I was at a meeting last week discussing the problem of sexual abuse in the Orthodox community, and someone raised the question of whether we are particularly vulnerable to this problem. I don't know how our statistics match up with those of broader society, but I do know we have two specific weaknesses which predators can and do exploit:
1. We encourage our children to develop close, trusting bonds with adult role models – family members, rebbeim, camp counselors, shul rabbis, youth group leaders, and so on. I know that the school I want for my kids is a school in which the rebbeim take a personal interest in the kids, in which there are shabbatonim, in which there are real relationships.
2. We load our parents down with commitments to learning and boards and committees and fundraisers. It's all we can do to pay attention on the rare occasions when our children volunteer information, forget about initiating our own proactive research to make sure they are not being drawn into trouble.
[Naturally, other communities have both of these, too. I am speaking about our community at the moment, though, and ignoring the question of whether we are "particularly vulnerable".]
Of course, we also have a separate problem of our communal reluctance to report to the police, whether due to an ancient fear of government authority or a very current fear of erroneously trashing an innocent person. But these two other problems are just as real and very dangerous.
What can we do about these factors?
I don't think we can stop encouraging our children to find role models; we need them, parents cannot be the sole models in children's lives, certainly not when we want to continue a communal religious and ethnic identity. So instead, we need to make sure our institutions implement policies which block predators at every step, whether at the hiring stage, or in implementing and monitoring protocols governing staff conduct, or in holding periodic reviews of staff conduct. I understand Torah uMesorah has a set of guidelines; perhaps that does the job, I haven't seen it.
But more than that, we as parents need to keep an active watch. Aside from training our children to feel confident protecting themselves and to know their boundaries, we need to ask questions and keep track. I know very well how difficult this is, but it seems to me that it's part of our most basic responsibility toward our children.