Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Sex Abuse on a Scale

Every time I come across one of these stories I don’t know if It makes me sadder or angrier. There is nothing new here. This story of abuse is well known. What I did not know until now is the exact nature of the abuse or the unbelievable reaction by that community to it.

That young people who are abused reject their Judaism is nothing new. Many of those who have dropped observance are victims of sex abuse. This is rather well known. I don’t think anyone really disputes that.

What is shocking to me about an article at NPR (republished at VIN) is the attitude of the rabbinic leaders in the Williamsburg community to this tragic event. I would have thought that by now, we were all on the same page with respect to molestation of any kind. But instead of outrage and disgust there seems to be an attitude of just shrugging it off! Both by rabbis and parents of the school where this abuse took place.

Here is how NPR describes the assault:

(Joel) Engelman says he was 8 years old, sitting in Hebrew class one day, when he was called to the principal's office. When he arrived, he says, Rabbi Avrohom Reichman told him to close the door.

"He motioned for me to get on his lap, and as soon as I got on the chair, he would swivel the chair from right to left, continuously," Engelman says. "Then he would start touching me while talking to me. He would start at my shoulders and work his way down to my genitals."

Engelman says this occurred twice a week for two months.

The offending rabbi was given a polygraph test which he failed and was immediately let go.

But then a few weeks later the something incredible happened:

A religious leader from the school approached Engelman's mother, Pearl. He posed an astonishing question: On a scale of one to 10, how bad was the molestation?

She was speechless. Then she says, the man continued, "'We found out there was no skin-to-skin contact, that it was through clothing.' So he's telling me, 'On a scale of one to 10, this was maybe a two or a three, so what's the big fuss?'"

The school hired Reichman back. That was in July 2008 — one week after Joel Englemen turned 23 and could no longer bring a criminal or civil case against the rabbi.

Is the community outraged? Not by a long shot. I guess fondling a child through his clothes is no biggie in Williamsburg. Nor is sex abuse of Satmar children registering up to a 3 on a 10 point scale. Here is how the reaction by parents is described by Rabbi David Niederman, head of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg:

"Even after these accusations were publicly made," he says, "the parents continue to compete among themselves for the opportunity to have their children be educated by Rabbi Reichman."

Just like Mrs. Pearl Englemen, I am speechless! He says there was an internal investigation by an independent committee of lay people and rabbis. "I'm convinced that they made a serious investigation," he says. "They felt that it's not credible."

Right. Rabbis and laymen. I feel much better now. That assuages my fears. Parents in Satmar can all breathe much easier now.