Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Child Abuse Allegations Plague the Hasidic Community

Update :Added Interview with Newsweek editor

Update: Comment by anonymous frum insider 

There are as many irritants in the article as in the few comments thus far.  There is a way to deal with it, and much progress has been made.  To deny that is to lie.  There’s much more to go.  However, the Newsweek and other media reports are certainly not useful.  They accomplish nothing more than the fanatic “advocates” did – chilul Hashem, destroying lives, and nothing more.  The basis for these media reports is greatly flawed.  Their primary sources are the several who have escaped the frum community, and are engaged in the mission of creating as much destruction as possible.  These detestable creatures have long abandoned their victimhood, and have enlisted with the enemies of Klal Yisroel.  I have lost my ability to have any rachmonus on them.  If they want to help, then join the campaigns to bring about greater awareness, prevention programs, school and institutional policies that accomplish something.  The media stuff is miyus, as it has no role whatsoever in protecting a single child.

Meanwhile, a simple observation.  We are both familiar with defense mechanisms.  I make observations all the time of new mechanisms that are just that, but masquerade as something else.  The Agudah position, which we know to be fundamentally flawed, is not really a policy at all.  It is a simple effort to cover-up the cover-ups.  They cannot do different, because that would be self-incrimination.

update: added this interview with Newsweek edit

Newsweek    [...] While there is no evidence that child abuse is any more likely to occur in ultra-Orthodox schools than in public or secular institutions, stories like Reizes’s—an alleged abuser sheltered and victims unwilling to talk for fear of losing the only way of life they know—are common in the Hasidic school system. The many former students, advocates, sociologists, social workers and survivors interviewed by Newsweek, along with recordings, documents, public filings and personal emails that Newsweek obtained, place the blame on a confluence of factors: widespread sexual repression, a strong resistance to the secular world, and, most important, a power structure designed to keep people from speaking up about abuse. [...]

In the ultra-Orthodox world, sexuality is simultaneously denied and monitored to the point of obsession. Starting in childhood, boys and girls are separated; the opposite gender remains a mystery until it’s time to marry, usually in an arranged pairing. Boys are taught to avoid looking at girls, while girls are taught that they are a source of sex and transgression, say former members of the Haredi, or ultra-Orthodox Jewish, community.

If children aren’t taught by their parents and teachers about appropriate sexual behavior, they have no way to sense when touching turns into something that is wrong. “You don’t even know what your body is,” says Lynn Davidman, a professor of sociology and religious studies at the University of Kansas who grew up in a religious Jewish family. “And you are not supposed to touch or know, and then all of a sudden you are introduced to forbidden knowledge in a most abusive way.” The abused have no way to make sense of what’s going on, to stop it or to tell anybody about it. [...]

“I think there is little doubt that the extent and seriousness of abuse in society at large was underappreciated for decades until relatively recently,” says Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America, an umbrella organization that provides leadership to Haredi communities. “Unfortunately, the Orthodox community was likewise unaware of the degree and severity of the problem in its own midst. That, though, has changed.”[...]

Today, in North American Haredi communities, there is debate over how the mesirah prohibition should be applied. In 2011, the Crown Heights Beis Din (the rabbinical court that handles internal religious disputes) ruled that mesirah “do[es] not apply in cases where there is evidence of abuse” and that “one is forbidden to remain silent in such situations.” And earlier this year, 107 Hasidic rabbis signed a kol koreh, or “public pronouncement,” stating that there is a religious obligation to notify secular law enforcement when it knows of child abuse.

However, “knowing” is a murky term here. In 2012, Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America, said mesirah meant community members should turn to rabbinical authorities to “ascertain that the suspicion meets a certain threshold of credibility” before reporting child abuse to the authorities. Scroll through the comments section of any of the muckraking websites that track abuses in the Haredi world—Unorthodox-Jew,—and it quickly becomes clear how deferential this community is to religious authority. At the bottom of news coverage of sexual abuse trials are seething comments claiming the reporters are acting above their pay grade. “Stop speaking loshon harah and chillul Hashem ”—evil speech and the desecration of God’s name—“and let the Rabbis sort it out,” they have written.

The problem, though, is that this puts the decision to report on individuals who are usually not qualified to recognize signs of abuse—and who, many say, have a vested interest in keeping secular eyes away. Furthermore, while New York state law says all school officials are required to disclose any child abuse, physical or sexual, they see or hear about to Child Protective Services—religious clergy are not. And when school officials are also religious officials—all yeshiva teachers are rabbis—there are dangerous legal loopholes. [...]

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