Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Stranger Danger… or Uncle Moe?

With a sinister smile lurking behind the bushes an unkempt desheveled low life of a pedophile lurks - waiting for his prey. He sees him and pounces grabbing a young boy. He covers the mouth of the child to stifle his screams and cries and after looking to see that ‘the coast is clear’ he carries him into a beat-up old van - drives to his dingy basement apartment and has his way with him gratifying his disgusting sexual impulses. He lets the child go and tells him that if he tells anyone - he will kill him … or his parents. This activity is repeated every night with a new victim. During the day he is a loner who works as a day laborer picking up menial work.

Is this the description of your typical pedophile? I would not be surprised if many people picture pedophiles in pretty much this way.

According to experts many pedophiles are often respected family members, sometimes people of prominence and individuals who are well integrated into the community. They are people who generally have good jobs and do them well. Often they are married with children of their own. Their families may not even be aware of the problem.

Apparently they are ‘Jekyll and Hydes’. Most of the time they are like everyone else – good citizens going about their lives - with many friends and loving families. But when the urge strikes them and the opportunity presents itself (which they often manage to manipulate) they gratify their sexual urges using innocent victims in secluded locations. They cultivate their victims as friends or protégés. Their victims may not realize they are even victims at first if they are young enough.

Pedophiles are very often integral and even beloved members of a community. That’s what makes pedophilia so sinister. It is so hard to believe it about such people. Nowhere is this point made more clearly than in an article in the Jewish Week. Here is the pertinent excerpt:

…a courtroom packed with supporters of the 31-year-old Weinberg - among them, according to his defense attorney, school principals, two rabbis and civic leaders - the judge spoke of receiving more than 90 letters attesting to Weinberg's character and innocence.

The judge was appalled that an individual convicted in his courtroom of pedohilia was so highly spoken of while the victims were ignored. Practically the entire community testified that ‘It just ain’t so!’ ‘Can’t be! Not this man. He is innocent!’ ‘The victims? They must be mistaken about this man’.

Of course good people do care about victims. But as this case illustrates - the level of disbelief about respected members of the community overwhelms them and that supersedes any thought they might have for the victims.

I have absolutely no doubt that the people who testified on behalf of the convicted pedophile are good people. They abhor sex abuse as much as any decent human being would. But they simply do not beleive it.

And that is a problem that is hard to overcome. It is easy for those of us who are not familiar with a given convicted pedophile to see and do the right thing. If we don’t know them personally we can be objective. But what if a convicted sex-abuser was someone you know? A beloved uncle or a grandfather? A respected Rebbe or a principal? Or a popular Bar Mitzvah tutor? Or a talented Kiruv worker?What if it was the long term Rav of your Shul? What would your reaction be?

Not possible? I’m sure the members of Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah Hebrew Congregation in Baltimore felt the same way about their long term Rav. From an article in The Baltimore Sun:

For more than half a century, Rabbi Jacob A. Max was a dominant figure in Baltimore's Jewish community, founder of one of its most important synagogues, an influential leader who officiated at countless cycle-of-life rituals of the faith. A man, it seemed from afar, above reproach.But Max's reputation disintegrated earlier this year after he was convicted of sexually molesting a woman half his age in a Reisterstown funeral home.

Exception? Maybe. But need I mention the cases of respected Mechanchim and Kiruv workers who have been convicted of sex abuse? Or are clearly guilty but have somehow evaded justice?

I am not here to ascertain the guilt or innocence of anyone. It is certainly possible that someone can be wrongly convicted. My point is not to ‘pile on’ to this convicted pedophile. I’m sure that in the aforementioned case - all of those character whiteness believe he was wrongly convicted. But if pedophilia is to be stopped we need realize that sometimes even the best among us may have these kinds of abnormal urges that can and do overwhelm them. They may very well be the typical Jekyll and Hyde personality.

I’m not sure how to properly deal with this situation. But what experts do say is that most often sex abusers were themselves once abused sexually. By not facing the truth and trying to deal with it effectively we are in essence part of the problem. For every molester who abuses two victims – he may very well be ‘giving birth’ to two molesters. And they will produce 4… who will produce 8… who will produce 16… a geometric progression! If this has been going on for any length of time we already have huge numbers of molesters in our midst that we are unaware of.

There ought to be a way to deal with this problem effectively and stop abuse completely. I’m not an expert at how to do this. But such experts do exist and ought to be paid heed. It is they who should be relied upon to devise measures to effectively deal with any and all cases of abuse. We ought to not let our own emotions carry the day. That is what happened until now. And that has resulted in destroying far too many lives.