harrisburg, PA

Plead guilty to a number of charges, including five counts each of corruption of minors and two counts of aggravated indecent assault.  According to court documents, Wittlin's probation ends in 2023.

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Table of Contents:  

  1. 2 girls accuse cantor of touching Religious instructor Wittlin faces assault, corruption charges  (09/01/2001)
  2. City cantor to stand trial ; 2 girls claim molestations took place during lessons (09/22/2001)

  1. Phillip Wittlin faces 15 to 30 months in prison  (02/12/2002)
  2. Cantor pleads guilty in molesting  (02/12/2002) 
  3. Cantor at Pennsylvania synagogue pleads guilty to molesting two girls  (02/12/2002) 
  4. BC-Clergy-Molestation  (02/13/2002) 
  5. Synagogue Leader Convicted, Man Pleads Guilty to Molesting Girls (02/13/2002) 
  6. Ex-cantor gets one year for molesting girls  (06/16/2002)
  7. Ohio bill would require rabbis to report child abuse  (06/28/2002)
  8. Pennsylvania State Registry (06/30/2002)
  9. The Victims' Lament - Sexual abuse in the community is all too  (12/20/2002)

  1.  Raising A Mensch (09/30/2008)

  1. Pennsylvania Sex Offender Registry (12/21/2012)


2 girls accuse cantor of touching Religious instructor Wittlin faces assault, corruption charges
By Theodore Decker and Brett Marcy
The Patriot (Harrisburg) - September 1, 2001

[Cantor Philip H. Wittlin], a prayer leader at Chisuk Emuna Congregation for 34 years, was arraigned on the charges yesterday morning before District Justice James Pianka. 

Chisuk Emuna Rabbi Ron Muroff would not comment on the charges against Wittlin, except to issue a prepared statement on behalf of the congregation. 

"Chisuk Emuna Congregation is surprised and anguished at the charges involving Cantor Philip Wittlin," the statement read.


City cantor to stand trial ; 2 girls claim molestations took place during lessons
By Theodore Decker
The Patriot (Harrisburg) - September 22, 2001
Cantor Philip H. Wittlin, 56, of the 3500 block of North Second Street, Susquehanna Twp., is charged with five counts each of corruption of minors, indecent assault and unlawful contact with a minor, and two counts each of aggravated indecent assault and endangering the welfare of a child. 

As cantor, it was Wittlin's responsibility to prepare young people for their bat/bar mitzvahs, which occur at age 12 for girls and age 13 for boys, respectively. He has been on administrative leave since the charges were filed. 

The girl began preparation for her bat mitzvah -- a ceremony for girls marking their attainment of religious adulthood -- with Wittlin as a mentor. During the 30-minute weekly lessons, Wittlin taught her chanting and singing in his office, she said. 


Phillip Wittlin faces 15 to 30 months in prison
Associated Press - February 12, 2002

(Harrisburg-AP) -- A cantor at a Harrisburg synagogue pleaded guilty yesterday to molesting two girls during their religious training. Fifty-six-year-old Phillip Wittlin faces 15 to 30 months in prison plus 20 years parole under a plea bargain accepted by Judge Joseph Kleinfelter. Wittlin's bail was revoked. He is to be sentenced on May 16th.

Cantor pleads guilty in molestings
City clergyman faces prison, long parole

By Pete Shellem
The Patriot-News - Tuesday, February 12, 2002

The cantor of a Harrisburg synagogue pleaded guilty yesterday to charges related to molesting two girls during their religious training in a deal that leaves him facing a state prison term plus a lengthy period on parole.

Phillip Wittlin, 56, of Susquehanna Twp., faces 15 to 30 months in state prison plus 20 years on parole under the deal accepted yesterday by President Judge Joseph H. Kleinfelter.

Wittlin was committed to Dauphin County Prison after Kleinfelter revoked his bail. Sentencing is scheduled for May 16 after Wittlin undergoes an evaluation to determine whether he is a sexual predator under Megan's Law.

He pleaded guilty to five counts each of corruption of minors, indecent assault and unlawful contact with a minor, and two counts each of aggravated indecent assault and endangering the welfare of a child.

Had he been convicted on the charges, he could have faced two mandatory 5-year prison terms.

Deputy District Attorney Kimberly A. Alfieri said she was prepared to present the testimony of five other women who said they were molested by Wittlin while attending the Chisuk Emuna Congregation, where he has served as a clergyman for 34 years.

Alfieri said the assaults date to 1967.

Wittlin has been on administrative leave since the charges were filed in September.

Wittlin's attorney, Joshua Lock, declined comment after the plea.

In the Jewish faith, congregations are served by two clergy: a rabbi and a cantor. The rabbi is the spiritual leader, preacher and teacher of the congregation, while the cantor is the musician and minister.

As cantor, it was Wittlin's responsibility to prepare young people for their bat or bar mitzvahs, which occur at 12 for girls and 13 for boys, respectively.

Wittlin was accused of fondling two girls in his office during their bat mitzvah preparations at the synagogue at Division and North Fifth streets at various times dating to 1995.

The girls, one 12 and the other 17, said Wittlin touched them inappropriately during their training.

According to court papers, Wittlin confirmed that he had been teaching the 12-year-old and admitted that he placed his hand under her shorts. He claimed he was showing her a singing exercise, the documents said.

The younger girl said the cantor pulled down her pants and touched her under the guise of trying to improve her singing. She said he told her he was checking whether her underwear was too tight.

The last incident occurred Aug. 16, she said, when the cantor touched her and told her he was trying to show her how to use her diaphragm when singing.
The Victims' Lament - Sexual abuse in the community is all too 
By Faygie Levy, Jewish Exponent Staff
Jewish Exponent - December 19, 2002

(NAME REMOVED) was 11 years old when it happened. 

A student at the Chisuk Emuna Congregation's Hebrew school in Harrisburg, she had lagged behind her classmates during a break between lessons. That's when she says the synagogue's cantor, Philip Wittlin, "came up behind me and did that gross old-man thing."

(Name Removed) defines that behavior as Wittlin touching her breasts, one time, during that afternoon a decade ago. In August 2001, about a month after Wittlin was arrested for abusing minors, (Name Removed) approached the district attorney in Dauphin County, where she grew up and where her family still resides, and recounted the incident.

At 21, (Name Removed) is still troubled by the encounter, saying, "I have a big problems trusting men."

She is not alone.

Today, you can't pick up a newspaper or turn on a television station without hearing about the latest sexual-abuse claim within the Catholic Church. Although the known number of cases of child sexual abuse by cantors and rabbis is presumed to be nowhere near that of priests and other clergymen right now, even a single instance is a problem for the Jewish community.

The victims of abuse have been both boys and girls, and their attackers are often trusted members of the community who have known the children's families for years. Abuse has occurred in synagogues and day schools, places where families look for the installation of Jewish ethics and values, places where people should feel safe.

Those who prey on children, say the experts, often build up a relationship with the child, gaining his or her trust before making a move.

"Whether the child is an alter boy or a girl in Sunday school, who loves and respects the person in authority, the scene is set, the dynamic is there. That's so with any religion," says Wendy Demchick-Alloy, an assistant district attorney in Montgomery County who prosecuted many such crimes over the years. "You inherently want to respect and put trust and faith in your religious leaders."

She goes on to explain that sexual assault of children "is, as disgusting as it sounds, a very quiet event committed by a very warped person and doesn't leave physical evidence." What they do leave behind, she says, are "devastating emotional scars."

Rabbi Juda Mintz pleaded guilty earlier this year to possessing child pornography.

"These cases often are based on a dynamic of authority, power and trust that's violated in the deepest way," explains Demchick-Alloy.

Technically, the words "sexual abuse" as defined in Pennsylvania's crimes code deal with criminality of making or disseminating photos, videos, pictures and films of children engaging in sexual acts. Lay people often use that term interchangeably with what the crimes code calls "sexual offenses," the actual criminal act ranging from indecent exposure to sexual contact and intercourse.

Among the most recent cases involving rabbis or cantors are:

·Cantor Philip H. Wittlin, formerly of Chisuk Emuna Congregation in Harrisburg, Pa., pleaded guilty on Feb. 12 to a number of charges, including five counts each of corruption of minors and two counts of aggravated indecent assault. His sentencing hearing earlier this month will be continued next month.

Rabbi Juda Mintz, formerly of Mount Freedom Jewish Center in Randolph Township, N.J., pleaded guilty on Feb. 26 to possessing child pornography and is expected to be sentenced on June 12. He faces up to five years in prison.

Rabbi Richard M. Marcovitz, religious leader of Emanuel Synagogue in Oklahoma City, was charged Feb. 26 with numerous counts of indecent or lewd acts with minors, as well as sexual battery. The charges stem from allegations by two students and two adult employees at the Oklahoma City Jewish Community Day School, which is housed in the synagogue.

Cantor Howard Nevison, of Temple Emanu-El in New York, was arrested Feb. 20 by Lower Merion Police after his nephew told authorities that Nevison had sexually abused him from the time he was 3 until he was 7.

Facing the problem

For all the known cases - these are just a few - those involved in the issue say other perpetrators are probably out there, and that the Jewish community has yet to step forward and deal with the problem head-on.

"It's not something we ever thought could happen here, and now we realize it is happening," says Rabbi Abraham Twersky, a Pittsburgh-area psychiatrist who founded the Gateways Rehabilitation Center, a drug- and substance-abuse center, in Aliquippa, Pa.

Twersky, who was consulted on a number of cases involving sexual abuse by religious leaders, is credited in part with bringing social issues like domestic violence and drug abuse to the forefront of Orthodox Judaism.

"In English, you say it's a shame, it's an embarrassment, a disgrace," but in Hebrew, Twersky says, "you would use the word shandah, the most disgrace possible. And the Jewish community has always been careful not to have a shandah. ... We're just reluctant to accept that these problems are within us."

Rabbi Mark Dratch, religious leader of Agudath Sholom in Stamford, Conn., who wrote about the issue for the Rabbinical Council of America, and who sits on the Jewish advisory committee for the Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence, agrees. "My impression is the lack of the Jewish community's ability or desire to deal with these issues is based not on halachic grounds, but on denial, on the willingness to deal with difficult situations and believe these kinds of allegations."

But, he continues, when people use halachah (Jewish laws), such as the obligation against lashon hara, or speaking bad about another, to justify their actions in keeping silent or not turning in an alleged abuser, "that's an abuse of the halachic system itself."

Charlotte Schwab, Ph.D., a Florida-based psychotherapist who has been counseling victims of sexual abuse for 10 years, knows firsthand the devastation such abuse can cause. At one time, she was married to a New York rabbi who was accused of such crimes. Though now divorced from him, she acknowledges that it has led to her current work.

The victims of sexual abuse by rabbis or cantors, explains Schwab, "feel worthless, shamed, that it's somehow their fault."

Often, she says, "they don't dare tell anybody. They hide themselves, and it affects their lives in many ways - in their ability to function, to take care of their families."

The victims, according to Schwab, "often never recover. It's very traumatic."

And like people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, these victims "relive the experience" in their minds over and over again, even through adulthood, she insists.

(Name Removed), one of Philip Wittlin's victims, tried to tell her family years ago what the cantor had done, but at the time believed somehow that "it was my fault." Instead, she told her parents that he had caressed not her private parts, but her back.

Her stepmother, (Name Removed), recalls that Wittlin is "a touchy-feely kind of guy, and at the time, "we brushed it off."

But when victims do step forward, they are often the ones put on trial, not necessarily in the criminal courts, but in the court of public opinion.

"They are often accused of being troublemakers, or making it up or wanting revenge," says Schwab, adding, "that's preposterous, because ... who'd want to go make that up?"

Says Dratch: "There needs to be a lot of support for people coming forward, so they find the personal support, the congregational support, so they are not victimized a second time."

But, he acknowledges, "it's hard because many times an alleged perpetrator is known by the community, and they have a hard time accepting the accusation against him. And they may be themselves in a state of denial."

"The real tragedy of all of this," adds Schwab, "is the cover-up and denial by spokespeople of [religious] denominations who say this doesn't exist."

Educating the community

For those who have been abused by rabbis or cantors, the abuse can sometimes overshadow any feelings they have for Judaism, according to Schwab. Some, she says, leave the religion and their communities. "I try to help them see that there are some safe places, and even some male rabbis who are trying to change things," says Schwab.

Many believe that it is time for a sea change to occur in the way the Jewish community deals with the issue. "We need to be more aggressive with education, and while we're concerned with internally issues of tzinnus [`modesty'] or shandah," says Dratch, "we cannot sacrifice the safety and well-being of our children.

"There needs to be more open discussions in the schools, shuls and families with regard to this issue," he continues. "And, I think, there needs to be more of a grass-roots effort" to address it and combat it.

"If there's a situation where [communal] leaders are negligent in their leadership, then lay people need to step forward and change the facts on the ground on how the issue is discussed or addressed."

To be sure, some steps are being taken to educate upcoming rabbis and cantors about appropriate behavior and how to deal with the issue of sexual abuse by religious leaders when it is brought to their attention. The education, some say, is also to help cantors and rabbis avoid being in a position where false allegations can occur.

The Cantors Assembly of the Conservative movement, for example, issued guidelines last year in the form of a letter to members. According to Stephen Stein, the group's executive vice president, those recommendations include having parents sit in on Bar/Bat Mitzvah lessons or having another child in the room. Cantors should also sit across, not next to, the child. The group also advises cantors to avoid any physical contact with kids.

Rabbinic movements have codes of ethics that members are expected to abide by, but so far none are believed to have issued such in-depth guidelines.

The religious movements say they address the issue at conferences or in classes at the rabbinical schools. Several rabbinical groups mentioned that candidates must pass, at the very least, one interview and have several letters of recommendations, which they say help weed out potentially troublesome candidates.

Even with the most rigorous interview and screening processes, abusers can make it through the system, some say. The question then becomes what to do with them.

The experts say that a thorough and immediate investigation must be conducted into any claim of abuse against a child, no matter what the circumstances.

That's something that did not happen in the case of Rabbi Baruch Lanner, a former leader of the National Council of Synagogue Youth. Though rumors and allegations persisted for years about possible sexual misconduct with minors, no one - including the Orthodox Union, which oversees the youth group - investigated until a story appeared in The New York Jewish Week.

Likewise, according to members of Harrisburg's Jewish community, whispers of sexual-abuse allegations against Philip Wittlin date back at least 10 years.

Dratch hits the point home to the community in a single, albeit frightening, sentence: "Most pedophiles do not have one victim, they have many victims, and unless they are taken out of circulation, they will not be stopped."

No Remorse on Accuser's Part, as Ex-Cantor Has His Day in Court.


Inside the cavernous, poorly lit courtroom, the tension was palpable on May 16 as victims of sexual abuse gathered for the sentencing of their attacker, Philip H. Wittlin, formerly a cantor at Chisuk Emuna Congregation in Harrisburg.

Wittlin had pleaded guilty in February to a number of charges, including two counts of aggravated indecent assault and five counts of corruption of minors.

The charges were based on the abuse of two girls, but authorities say Wittlin victimized others, though the statue of limitations had run out on those crimes. At the time of the abuse, the victims were under 18 and affiliated with the congregation.

Some of Wittlin's older victims, including (Name Removed), 21, were on hand to lend moral support to the two teens who had reported the abuse that led to the former cantor's arrest.

Wittlin's victims and their supporters filled the middle four rows of benches behind the prosecutor's desk. They sat beside family members who occasionally would lean over and whisper in their ears, or touch them on the shoulder for encouragement.

At one point, a male relative of one of the young girls appeared to ask a woman with the district attorney's office whether Wittlin would just walk into court. The official put her hands by her waist, moved them close together and mouthed the words, "in handcuffs."

Indeed, when Wittlin entered the court nearly an hour later, he was shackled.

A stocky man with a beard, receding hairline and thick, black-rimmed glasses, the 56-year-old Wittlin didn't glance at his accusers as he entered the courtroom.

The prosecutor, Kimberly Alfieri, led the sentencing hearing with testimony by Dr. Barry Zakireh, a licensed psychologist and a member of the sexual-offenders' assessment board who testified about Wittlin's actions.

Zakireh noted that when questioned by police, Wittlin said that he may have touched the victims, but that it was "accidental."

According to the psychologist, "that suggests that he does not consider himself guilty of intending to commit sexual [assault]. It tells me he does not have much remorse or empathy toward the victim."

He also noted that over the years, Wittlin's actions escalated from touching young girls inappropriately to actual "penetration."

Wittlin, Zakireh testified, "meets the criteria for a sexually violent predator, ... considering only the two cases of which he's charged. If you consider the other victims that have since come forward, it would only strengthen that case."

Looking at the "number of times abuse occurred against the two victims," said Zakireh, you see a "deliberate, intentional pattern in which [Wittlin] planned his offenses."

Both the prosecutor and the defense attorney are allowed to call witnesses during the sentencing hearing to help the judge weigh the case and dole out an appropriate punishment. The proceedings ended in the middle of the prosecutor's presentation.

The hearing is expected to resume on June 14, when the prosecution will call additional witnesses to make statements, including (Name Removed) and other of Wittlin's victims. To date, the defense has no witnesses listed to speak on Wittlin's behalf.


Cantor at Pennsylvania synagogue pleads guilty to molesting two girls
Associated Press - February 12, 2002 

A cantor at a Harrisburg synagogue has pleaded guilty to molesting two girls during their religious training. Phillip Wittlin, 56, faces 15 to 30 months in prison plus 20 years parole under a plea bargain accepted Monday by Judge Joseph H. Kleinfelter.Wittlin, who has served the Chisuk Emuna Congregation for 34 years, was in custody awaiting his sentencing on May 16. Wittlin pleaded guilty to five counts of corruption of minors, indecent assault and unlawful . . .


The Salina Journal (Kansas) - February 13, 2002

Cantor at Pennsylvania synagogue pleads guilty to molesting two girls HARRISBURG, Pa. - A cantor at a Harrisburg synagogue has pleaded guilty to molesting two girls during their religious training.Phillip Wittlin, 56, faces 15 to 30 months in prison plus 20 years parole under a plea bargain accepted Monday by Judge Joseph Kleinfelter.Wittlin, who has served the Chisuk Emuna Congregation for 34 years, was in custody awaiting his sentencing May 16.Wittlin... 


Synagogue Leader Convicted, Man Pleads Guilty to Molesting Girls
Democrat Belleville News - February 13, 2002

HARRISBURG, Pa. --- A cantor at a Harrisburg synagogue has pleaded guilty to molesting two girls during their religious training.Phillip Wittlin, 56, faces 15 to 30 months in prison plus 20 years parole under a plea bargain accepted Monday by Judge Joseph H. Kleinfelter.Wittlin, who has served the Chisuk Emuna Congregation for 34 years, was in custody awaiting his sentencing May 16.Wittlin pleaded guilty to five counts of corruption of minors, indecent assault and unlawful...

Ex-cantor gets one year for molesting girls 
Associated Press - June 15, 2002

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A former synagogue cantor was sentenced to at least 15 months in prison for molesting two girls during their religious training.

Phillip Wittlin, 57, must spend 11 months in prison before being eligible for parole. He was credited with four months served since his surrender in February.

Wittlin apologized in court Friday to the girls, their families and the synagogue where he was a cantor for 34 years.

"I know that my actions have caused a lot of pain to my people," said Wittlin, who was terminated from his position in October.

Wittlin pleaded guilty in February to corruption of minors, indecent assault and other charges. He will be on probation for 20 years after his release from prison.

As cantor, Wittlin was responsible for preparing young people for their bat or bar mitzvahs. He was accused of fondling two girls in his office during their bat mitzvah preparations since 1995.

Ohio bill would require rabbis to report child abuse
By Marilyn H. Karfeld
Cleveland Jewish News - June 28, 2002

In response to the ongoing pedophilia scandal in the Catholic Church, state Rep. Lance T. Mason of Shaker Heights recently introduced a bill in the Ohio House to require rabbis, priests and ministers to report suspected cases of child abuse to public authorities.

The proposed legislation would affect two situations: a rabbi who hears that a community member is abusing a child, and a rabbi or board of rabbis learning that a fellow member of the clergy is harming a minor.

The Jewish community is not exempt from the latter scenario. Two years ago, the Orthodox Union was accused of keeping silent about Rabbi Baruch Lanner, a top professional in the National Conference of Synagogue Youth, who allegedly sexually abused more than 20 teenage girls. Lanner was indicted last year in New Jersey on the charges.

In another case, Cantor Philip Wittlin of Harrisburg, Pa., pleaded guilty in February to corruption of minors and indecent assault. Whispers about Wittlin's sexual abuse of young girls date back at least 10 years, The Jewish Exponent reported in May.

Mason's bill would exempt clergy from revealing allegations of sex abuse communicated confidentially, such as in the confessional or in a counseling session.

But some rabbis wonder how the parameters of confidential communication will be defined. In the close-knit Orthodox community, especially, rabbis fear crossing the line between reporting lashon hora (gossip) and protecting children.

"It becomes a sensitive issue," says Rabbi Napthali Burnstein of Young Israel of Greater Cleveland. "At what point does confidentiality end and I will have to report it? Is it counseling or just something the rabbi knows from hearsay or conversation?"

In his job, Burnstein says he hears things all the time, and anything people tell him remains confidential. "The worse thing a rabbi can do is gossip." The new bill would require him to reevaluate that stance.

Patterned after a Massachusetts statute passed in April, Mason says his bill would strengthen Ohio's existing law, which requires teachers, attorneys, physicians and dentists to report any cases of suspected child abuse. Communications are protected if they are covered by attorney-client or physician-client privilege.

"I wanted there to be some accountability," says Mason, who was recently appointed to fill the seat vacated by Cuyahoga County Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones. However, the freshman legislator says prospects for the bill's passage are slim in the Republican-controlled legislature.

"The statehouse is new to me, but I'm told very few Democratic bills get passed," he says.

Since 1974, all 50 states have passed some sort of mandatory reporting law in order to qualify for federal funding for child abuse prevention and treatment. Some states exempt clergy from divulging information learned in a confidential communication, but those laws do not apply to pastoral counselors in private practice.

In the light of reports that a few Jewish clergy, as well as Catholic priests, have sexually abused children, the law is urgently needed, says Rabbi Richard Block of The Temple-Tifereth Israel.

Situations will arise where clergy are not sure if a revelation about child abuse was privileged communication, he says. Or they may be extremely concerned about a child's welfare.

"The protection of the child would be the first priority," Block says. "Clergy should err on the side of disclosure."


Pennsylvania State Sex Offender Registry 
June 30, 2002


Date of Conviction: 2/11/2002

Aliases: None listed in this registry

Year of Birth: 1945

Residence Address

Street Address 1: 541 CONODOGUINET AVENUE

City & Zip Code: CARLISLE 17013*

County of Residence: Cumberland

Facility of Higher Education

City & Zip Code: None listed in this registry

County of School: None listed in this registry

Employment Address

City & Zip Code: None listed in this registry

County of Employer: None listed in this registry


Raising A Mensch
The Philadelphia Jewish Voice - September 30, 2008

Protecting Your Children... From the silent epidemic that no one wants to talk about.  -- Dr. Daniel E. Loeb

Child abuse is an uncomfortable topic to broad, but if we want to protect our children from this trauma we must speak up. The subject has been in news lately, so we would like to give you the evidence on how to protect your children.

Child molestors can often be trusted family members or friends, men or women. The Catholic priests do not have a monopoly on the scourge of pedophilia. In fact, the
Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Abuse/Assault details over 100 cases of Jewish Rabbis and other community leaders who have betrayed our trust. In our area, Cantor Phillip Wittlin of Chisuk Emuna Congregation in Harrisburg and Ari Sorkin of Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park have been convicted of molesting children under their care.

Children in suburban Philadelphia are vulnerable to these attacks just as children in inner city neighborhoods.

As parents, educators or community leaders what can we do to protect children?

Supervision and vigilence is important, but education plays an essential role according to Dr. David Finkelhor of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.

While a member of the Illinois General Assembly Barack Obama along with the Illinois Parent Teacher Association, the Illinois State Medical Society, the Illinois Public Health Association and the Illinois Educational Assocation endorsed legislation to amend the Illinois School code to include such age and developmentally appropriate child sexual abuse prevention education:

SB99: Course material and instruction shall discuss and provide for the development of positive communication skills to maintain healthy relationships and avoid unwanted sexual activity. ... Course material and instruction shall teach pupils ... how to say no to unwanted sexual advances ... and shall include information about verbal, physical, and visual sexual harassment, including without limitation nonconsensual sexual advances, nonconsensual physical sexual contact, and rape by an acquaintance. The course material and instruction shall contain methods of preventing sexual assault by an acquaintance, including exercising good judgment and avoiding behavior that impairs one's judgment.

The bill called for all sex education course materials to include information that would help students recognize, among other activities, inappropriate touching, sexual assault and rape. Obama's intentions are painfully clear and valid:

"I have a six-year-old daughter and a three-year-old daughter, and one of the things my wife and I talked to our daughter about is the possibility of somebody touching them inappropriately, and what that might mean. And that was included specifically in the law, so that kindergarteners are able to exercise some possible protection against abuse, because I have family members as well as friends who suffered abuse at that age."

While the Jewish community is relatively open about giving our children the information they need to help protect themselves, the issue of sex education has not been without debate in more conservative circles.
Political Advertisement from the McCain campaign plays on racial stereotypes, accusing Obama in essence of corrupting five-year old girls. "His [Barack Obama's] one accomplishment? Teaching comprehensive sex-education to kindergardeners. I am John McCain and I approve this message."

Senator McCain has revived attacks launched in 2004 by Alan Keyes falsely accusing Senator Obama of wanting to pervert our youth through comprehensive sexual eduation to kindergardeners. However, Obama did not support "explicit sex education to children in kindergarten". In fact, the bill granted parents the right to withdraw their children from sex education classes without question.

In 2006, the Catholic Medical Association Task Force reeling from abuse scandals characterized sex education as "ineffective" and "inconsistant with the science of emotional, cognitive, neurobiological and moral development of the child". On the other hand, some have pointed to Governor Palin's daughter Bristol's pregnancy as an example of the failure of abstinence-only based sex education.

In his study "Prevention of Sexual Abuse Through Educational Programs Directed Toward Children" published in Pediatrics, Dr. David Finkelhor concludes that:

"It is worth providing children with high-quality prevention education programs. Some research has suggested that the programs promote disclosure. One study found lower rates of victimization for children who were exposed to these programs. A study found that children who are exposed to prevention education have less self-blame if they are victimized."

Satirical video from 23/6 shows a hypothetical response in kind to the McCain attack ad.

All of this underscores the importance of protecting our children against sexual preditors.

According to Safe Place (The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's Center for Child Protection and Health) children should practice saying no. Children who are able to appropriately assert themselves are at lower risk of victimization.

Talk to your kids about what kind of touching is not okay. For example, they should be told that the parts of the body covered by underwear is private.

Encourage children to tell someone they trust if anyone tries to touch their private parts. It is very common for kids to be molested, know it is wrong, but they feel like there is nobody they can talk to about it, or that their parents wouldn't care or would not believe them. Give your kids a safe forum to be able to talk about anything. Teach children never to keep secrets that make them feel uncomfortable or bad.

Answer questions children ask with language they will understand, and answer only what was asked. This gives the child the opportunity to come back after he or she integrates the information you provided.

Children with internet resources are vulnerable to contact from neighborhood bullies and inappropriate adult contact in ways that their parents never faced. As an adult community it is up to us all to protect our children from these threats. This can mean a level of intrusiveness and monitoring which may seem to cross the line of childrens’ privacy, It is the approach we take to such monitoring which will make our children understand our intentions.

Christine Downs of Safe Place  recommends the following children's books to help parents talk to their children about this issue:

  • It's MY Body, A Book to Teach Young Children How to Resist Uncomfortable Touch by Lory Freeman,
  • Your Body Belongs to You by Cornelia Maude Spelman and
  •  I Can Be Safe, A First Look at Safety by Pat Thomas.

 According to the Children Are Worth Saving Community Outreach Program:
  • Parents can help protect their children by teaching them awareness of dangerous people and the lures used to entice children. Children should be aware not afraid of the dangers! Through education, perhaps we can prevent a child's disappearance.
  • Set aside time to talk to your children about dangerous people and strangers. Gear the talk to your children's level of understanding. Be straightforward, without frightening a sensitive child.
  • Teach your children their full name and yours, phone number with area code, and address with zip code. They should know how to make local and long distance calls; use a pay phone; call home and law enforcement departments; and dial "0" for the operator or 911 in an emergency.
  • Be sure your children know what to do if you are separated while shopping. They should not look for you; they should go to the nearest clerk and ask for help!
  • Explain who a stranger is. Children should never enter a stranger's home, get into their car, or take gifts from them. Explain when the child has the right to say NO to an adult. Be aware of anyone who pays an unusual amount of attention to your children. Listen to your children if they don't want to be left alone with someone. Ask them to tell you about anyone who asks them to keep a secret or any new adults they meet.
  • Encourage your children to use the buddy system. Advise them what to do if a stranger follows or approaches them. Get to know your neighbors and establish "safe homes" where children can go for help.

Pennsylvania Sex Offender Registry  
December 21, 2012 



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