Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Child Abuse - How do we speed up progress?

Baruch HaShem we have seen significant progress in dealing with sexual abuse. Only a few short years we all knew that child abuse either didn't exist or wasn't a serious problem. The learned amongst us knew that it could only be dealt with by rabbis after two witnesses testified that sodomy or rape of a doreissa level had occurred. The crime of sexual abuse was viewed as a moral one – in which the psychological consequences were assumed to be insignificant. No one heard of post-traumatic stress syndrome. Everyone knew that the molester was some weird psychopathic stranger and therefore there was nothing to fear from the kind neighbor, charismatic teacher or wonderful father. Who knew about the complex and conflicting feelings evoked by a beloved teacher who groomed a child for abuse. No one could believe that a child would keep coming back to the abuser who was molesting them. No one understood that abuse caused suppression of memories that only appear years later. We all "knew" that if abuse was happening it would be reported immediate by an outraged child. Failure to even tell one's parents or teacher immediately was viewed as proof that the accusations were false. 

The police were never called because of the horrific sin of Mesira - which is such a heinous crime that it causes the loss of Olam HaBah (Rosh HaShanna 17a). Who would dare risk violating the complex laws of lashon harah as explained by the Chofetz Chaim? In fact the issue of sexual abuse was viewed by the average parent or teacher as being so complex that only gedolim could know how to deal with the issue. We of course knew that the prime consequence of abuse was damaged to prospective shidduchim for the whole family. Other harmful consequences of abuse involved ruining the reputation of a yeshiva or causing a chilul HaShem. However we really weren't worried about abuse – because it was such a rare occurrence like being struck by lightning after winning the lottery. We of course were comforted by the assumption that the watchful eyes of the gedolim were protecting our kids from this scourge – and would never ever allow anyone to harm the hair of a single kid – and surely would not knowingly keep a child molester as a teacher or camp counselor for decades. After all didn't they have the ruach hakodesh of Daas Torah that they indoctrinated us to believe gave them insight and understanding way beyond that of a mere parent?  Aside from that we all knew that the rabbis followed G-d's Torah fearlessly and they would never be afraid to stand up to pressure from the community and peers. I mean everyone knows that fearlessness in proclaiming the halacha is itself a Torah command (Devarim 1:16).  

Major changes started in 2006-2007. Rabbi Zweibel of the Aguda readily acknowledged that the gedolim had been ignoring the problem ("it was on the back burner") until it came to the public awareness through the secular media (N.Y. Magazine "Do Orthodox Jews have a Catholic Church problem?) as well as blogs and a number of organizations. Child abuse has moved from an issue which was never mentioned in public to one that even Rabbi Perlow - the head of the Aguda - has publicly acknowledged at an Aguda Convention.
The major accomplishment of this phase was the mere fact that abuse was acknowledged publicly as a significant problem. Additionally it was beginning to be acknowledged that covering up abuse (contrary to the public statement by Rabbi Mattisyahu Solomon) – was not only not a good idea – but that due to the secular media and internet – it really was impossible to "sweep things under the rug".  The Baltimore rabbis collectively issued a proclamation in 2007 in which they acknowledged that a serious problem existed and that they were not competent to deal with it.

While all of this is important, it is not my primary focus in this article. I did not mention recent events to provide a history lesson in the dynamics of our community. All of this is a necessary introduction of a very important question.

The question is - What do we need to work on to speed up the processes of change within our communities and within ourselves? How do we give victims of abuse the courage to come forth? How do we prevent abuse? What is the best way to comfort and heal the survivors of abuse and their families? (I met someone over Rosh HaShanna who confided to me that he had been abused as a child and now – 30 years later – despite intensive therapy he and his family still suffered terribly every day.) How do we get our rabbis, educational and community leaders to have the courage to deal with the issue? How do we get them to understand what action halacha demands of them – rather than what is the fastest way to cover up the facts? 

In short – what is the best way to finish the revolution of dealing with sexual abuse? Suggestions are welcome!

Update: 9/16/13 One important issue is that it is necessary to change how we think about abuse. It is not that enough to say that it is wrong and needs to be stopped. It is necessary to understand on the most elementary level that abuse is harming another person and that can not be tolerated. See Simon Sinek regarding the greater importance of why we do things than what we do.

21 comments :

  1. The root problem is the psychological pathology at the base of modern Chareidism: if the "outside" thinks it's good, it must be bad and against the Torah!
    The more the outside world worked to expose and eradicate child abusers the more important it has become within Chareidism to protect and enable them.
    How else to explain why a community that thinks that a girl with her top blouse button open is a whore but a man who fondles little boys is guilty of nothing until he commits anal rape?

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    1. This is absolutely correct. You hit the nail on the head.

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  2. Rabbi Horowitz's Let's Stay Safe should be taught in every cheder.

    ben dov-
    1honestlyfrum.blogspot.com

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  3. Report, Report, Report...It is the only way to deal with this properly.
    Even today where there is a modicum of acceptance and only the briefest of understanding of the problem, abused individuals are being sent for counseling to unlicensed or poorly trained "therapists" in the hope that the abusers name not be revealed. In the last week alone I have been contacted by seven individuals who were abused at some point in the last two to twelve years.
    Please encourage reporting of abusers and referring the abused to the correct professionals.
    DrMJ Salamon

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    1. Dr. Salamon thank you for responding. There have been a number of news items and allegations about police or social workers not responding professionally to abuse complaints. In particular a policeman told me never to report abuse to the Boro Park police station because there is heavy political pressure there to release alleged abusers. I was also told that it is best to contact the sex crimes division rather than a normal policeman.

      How would you advise report an abuse complaint in the New York area for maximal professional response and sensitivity toward the victim?

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    2. You should call ACS or the sex crimes unit never the local Brooklyn precinct

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    3. Now that the Brooklyn DA, Charles Hynes was defeated yesterday, I believe that the new DA, Kenneth Thompson will properly respond to complaints by orthodox victims. However, the police are normally the place to start, and definitely start with the sex crimes units, not the local precint houses in Brooklyn. A number of them have "Jewish liaisons" who are basically fixers who use political pressure to prevent proper follow-through.

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  4. Rabbi Zweibel and the Agudah and the Gedolim admitted no such thing, as there was never anything for them to admit to. Your mis-characterization of what Rabbi Zweibel said is incorrect.

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    1. what is it that you claim they never said? What do you claim is a misquote? Are you claiming that Rabbi Perlow did not admit at an Aguda conference that there is an abuse problem in our community? Regarding Rabbi Zweibel see the following interview in Mishpacha. I have additional quotes.

      http://daattorah.blogspot.co.il/2012/06/saving-kids-lashon-harah-high-price-to.html

      "Rabbi Zwiebel speaks with his characteristic softness, but there is fire in his eyes. "Look, I don't write off the bloggers as leitzanim and reshaim, because they will be judged, as we all will, after 120 years for their motivations and techniques. I'm not a condemner, by nature. "I do believe that among them there are people who are deeply pained about certain issues and feel that this is the way they can express their pain. I will even go a step further and say that through the pressure they've created, communal issues that needed to be confronted were moved to the front burner and taken seriously. A case in point is abuse and molestation issues. The question is, if the fact that they've created some degree of change is worth the cost. At the very least, it's rechilus, lashon hara, and bittulzman. That's a high price to pay..."

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    2. Your above claim that Rabbi Zweibel "readily acknowledged that the gedolim had been ignoring the problem" is incorrect and a mis-characterization and interpretation of what he said.

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    3. Hero you have a reading problem.

      "I will even go a step further and say that through the pressure they've created, communal issues that needed to be confronted were moved to the front burner and taken seriously."

      Who was he referring to? Are you claiming that the gadolim were fighting for the welfare of child abuse victims all the time and that they made sure molesters were taken out of the school system and properly treated - but Rabbi Zweibel was clueless until the bloggers made noise? But he is a spokesman for the gedolim!


      Here is another quote

      Rabbi David Zweibel executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America The Jewish Daily, October 10, 2008
      “Until not terribly long ago, the issue was very much in the shadows,” said David Zwiebel, director of government affairs and general counsel of Agudath Israel of America. “The fact that there were isolated reports here and there of cases arising in yeshiva settings, it was known, but they were very isolated.”
      “Sometimes they were dealt with correctly and sometimes incorrectly,” Zwiebel added, “but the severity of the problem and the possible magnitude were really things that most people, including myself, just didn’t understand.”

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  5. Al shlosha dvarim haolam omed, al hakesef veal hakesef veal hakesefSeptember 11, 2013 at 5:30 PM

    Anyone giving support to the Perpetrators, Enablers in any which way, should be given the silent treatment as if they don't exist, no donations or any financial support. That should be a good sniff tabbak awakening to change their philosophy quite quick and put our young's health and well being ubber alles on the front burner. Umaklo yagid lo, vehem kolim me'elehem.

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  6. All religious and nonpublic schools need to be subject to the same laws that protect public school children - employee background checks, mandated reporting, education about abuse prevention and detection, etc. I'm in federal court on this issue, and we're waiting for a decision. We're saying that its unconstitutional to have different laws for public and nonpublic schools. This is something to daven for.

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  7. We need events such as parlor meetings where these issues can be studied and spoken about. Members of communities need to learn of others who feel the same way, and how to build a consensus of opinions to bring it to become mainstream. Leaders can be given a chance and a forum to lead and teach.

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  8. I'm hoping that my Let's Stay Safe book can be read by every frum child, as education is key. Also Debbie Fox's KidSafe programs are wonderfully helpful for our frum schools and camps. In addition, more widespread advocacy for laws protecting children in private schools as they are protected in public schools, through mandated reporting requirements and background checking is essential.

    It is critical for reports to be made to sex crimes units with support - not victims on their own. Experts in local rape crisis centers can offer great assistance in making the reporting process less traumatic and in helping to ensure that there is follow-through, avoiding political pressures and cover-ups.

    I wrote the safety book for little children because that is my ability, but each person can use their unique kochos to shine more light in this dark area - whether it is through pure prayer, art, music, or research efforts. And each effort makes a difference, thank G-d.

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    1. thanks for your response. Could you elaborate on

      It is critical for reports to be made to sex crimes units with support - not victims on their own. Experts in local rape crisis centers can offer great assistance in making the reporting process less traumatic and in helping to ensure that there is follow-through, avoiding political pressures and cover-ups.

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    2. Bracha,

      Your book is a fantastic resource. Thank you.

      Your recommendation of the Safety Kid program (KidSafe is something else) is a little circular. I was the coordinator of this program in New Jersey, and the schools that are right-wing/yeshivish/chareidi/whatever you want to call them basically wouldn't even talk to us. The "Modern Orthodox" schools brought us in (and, notably, so did a Chabad school), some quite eagerly, but it was very clear which schools were not about to do so. So the question remains - and this is a question I have long struggled with - how do we get those reluctant schools to bring in programs like this? What will it take for them to see the importance? (Or is it perhaps an image issue that they are trying to skirt?)

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  9. Too often, the magnitude of consequences of abuse are not fully appreciated, especially if it is anything less then penetration for intercourse. Yes, I know we quote studies, but that sort of knowledge is not getting across adequately. Parlor meetings where survivors talk are important to put a human face on the problem. There is too much of an inclination to sanitize this issue with experts and rabbis. The community must learn to see the tzelem elokim and their own reflections in survivors instead of imagining them as some other. If 10-20 of all children are sexually abused at some time, this means that anyone who knows 100 people in the community knows 10-20 survivors. If there are enough such events, eventually, people will reach the point of hearing and recognizing they are completely surrounded by victims/survivors. That will also make it harder for the fixers and cover-up artists to invalidate the reports of particular victims.

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  10. good post, but your headline needs a little work.

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    1. I am open to suggestions - what would you suggest

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  11. Speaking as an outside observer, it seems to me that the progress has been quite substantial in the last few years, and much of the credit should go to the internet. By its nature, child sexual abuse is a secret crime, and because victims were ashamed to speak, they felt alone. Thanks to those characteristics of the internet that have made it (quite understandably) feared and opposed in chareidi circles, i.e., anonymity and unobserved access, victims have been able to speak and be heard, as have opponents of the "status quo," including Orthodox voices such as the author of this blog.

    No one publicly advocates concealment of child sexual abuse or indifference to it. Although some still advocate non-reporting in the name of preventing mesirah, it appears fewer are doing so because of the availability of halakhic arguments and sources on the internet, such as this blog. But it still appears respectable in chareidi communities to advocate bans on internet use. So perhaps insistence on the Jewish legitimacy of (filtered) internet access should be chosen as one of the ways to promote progress.

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