Thursday, July 12, 2012

A clear Psak requiring Reporting is needed to stop Abuse

I just finished a long trans-Atlantic call with an American rav whose grandson was recently abused in a shul in Europe during davening. He was distressed by a number of developments besides the fact that his grandson had been abused. 1) the community rav who had been consulted said that the perpetrator had suffered enough embarrassment already and thus nothing more should be done. The rav stated clearly that the matter should be dropped and if the police were involved it would be mesira. He was clearly ignorant of the rulings of Rav Eliashiv and other gedolim on the matter. 2) Despite this the parents reported the abuse to the police  - but they didn't seem interested in getting involved either.  3) To make the matter more distressing the family has been informed that the alleged abuser has been observed  in the past - touching kids inappropriately in the mikveh - but nothing was done. 4) The parents of the child are now being harassed and threatened by the community as trouble makers and informants.

This American rav is well aware of the halachic and psychological issues and suggested something which is very simple - but should be very effective in changing the dynamics of the situation. Most people would have no problem of reporting if they witnessed a child being raped or severely beaten. In fact they probably would physically intervene to stop the abuse. The events of Penn State have hopefully taught us that good people don't act unless they know that they must act and are informed in advance what constitutes abuse. Similarly most rabbonim today acknowledge the importance of reporting abuse - to the local rabbi or police - but they would not necessarily recognize that inappropriate touching or fondling is abuse

Therefore the American rav suggested that the community needs that important poskim publicly proclaim in a written declaration what actions constitute abuse that we need to report. The  proclamation must state clearly and unambiguously that abuse is wrong - even if it doesn't involve rape. It must list the halachic requirements to prevent harm by reporting. And finally it needs a clear and unambiguous list of specific actions that constitute abuse that need to be reported.

Here is a tentative text regarding what is abuse:

You must report the following to your rav and/or police department. If you see a child being touched  inappropriately in the mikveh, playground, summer camp or school or neighbor's home. Not only must you report inappropriate adult fondling of a child - but also such actions between  children - even if they are the same age. You must report not only what you yourself observe but also when you hear rumors or your children tell you - it needs to be reported in order to verify and stop it. In sum - all awareness of abuse that you know about -  must be reported to someone. However it is not enough to just report that you witnessed or heard about abuse. If the person you report to doesn't follow through - whether it is a parent, teacher, principal, rav or police - you must persist either with that authority or find someone else who will listen and act. It is clear that a child's well being is not to be sacrificed to avoid chilul hashem, financial loss to a yeshiva or synagogue, or the embarrassment to the family of the abuser or even a prison sentence for the perpetrator. There is no prohibition of lashon harah to report these issues, nor is there a prohibition of mesira. A Rav or community leader is obligated to listen to any and all alleged incidents of abuse. Every member of the community is obligated to make sure that children are protected and that perpetrators are stopped.

15 comments :

  1. Rav Eliashev paskened a rov first needs to establish "raglayim ldavar" before he can allow someone to report to secular authorities.

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    1. In a case of rape the victim or someone who knows for sure that it happened - even the Aguda said that Rav Eliashiv said that a person can go right to the police. Raglayim ldavar where there is only circumstantial evidence.

      Since this is only a proposal - the rabbis who would sign it would obviously also determine the wording

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    2. It's hard to believe that the only problem here is that there is no clear psak. It's hard to believe that the Rav who said the abuser was already embarresed enough, and the other members of the community who are now harrasing the parents for reporting, it's hard to beleive that they are only doing it because there is no clear psak, and they would respect a clear psak. I wish these individuals' motives can be ascertained. I wish we can get some better understanding why pp harrass the victims for reporting, and take the side of the perpertrators.

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  2. This is a great idea and a much needed resource for Klal Yisroel .
    I would suggest that it be categorized by A. Seeing an actual sexual act B. Seeing sexual behavior e.g. fondling ect. C. Testimony from a child of A. Or B. ,D. Hearing rumors of any of the above . With guidelines for every category and sources for them.

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  3. "The rav stated clearly that the matter should be dropped and if the police were involved it would be mesira. He was clearly ignorant of the rulings of Rav Eliashiv and other gedolim on the matter."

    There's a gap in reasoning here. The local rav was not only unaware of the rulings of senior rabbis on the halachic issues, but also not cognizant of the science. There is no cure for pedophiles. Even with long-term therapy and monitoring, the deviant sexual urge a pedophile has for a child cannot be eliminated. Sometimes, with therapy and monitoring, the pedophile will not act upon his urge, but nevertheless, the urge is there. The science confirms the Talmudic maxim, "Ein apitorpus l'arayos," roughly translated to mean that the yetzer hara can never be sufficiently guarded against.

    Once you know these basic facts about pedophilia and molesting, the halachic issues become clearer. A molester must be reported to the police. He is dangerous. The halachic issue is lo sa'amod al dam ra'echa, do not stand upon the blood of your brother. The halachic issue is also, maakeh l'gagechah, build a guardrail around your flat roof, extrapolated by the Talmud to mean that you should not have dangerous conditions in your home, e.g., a wild dog or rickety ladder. The mesira issue is far secondary.

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  4. Is a Rav or community leader only required to listen to any/all incidents of abuse?

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  5. Aiming at Common SenseJuly 12, 2012 at 3:33 PM

    The opening line of the proposed "psak" is ambiguous. It refers to reporting to "your rav and/or police department". The remainder of the text is clear about going to law enforcement authorities. Any psak that will contain ambiguity will become useless. There will be sayers on each side that will claim that rabbonim have no role, or that all reports must be judged by rabbonim first. That already exists, and the current hot debates and chaos are rooted in this lack of clarity.

    Before a "psak" can be issued, those poskim doing so will need to be educated on the subject from the professional and scientific angle. While that presents a challenge, especially for those rabbonim who think they already know everything, this process has already begun, and there needs to be an infusion of effort to continue and intensify it.

    The situation prompting this post is ridden with ignorance - sheer ignorance of prevailing halacha, and complete lack of knowledge of the subject matter. No amount of Kol Korehs, Piskei Halacha, or other efforts to establish protocol will prevent the world from being subjected to idiots. Yes, I am not afraid to call a Rov an idiot when he does something as dastardly stupid as these statements reflect. As many gedolim of previous generations noted, "To pasken a shailoh also requires common sense."

    As far as the stupidity of the perpetrator having already being embarrassed enough, a serious point is missed. The action that needs to be taken when molestation ch"v occurs is not about punishing the perpetrator. We have no such authority, despite the fact that punishment is deserved. Our obligation is to have an ironclad guarantee that the offense cannot be repeated on anyone, whether this victim or others. That is the goal of turning the perp over to the secular authorities who will incarcerate him. I have not a whim of care about the amount of embarrassment already suffered, as it is totally irrelevant. So why was this clown permitted to retain his rabbinical position when he displayed such a dearth of intelligence?

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  6. American rav needs to do more than call upon "important poskim" to issue the "declaration" he's asking for, something we all know, this late in the game, is not going to happen. American rav can follow in the footsteps of Tamar, daughter of Dovid HaMelech who was raped by her half-brother Amnon, and publicly identify the perpetrator, for the good of the community. We received hilchos yichud from that Biblical episode, and Amnon himself was killed two years later.

    The grandson, through his parents, also has the option of filing a civil case against the shul for damages. Its a good case. There were previous complaints about this man molesting children, and therefore, he should have been banned from the shul. At a minimum, he should have had a shomer, and people, including children, should have been warned. In American law, this is called a negligent security claim. Tort law is fairly universal, and these basic principles may apply in the European country where this incident occurred. Particularly where the police are uninterested in prosecuting, let the family retain a lawyer, and file a civil case. The caveat is that the shul needs to be insured, which it probably is. If insured, poskim say you can sue, because the insurer is the real party in interest.

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  7. An excellent piece but I would humbly suggest one small change to this line:
    > You must report the following to your rav and/or police department

    Take out the words "your rav". The reason should unfortunately be obvious.

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  8. this is just a suggestion for a text that can move the ball forward by getting rabbis to publicize a position that is better than the present one.

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  9. Daas Torah: "... The events of Penn State have hopefully taught us that good people don't act unless they know that they must act and are informed in advance what constitutes abuse. ..."

    From Remarks of Louis Freeh in Conjunction With Announcement of Publication of Report Regarding the Pennsylvania State University (http://www.thefreehreportonpsu.com/Press_Release_07_12_12.pdf), p. 6, last paragraph of section II "Findings":

    << From 1998–2011, Penn State’s “Tone at the Top” for transparency, compliance, police reporting and child protection was completely wrong, as shown by the inaction and concealment on the part of its most senior leaders, and followed by those at the bottom of the University’s pyramid of power. This is best reflected by the janitors’ decision not to report Sandusky’s horrific 2000 sexual assault of a young boy in the Lasch Building shower. The janitors were afraid of being fired for reporting a powerful football coach. >>

    This 2000 incident of the janitors' observations of Sandusky is discussed on p. 65-66 of the Freeh Sporkin and Sullivan report (http://www.thefreehreportonpsu.com/REPORT_FINAL_071212.pdf)

    << Janitor B explained to the Special Investigative Counsel that reporting the incident "would have been like going against the President of the United States in my eyes." "I know Paterno has so much power, if he wanted to get rid of someone, I would have been gone." He explained "football runs this University," and said the University would have closed ranks to protect the football program at all costs. >>

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  10. Daas Torah: "...Most people would have no problem of reporting if they witnessed a child being raped or severely beaten. In fact they probably would physically intervene to stop the abuse. ... [T]he American rav suggested that the community needs that important poskim publicly proclaim in a written declaration what actions constitute abuse that we need to report. ... It must list ... halachic requirements ... specific actions ... ."

    I trust that a halakhic/legal/factual consensus like this would help very much, but I think there is another important and largely independent problem.

    In two presentations that I mentioned in a recent comment (http://daattorah.blogspot.com/2012/07/abuse-viewed-differently-30-years-ago.html?showComment=1341181553200#c4779837613864191728), Dr. Ann Jennings discusses the need for communities, individuals and institutions to become "trauma-informed", and the likelihood of repeatedly, even endlessly, "retraumatizing the victims" otherwise.

    At the heart of being "trauma-informed" is the capacity not merely to see a physical law-breaking inflicted upon the victim, but to empathically grasp the suchness of the violence inflicted upon the victim's soul. I find it hard to believe that the European rav of this story would have needed a "proclamation" had he possessed this kind of empathic grasp.

    Though I am in no position to generalize, I see that the rabbis, schools, etc., that I know first-hand are hardly at all "trauma-informed".

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    1. Aiming at Common SenseJuly 12, 2012 at 11:23 PM

      "Though I am in no position to generalize, I see that the rabbis, schools, etc., that I know first-hand are hardly at all "trauma-informed".

      I beg to differ. There is greatly increased awareness that is found virtually everywhere, from rabbonim, schools of all colors, and parents. I would not be so blind and dumb to proclaim that all is fixed. It is certainly not, and the frum community is still not where it deserves to be for child safety. Schools are on the lookout for accusations, and they are, by and large, taking them very seriously. Every yeshiva that I know has an attorney in its employ as a consultant, and has connected with this counsel to be advised of how to handle reports and accusations. Are they being defensive? I am convinced. But it is also becoming clearer every day that they are less prone to take risks by dismissing reports, or by siding with the accused. There were also numerous meetings between professionals and camp directors and their staffs to educate them on the safety concerns and how to handle any breaches of personal safety. These meetings have been in place for several years, and were quite numerous and intensive this year as well.

      Having noted that, I still feel that the range of information that has been made available to our yeshivos, schools, and other community organizations is still only a fraction of what they need to know. We cannot be realistic in expecting our yeshiva and school staffs to become mental health professionals, but their ignorance on this subject, while somewhat mitigated over the past few years, is still remarkable.

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    2. Aiming at Common Sense,

      I am heartened that the situation, from where you stand and based on your first-hand knowledge, is somewhat more optimistic; that's why I refrained from generalizing.

      AaCS: "We cannot be realistic in expecting our yeshiva and school staffs to become mental health professionals ..."

      Are you referring here to the specific idea of "trauma-informed" used by Dr. Jennings in her presentations?

      It seems to me that she applied the term, in part, and in tragic hindsight, to what she herself lacked as an ordinary middle-class Catholic mother during the 1960s, long before she became a professional. (Slide 5: "How did this happen to my daughter? Why did I miss what happened? How did we all miss it? What could we have done differently?") I am not a mental health professional -- just a "civilian" -- but I was able to acquire the "empathic grasp" I mentioned. For some reason (maybe the Ba'al ha-Blog could offer insight) this did not come "naturally" to me in the communities in which I lived, so I happen to have lived many decades without it. Yet it was not, in essence, a remarkable feat.

      The audience for those presentations, so far as I can tell, was not mental health professionals, but policy-makers. I have shared them with a few (lower-level) Orthodox policy-makers, and they found them to be uncommonly clear, enlightening, and moving.

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    3. Aiming at Common SenseJuly 13, 2012 at 3:03 AM

      Actually, I was a bit struck by the descriptor used, "hardly at all". I am not familiar with quote other than appeared here, and I do not know if it might be a few years old, when I would have said exactly that. In these past few years, there has been a frenzy to improve the information level of yeshivos and rabbonim. While I am heartened by the progress, I am not comfortable that we have achieved a safety level that is acceptable. I know many in our world of chinuch who claim that the media chatter is exaggerated, but it is these same people who are thirsting for the training and knowledge to improve their policies of safety. I can say that I sleep easier, but not without some anxiety.

      As a community, and I speak of the Northeast US, there is much greater awareness than ever, and that this bears fruit. There are also more cases being reported and addressed, whether at the level of the community and that of the authorities.

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