Thursday, June 12, 2008

When Image Trumps Safety

Guest Post by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

I am pleased to present a guest post by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz. It is a detailed response to two of the 10 questions I asked him yesterday. I would like to thank him for taking the time from his busy schedule to provide these thoughtful answers with his trademark candor and concern for the welfare of Klal Yisroel. Here now - Rabbi Horowitz’s words:

Due to the demands on my time, it is simply impossible for me to respond to all these challenging (and loaded) questions at once. Here is my response to the first two. I will answer the rest of them in segments when I can find the time. I will probably roll some of this content into a column or two.

1. What 3 high profile Charedi abuse cases are you referring to?

I was discussing the horrible abuse cases of the Ramot Beit Shemesh "Burka Lady" , the monster cult “rabbi” Eliyahu Chen who was just arrested in South America and one other case. They were widely reported in the Israeli press, along with the charge that there are high rates of abuse in the charedi community – with several papers reporting that they are higher than the general population.

2. Why do you predict that there will be many more cases like the one reported about in this Jerusalem Post article?

The overall pattern in the general population is that whenever there is a high-profile abuse/molestation case, this is followed by a spike in reported abuse due to increased awareness.

This is similar to what happens when a star ballplayer or popular elected official is diagnosed with, say, melanoma, r’l, a form of skin cancer. Almost immediately, people around the country who have brown dots on their skin come running to their doctors or clinics.

So; if a girl dies of anorexia in the general population, chas v’shalom, many parents of teen girls will reach out for help. A percentage of the girls will actually have eating disorders – upping the numbers of reported kids with such conditions (this does not mean that more girls came down with eating disorders, only that the awareness caused more of them to reach out for help).

But then, good things start happening. Schools bring in specialists to speak to the kids. Peers eventually become informed enough that they can help their friends who are binging and purging – preventing illness and even death.

So, too, in the case of abuse and molestation. Short term numbers spike whenever there is a high-profile sex abuse arrest or conviction. However, over time, things stabilize and eventually the rates drop significantly as the short-term pain of the publicity results in long-term gain of awareness and solution-oriented soul searching.

When I wrote that I think that many more people will be coming forward, this is what I was referring to – part one of the phenomenon noted above – where more charedi individuals will come forward as a result of the publicity generated by these terrible cases.

Here is the rub, though:

In our world, where, for example, abuse cases that are widely reported in the secular media are not discussed at all or glanced over in our charedi papers, we have the worst of all worlds; a spike in reported cases, growing discomfort among adults and kids, swirling bursts of information and misinformation – and none or little of the type of education and awareness that solves problems.

That is what I referred to when I said that we are sheltering our kids from the wrong half. We are getting clobbered in the secular media when these high-profile events occur. We think we are protecting our kids by not discussing these critical matters in our public squares. But nothing could be further from the truth. Many or most of our kids hear about it anyway. They know things are terribly, terribly wrong. They are not being protected from The Monsters Inside and are just confused by all the Cognitive Dissonance .

Because all the while, far too little of the ‘good stuff’ – the things that could help keep them Safe and Secure ; such as awareness or prevention programs – is happening as a result of the tragedies.

Perhaps worst of all; what message does it send our children when they realize that they are not being protected by the adults around them? I’ll tell you. They are being told loud and clear that we, the adults entrusted to keep them safe, are choosing image over their safety.

Can I give you an analogy? Imagine a father driving 3 of his kids in a minivan midday in midst of a heat wave. His van is not equipped with air conditioning, so he tells his kids to keep the windows closed because he doesn’t want people to realize that he cannot afford AC in his vehicle. Now imagine that you are an adolescent in the back seat watching your dad cruelly pick form (what will the neighbors say?) over substance (I’m about to pass out! Please open a window!!). How long do you think it will take for the teenager to go from discomfort to disappointment to disbelief to rage to “I’m outta here!!?”

So; we are in a lose-lose situation.

All pain and very little gain.

That’s what I meant when I wrote that we are headed off the cliff if we don’t get our acts together.