I read with interest and concern the article (Oct. 11) by Jane Hulse pertaining to the problem of child abuse in the Big Brother program. Unfortunately, the media continue to focus an unreasonable amount of attention on this problem as it relates to the Big Brother movement in this country. That focus often contains misleading statements and an incomplete analysis, thus contributing to public hysteria.
Your focus is on the difficulties experienced by Big Brothers of Greater Los Angeles. As with many prior articles, you leave the impression that BBGLA is the only Big Brother social-service agency in Los Angeles.
It is not. The oldest such agency in Los Angeles is the Jewish Big Brothers Assn. Our agency has played a role in setting up other Big Brother and Big Sister agencies, including not only BBGLA but also Catholic Big Brothers. Both Jewish and Catholic Big Brothers match children with adult male role models and are part of the cultural, social and religious life of the Jewish and Catholic communities.
I am particularly distressed about the fact that your reporter interviewed our executive director, obtained mostly positive news as to our agency's program, yet did not mention us in your article. We are thus left with an article that is, unfortunately, largely negative in tone.
Naturally, child abuse is a nationwide problem, and we commend BBGLA for its efforts to combat the problem. But that problem must be kept in perspective, and your article, however well-intentioned, does not really help. You state that molestation committed by a Big Brother is "infrequent." In fact, it is extremely rare, and while even one such case demands our concern and attention, I believe the media have helped to create an aura of hysteria and needless rejection of the Big Brother movement.
There is an ugly connotation behind your reporter's statement that "Big Brothers can be especially attractive to potential molesters because it urges volunteers to develop close, private relationships with boys." What we encourage is basic friendship, grouped in mutual respect and admiration. Your characterization is misleading and frankly sensational in tone.
Hundreds of thousands of children have benefited from such male friendship, and we can only hope that reasonable men will not turn away from an opportunity to volunteer their time, simply because agencies like Jewish Big Brothers and Big Brothers of Greater Los Angeles must engage in a careful, caring screening process. I have been a Big Brother for 10 years, and I know the personal sense of accomplishment that goes with being a volunteer Big Brother. The concept will always be valid, and we can only hope that the media will occasionally focus their attention on the good work we perform.
GARY N. STERN
Stern is a vice president of the Jewish Big Brothers Assn. of Los Angeles .