Friday, May 15, 2009

Abuse: Difficult issues / Case of Colmer

Jewish Week

A married Jew with peyos and a black hat, Stefan Colmer used to spend hours, according to reports, reading the Talmud in the main study hall of the Mirrer Yeshiva on Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn. While there, he also befriended some boys in and around the yeshiva and, on occasion, invited a few of them to his nearby home.

And, according to a source close to the case, Colmer allegedly sexually abused several of them — in addition to other young boys from the “general neighborhood” near the yeshiva, a law enforcement source believes.

Colmer, 32, who moved to Israel in early 2007, weeks before any of his alleged victims approached the police, was extradited to Brooklyn in January 2008 and is now being held at Rikers Island, awaiting trial on charges that he sodomized two teenage boys, both 13 at the time, on numerous occasions. He faces up to seven years in prison if convicted on all charges.

What isn’t in the criminal charges against Colmer is that, according to numerous sources familiar with the facts, several years before allegedly abusing the two victims named in the May 2007 indictment he was treated in the sex-offender program of a prominent Jewish agency — only to leave of his own volition before his treatment was completed.

Yet, until his arrest in June 2007, Colmer had never been reported by anyone to the police — not by his alleged victims, their parents or community members who knew of allegations against him — a fact confirmed by a law enforcement source who notes that, until 2007, Colmer had a “clean record.”

Further, because Colmer was never reported to the police and thus came to the agency, Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services, without a mandate from the court, when he dropped out of its offender program around 2002, according to friends, Ohel was not required to report him to the authorities for non-compliance. For the same reason, his activities were not monitored and his name did not appear on any public registries designed to alert the public to those who might pose a danger to children.

The Colmer case and the way it was apparently handled illuminates a controversial debate raging in the Orthodox community in the wake of the cases of Rabbi Yehuda Kolko, Avrohom Mondrowitz and others: whether suspected cases of child sexual abuse should be dealt with “internally” — even if only initially — by rabbis or professionals within the Orthodox community, or whether they should be handed directly over to law enforcement for investigation.

No one interviewed for this story suggested that Ohel did anything illegal by apparently not reporting Colmer to the authorities after he dropped out of treatment. Indeed, laws about confidentiality that govern the doctor-patient relationship limit what a psychologist can divulge about his patient. Nonetheless, there are those who believe that in a case like Colmer’s, reporting would not have constituted a breach of doctor-patient privilege.

Treating someone who has not been mandated by the courts is “a complex and dangerous situation,” said Dr. Michael Salamon, a New York-based psychologist who has had experience in this area. “As I learned it, and teach it to others [you are permitted] to report if there is any reasonable cause to suspect that this person is a danger to himself or others. If I were a supervisor in a case [where someone who was not mandated for treatment dropped out] I would insist on calling the state hotline [of Child Protective Services] for guidance.”

Given this, Colmer’s case raises several thorny questions: Should Ohel have agreed to treat Colmer, knowing that he had never been reported to the police? Is there a will on the part of the community and its institutions to reform reporting policies and practices to plug what appears to be a gaping hole in the reporting system, one that leaves children unprotected from men like Colmer? And, most pressing of all, who, in the end, should bear responsibility for what happened to the two innocent 13-year-old alleged victims of Colmer, whose lives will likely never be the same? [...]


  1. The Hazzan who gives my son Bar Mitzvah lessons wonders why one of his parents or sisters always comes along and stays the whole time in the room with him during the lessons.

    I have noticed that we are not the only parents who accompany their sons to Bar Mitzvah lessons.

  2. jersey girl-that's so smart! i know my father is safe, (he gives lessons) but i always wonder why everyone is so trusting...good for you for making sure that your son is safe!

  3. Hours spent learning Torah is unfortunately not always a sign of high moral values. Be careful, be aware and be on the lookout. Good advice from Jersey.


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