About a year ago, after the expose by a national periodical of a 20 year span of child sexual abuse in a major Charedi Yeshiva. It was by one of the rebbeim. After the story was publishewd the Torah world was widely accused of covering up most such charges and of sweeping all reports of abuse under the carpet. Shortly thereafter at an Agudah convention Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon responded to that accusation that if rabbinic authorities sweep things under the carpet, it is because the Torah requires them to do so.
In response to that Rabbi Mark Dratch wrote a respectful article in essence saying that there is no more room under the carpet. A twenty year period of multiple cases of sexual abuse by the accused rebbe was enabled by just such an attitude.
There has not been a response by the rabbinic leadership in the Torah world as represented in Agudah until now. An article in the most recent issue of the Jewish Observer located on the Ohel website finally addresses it. And I applaud their new attitude. A member of the Agudah Moetzes clearly states that he agrees with Rabbi Dratch and in fact actually preceded him in the admission that things like this have been covered up too long:
HaRav Avrohom Chaim Levin, Shlita, Rosh Hayeshiva of Telz Chicago, addressing several hundred principals at a Torah U’Mesorah convention in May 2002 on the issue of child molestation stated, “there is no more room under the carpet”. And most recently at Torah U’Mesorah’s convention in May 2007, HaRav Levin encouraged every yeshiva, day school and high school to address and respond to this issue.
I was a bit disappointed at the rather lukewarm tone of that article. Aside from the recommendations about what parents can and should do about educating their children properly, I found no sense of urgency about it. Nor did I see any real compassion for past victims, outrage at the perpetrators, or remorse over mistakes that have clearly been made.
There is also a serious flaw in a key componenet of the new approach. Rabbi Gil Student and others have pointed this out. It is with the following statement:
On the issue of mesirah, reporting, it states “such action may include, under appropriate circumstances, reporting to the civil authorities when the principal determines that there is reason to believe that inappropriate activity has in fact occurred, insofar as halacha and secular law require such reporting”.
To leave such matters in the hands of a single individual who has a personal stake in the issue is pure folly. No matter how sincere and dedicated a principal may be, he will always be thinking about how the school will look and therefore be more reticent about reporting an accusation to the authorities. And that is dangerous.
It is imperative that there be an impartial individual involved in making such decisions. In fact, I would not leave it to any one individual but to several key ones including the principal, the lay leadership and professionals who deal with these kinds of issues are experienced in such issues. The guiding factor should always be the welfare of the children, not the welfare of the school. As such I would place heavy weight on the professional's view.
There is also a common misconception about child sexual abuse that is exposed as a myth in this article And as is usually the case, the Torah world is the last to hear about it as this seems to be pretty much common knowledge these days:
Ninety percent of children who are molested know their abuser. Parents cannot speak about “stranger danger” with their young children and expect them to understand this also means not becoming a victim at the hands of a relative, neighbor or rebbe. This lies at the heart of the complexity of child molestation, being hurt by a person a young child or teenager knows, trusts, loves or admires.
This is why it is so shocking when a rebbe is caught. The person that parents trust the most is the very one who betrays them. If abuse ever happens it is the trusted people that are the most suspect. And this is so very unfortunate because most loved ones are not like that and they are the most suspect. And that can harm a natural and warm loving relationship between a rebbe and a talmid and even close family relationships.
Another important point made in this article is that it is time to consider educating our young people about sexual matters in the more structured setting of a school. This subject has been taboo for many years but I believe that the taboo is in part responsible for the problem as it leaves our children unprepared for potential sexual abuse.
It also makes the point that sex abuse is vastly under reported. I find this to be highly credible. The stigma of suffering abuse is a factor in the world at large but in the Torah world the stigma is far greater. That makes dealing with the issue and even more so treating the victims…that much harder.
In short, I commend the Jewish Observer for finally responding to this issue in a forthright manner. The article contains much information and I recommend reading it. I only wish it had been a little more passionate about the subject and contrite about past errors.
But the one big criticism I have is the handing over to a single individual the decision of reporting incidences of abuse to the authorites. The principal has a personal interest here. This is a huge mistake that can perpetuate cover-ups. And if that happens we will continue to add to the victims. And that is unconscionable.