“Taking a Stand" Child Sexual Harassment Prevention Program

Feb 08, 2023

Welcome to interviews with education leaders where Dr. Sonia Toledo connects with business professionals, thought leaders and social entrepreneurs to discuss how to make a difference in our education system. This interview is brought to you by Dignity of Children® where we are changing education one teacher, one parent, one student at a time. Join our vibrant professional learning community for forward thinking educators 

(This interview was originally done as a video interview, you can watch the interview HERE).

Hi, this is Sonia Toledo, Founder and CEO of Dignity of Children®. Today, I am interviewing Dr. Ayelet Giladi who is the founder of Voices of Child Association (VOCA) and Dr. Giladi is committed to creating programs to support children and reducing the violence and abuse for children at the age of early childhood and all the way up to high school. So, here we are at Dignity of Children®, introducing our affiliate partners in changing education one child at a time.


Dr. Sonia Toledo: Hello Dr. Ayelet Giladi. It is such an honor to have you here. I am very interested in what you have to share with us about how did you even start this venture? Why did you want to start working on anti-violence with children?

Dr. Ayelet Giladi: Hi Sonia, it's an honor to be a guest of IDEAS Empowered by Youth® and I'm looking forward to working together. Well, you started with an excellent question. When I was a Master’s student at the Hebrew University, I was writing a paper on sexual harassment faced by the adults who were giving services to the guests and I was looking into hotels and discovered that sexual harassment occurs between the waitress and the guest sometimes and even with the room housekeeping mates. As a researcher, in educational sociology, I jumped into the theory part looking for some background from articles or books that will indicate and will tell us when does sexual harassment start? Does it start when they're adults or at what age does it start? And unfortunately, and this is how I found my way to choose a career for myself, even in the articles from the year 2000, we couldn't find anything that was relating to disclose at what age sexual abuse or sexual harassment start? You could see psychology articles talking about the treatment, about what will happen after someone has been abused, but almost nothing was there to indicate where does it start? I had this assumption that it starts at a very young age and so from that moment I said to my husband, this is the mission of my life, and I'm going to research about that.

Dr. Sonia Toledo: That is amazing. So you had an interest in preventing violence and abuse but you just didn't have an idea what are the reasons why children get abused? Where does it start? So I'm very excited to understand more about your journey. What made you think that creating educational programs was going to be a solution for your mission?

Dr. Ayelet Giladi: Well, when I started my company in 2004 I had a lot of boundaries that I had to step out of. I was a student at the Hebrew University and at that time they didn't have any supervisor in Israel in education sociology who will know about sexual harassment and be focused on early childhood education about this issue. Because my assumption was that it started at early age and they offered me to visit a few universities for research, and after visiting a few places I stopped at British University which was one of the meaningful and adventurous experience and process that I did in my life. The British University was very strange for me, since I was more used to the American system and now I had to meet all the demands of the British system and in that process I was focusing for four years only doing my PhD. I had my youngest daughter who was one year old at that time, and I was traveling back and forth doing my research in Israel. But at the end of the four years, I had completed my PhD. Afterwards; I came to the Ministry of Education in Israel and said, listen; now we have data, we need to refer to that and think about what we can do. At that time, the Minister of Education said, listen, we're not going to spend money on the gray area between normal behavior and abusive behavior. That's the answer I got in the year 2000 and now, 20 years later, I have to say, and I'm proud to say, that next year the educators in schools in Israel will be teaching a subject about sexual behavior from early childhood.

Dr. Sonia Toledo: Nice. Targeting educators is clearly a direct impact on making a change on children who are abused or are under impact.

Dr. Ayelet Giladi: Yes. In the beginning, when I got this answer from the Ministry of Education, I said, okay, this is not enough. I'm not going to go to the academic ward and instead I would like to influence in the field. This is when VOCA was established in 2004, and our mission was to develop or to combine theoretical study and the data that we got from the research to the practical work in the field. After a year, we had two wonderful prevention programs that were offered to Grade 1 to 3 and from Grade 3 to Grade 6 or Grade 7. It was then that the Ministry of Education offered contract to organizations to start dealing with violence and kinds of violence. So we applied and we were lucky enough to work two terms with the Ministry of Education, started bringing new knowledge to schools, to teachers, to parents talking about kinds of violence, and one of them is sexual harassment and abuse, violence that occurs between the children.

Dr. Sonia Toledo: Yes. Within the children and adult children, this is really critical here in the United States. I'm really attracted to this model because I feel that like you said, starting early to prevent potential violence or even bullying in the classroom, the fighting and the disrespect that goes among peers is really important, but also to have young people protect themselves from adults potentially harming them as well. So share with me about your product, and we could even do a little real short demonstration of your product.

Dr. Ayelet Giladi: Okay, so during my PhD, I was going through the Israeli law which illustrates the law against sexual harassment among adults and I found that the Israeli law is talking a lot about respect and disrespect when they're analyzing if there was a sexual harassment among adults. At that moment I knew that’s what I would like to do as a student of educational sociology. I asked myself, is it something that we have to start talking with the children at early age? Because if we would not lay down those moral values or moral play, there will be different people in society. So this is why I knew that respect, dignity and equality are going to be the main values in our product. Because the innovation of the program was to address young children and you know that in any school, any teacher will address respect, dignity and equality, but how do you do that in terms of bringing a new language, a new way of thinking about your body and other people’s bodies and around your surroundings, this is how we created our product. Taking a STEM program and that product, we are giving teachers the tools to start talking about what is respect for the children. For example, when we are telling them to brush their teeth, we are just telling them to do that or we need to explain to them that this is the way that they respect their bodies because they're keeping it healthy. Now during COVID-19, for example wearing a mask, it's not because I'm telling you to wear a mask, it's because you have to understand that this is the way you protect your body from being sick and these kinds of small things that we're doing with the children as parents, as educators are not always clear to them. Children need to understand why we ask them to do that.

So our characters in this program are Turtle for respect, Snail is for dignity and Frog is for equality.

In our program, turtle with respect will teach children how they give respect to all their body, with animals, with their things that they have in life and with nature. Respect lead us to the next value which is dignity that combines many elements and then we are merging them to equality in which you have such equality as the frog. The frog with equality is actually representing young children in society, but having the full rights and obligations and this is empowering the children. So until now, our product is not talking about sexual abuse or offense or harassment. We are empowering the children to think now what is right and wrong on their body and in the world that they are living in.

Dr. Sonia Toledo: Yes, I would like to break this down because this is so critical for us to understand. We're always saying, oh, be respectful, treat others the way you want to be treated. We use these terms in our everyday language, but we don't teach how to. So what you did through characters, you have respect, which is a turtle, snail is dignity and the frog is equality. So these three characters start talking and interacting with each other and teaching our young people what does it really mean to be respected? Respect for yourself, respect for others, respect for your things. And then dignity does the same thing. What does it mean to have dignity, to have pride and be assured, like, when you do something good or do something bad, in both instances, you know in your heart whether you did something good or wrong. So being honest like, that didn't feel good and I'm sorry for that, is having dignity, having the honesty to know that you're worthy of feeling good. And then, of course, comes equality. Like, how do we treat each other? and we're all equal, so we get to respect, have dignity and treat each other with equality.

I'm totally loving this. I know that you're in Israel right now. Could you share with us how long has your program been in action and where are you serving the education systems?

Dr. Ayelet Giladi: Yes, but before that, it's very important for me to say that the values have an added value. How so? Because the turtle, besides that he is explaining to the children what is his respect, he is also a turtle, if someone will come and try to harm him, he will go into his shell. And this is another benefit that we're getting from working with the animals. Then we have a wonderful snail that when he's coming out from his shell, he'll be straight and then he's proud of he is. We are proud of who we are and we're telling the children, how do you feel when you're sitting like that? Are you respecting yourself? No. When you're sitting like that, you are proud. You are proud of who you are and what you're doing. And then also, snail can protect himself if he is in a danger. And then frog with equality is jumping with equal jumps and it's wonderful to hear the children talking value at age five. They're using the words because they're referring to the animals, but they understand what they're standing for. So when you're talking about equality, equality is jumping equal jumps and also the frog can protect himself when he's in the water, he can jump to the land and when he's in danger on land, he can jump into the water. These are powerful qualities that the animals are bringing to the children and they understand that this is something good that we're bringing them. It's a new language; it's a new way of thinking.

Dr. Sonia Toledo: Yes, I absolutely love it. So it's a new language, a new way to understand how your behavior connects with the language and your posture. You spoke about standing straight and having dignity of yourself and being respectful when you're outside of your shell, right? So we go into our shell and we kind of feel not so good, but when we come out of our shell, we feel good. I love it. I love it. So where are you serving? How could we know more about your program and in which areas you're serving?

Dr. Ayelet Giladi: So until now, until the COVID period, we were working in Israel and outside of Israel, training the teachers but our trainings are one-on-one, like I was present in Israel. Or in Italy, we have facilitators who are going into the classes. When COVID came and we knew the children need us the most because children were exposed to violence inside the house and they didn't have any place to go and report or say or just change the atmosphere because they were bound there or maybe they were outside all the time with no supervision. Then we realized, that there were a lot of things happening there as well. That’s when we decided that what we're going to do and how we're going to deliver it globally. And then came the idea of changing, creating the materials with a two dimension cartoon in English and the teacher actually can get it in her phone or the computer and then she can learn it. It's only eight units and she can take part of the program into the class with the children and she can start working with them. So it's pretty vivid. And you know that besides our emotional and social development tools that we have in the program according to the age group, we also have a lot of activities, texture, which they all love. The parents are asking us to send it to the houses because they want to sing it with the children. So it's really fun. So what's happening is that we created a platform which will be available for every teacher in the world who can take it and bring it into the class. And I think that the secret with that platform is that we're reducing the fear of the teacher or the hesitation of teachers not to touch those kinds of subjects. When we will come to start talking about sexual offense, they will have step by step tools, what to do and how to get there. And once they are getting there, they say the children can get it, can understand that and even come and report about things that happened to them that we wouldn't know otherwise and to help them and to try to prevent it. So it's a whole package and teachers are reporting that this is kind of bringing them to the vision, why they wanted to be educators in their country.

Dr. Sonia Toledo: So your training platform will teach the teachers how to facilitate the curriculum for eight weeks with the young people ages starting with age five?

Dr. Ayelet Giladi: Yes, we will start at age five and then the teacher can get the whole eight units in her free time and can decide to bring into the class whatever she wants at her own pace. I would suggest to use it as a problem for the whole year because it will help to solve a lot of violence problems in the class with great tools of respect, dignity and equality. But if we want to focus, then eight weeks can work it out.

Dr. Sonia Toledo: This is great because you basically started having the conversation that in your research, you didn't know at what age did violence and disrespect with each other started. So you felt that as early as five years old is the time where we start teaching these values to reduce violence not only towards yourself, but with others within your peer group. This is very exciting. So where else is your program being launched right now with educators?

Dr. Ayelet Giladi: The programs are launching throughout the year. We just finished our work in Morocco, which was an exciting work, approaching a different culture and the results were amazing. You could see that the teachers understood that they are leading something so important for the children's life. Teachers were really working with all their passion into the program and at the end one of the boys came in and shared his story, that one time he hosted one of his friends at home and his friend asked him to take down his pants and underpants. You see, this is a child at age seven and so the children captured the theme of the problem and they knew to report and the environment was standardized for him to come and report. He felt safe to come and share. He wasn’t reporting, he was coming to share. He knew that the teacher will know how to help him to overcome that and even compliment him that he was brave enough to come forward and say, this was wrong, I didn't like it and we're not supposed to do it.

Dr. Sonia Toledo: Nice. So we really want to bring you to the United States and that's why I have you as an affiliate partner, because we want to share with our clients and our teachers and schools and organizations and parents and homeschoolers that there is a way to start as young as even four or five years old, to start having the dialogue of values to prevent violence and abuse. Now, I want to know a little bit about yourself. Share with me two or three books that you would recommend to our educators.

Dr. Ayelet Giladi: I would highly recommend you to read an Israeli philosopher Yuval Noah Harari. One I would like to recommend to read his book “Homo Deus” and the second one I’d like to recommend is “A Brief History of Tomorrow” and this book is also translated in English and many other languages. He's presenting the real world that should be around equality and freedom toward the 21st century. He also discusses about today's choices that we have to take in order to influence for the future. I think this is something that I didn't know that I wanted to do back in the year 2000 which was like 20 years ago and I can tell you that I hadn’t dream that the program will be a success in Israel that way and then will go out globally. So this is our role in society as educational leaders to work about the future. I read Émile Durkheim when I was doing my bachelor's degree, and also when I was writing my paper for PhD, he made this wonderful statement that we have to lay a foundation of morality.

Dr. Sonia Toledo: Yes, thank you for those recommendations and we'll make sure that we add these books to our book club. Now, let's talk about education system. You have an experience of going outside globally from Israel. What would be one thing that you would like to see a change in our education system globally?

Dr. Ayelet Gildadi: As time passed, we see that doing work at early child education is the most important work to lay down foundations for that young child, to raise a child as a full adult in community. This is extremely important when we're doing prevention at an early age. We are actually spending $1 now, but we are saving $7 of trauma in future. So, we really need to push the prevention work. This is my mission, and whenever I’m in a global conference or I find a platform to speak, I talk about prevention and how important it is to do it at the early age.

Dr. Sonia Toledo: This is just such a wonderful way to bring values into the classroom as young as four or five years old. I'm so honored and I want you to take an opportunity to share about how could our educators here in the United States take advantage of your program?

Dr. Ayelet Giladi: That would be very easy. They can get into our website voiceofchild.net, and they can purchase the program for now. In the summer, we will be offering a huge discount. It will be one of our aims to give you a tool, preparing for the next year to come and to help you understand. In that way, you can help your children and your students by helping them to know what is right and wrong on their body and really saving them from harm in class and outside of class with adults. So just purchase it and try it over and you will enjoy it.

Dr. Sonia Toledo: Yes. So we're going to have a discount code just for Dignity of Children’s Participants and clients that have access to this interview and want to know more about taking a stand and training yourself to bring it into the classroom. This is awesome. And don't forget, Dr. Ayelet Giladi is going to be part of our curriculums. Moving forward, you'll be able to know a lot more about her and the program on our website, www.dignityofchildren.com. And I so look forward to continuing our work together.

Dr. Ayelet Giladi: Thank you. I would like to say that we are very proud to have  done this partnership with your organization, which demonstrate a lot of commons issues that we think are so important for our global work. So thank you very much for finding us and looking forward to working together.



Responsible Leadership in the 21st Century

by Dr. Sonia Toledo

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