Child molesters are often very charming people. They are often very well integrated into a community - even respected as contributing individuals who will give of their time and money towards good causes. They come in all shapes and sizes and all manner of Hashkafos. They can be very religious in their outward observance or appearance or can be modern in dress and outlook. The common feature among them is that they are very accepted and often even beloved.
That makes them far more dangerous than the stereotypical image one might have of a molesters as an unkempt lowlife who lurks behind the shadows. I don’t think that stereotype even exists. Or if it does it is miniscule in comparison to the typical molester that is well integrated into family and community.
That may explain why it has been so difficult to get certain religious communities to cooperate with authorities when one of their members is accused of a sex crime. It doesn’t excuse it. But it explains it.
Respected members of the community who act incredulous when they are accused give rabbinic leaders the impression that they have been falsely accused. And since relationships are often very close and very positive, the victim is instead accused of being a perpetrator. He (or she) is accused of making false accusations. The accusers are immediately suspected of having ulterior motives.
After all why should anyone believe a child, pre-teen, or adolescent, each of whom do not have any real credibility built up yet in their young lives? Certainly their accusations are seen as suspicious over the strong denials of the accused - an honored member of the community. That these young people start going OTD makes them even more suspect that their accusations are not true… that they have some sort of personal vendetta. Rabbinic courts will interpret that OTD came first and the accusations followed -thereby invalidating their testimony.
I think that is the mindset going into a case like the one in Lakewood right now. As reported in a lengthy article in APP.com, officials at Beis Medrash Govoha (BMG - more commonly known as Lakewood Yeshiva) are resisting attempts by public officials to seek justice for a young man who accused his day school Rebbe of molesting him. They insist that a Beis Din must be the first course of action.
The claim is that a Beis Din has the mechanism that can deal with it properly according to the laws of the Torah. Our religious laws have their own internal and just ways of dealing with it. They additionally believe (with some justification) that by going to the police an innocent man accused of a sex crime will have his reputation ruined forever. By going to a Beis Din first, they will be able to prevent that as everything there is handled with complete discretion and never made public. The obvious problem with this attitude is that there is an inherent bias in favor of the accused.
The loving father of the young victim could not abide by this rule. He was understandably shaken to the core that his son was molested by his Rebbe. He skipped the Beis Din and went directly to the police. That has resulted in untold additional grief for him and his family. From APP.com:
The decision of the child's father to go immediately to authorities last year has sparked reprisals, according to prosecutors and witnesses. Attempts were made to pressure the father to drop the charges. Fliers about him were circulated. In June, a Lakewood resident was arrested and charged with witness-tampering...
On June 30, at a charity fundraiser in Lakewood, a flier was circulated with a letter titled "How (the child's father) Makes a Mockery of the Torah.'' It described the father's choice to go to prosecutors as a "terrible deed,'' according to a translation from Hebrew. It also threatened to publicize the names of his supporters if they don't ""repent.''
"We hope that after tonight further letters will not be necessary,'' it stated. "However, let the perpetrators of this (shameful thing) know that ... we will not stop (until this horrible shame is removed from us).''
So instead of justice for the victim and his family we have persecution.
Was the father right to go to the authorities first? In my view he was. It has long ago been proven that religious courts are not equipped to handle these kinds of things. There is a tendency to err on the side of caution and protect the good name of the accused who may very well be a respected member of the community. That is understandable but as I pointed out – it reflects an unfair bias in favor of the accused. And that can easily lead to a massive injustice.
The truth is that the authorities are far more equipped to handle these things. They are trained to do so by professionals. And they do not have the intrinsic biases members of the Beis Din have that will improperly influence them. Even though the Beis Din tries to be as fair as possible and ignore that bias - it still exists.
These Rabbis are well meaning and they cite Halacha to support their positions. But there are other respectable rabbinic authorities who cite Halacha to support the position that a sex crime must be reported to the police immediately. If anything the side of caution the religious community should err on is the victim’s side. Not the side of the accused.
But these rabbis are so sure of themselves that they actually signed a proclamation that in part said the following (from the APP.com article):
"And if, in fact, he has transgressed and has gone so far as to bring the matter to the secular (nonreligious) courts, he is, perforce, obligated to do everything possible in order to remove any scintilla of accusation against the other party from the secular courts,'' it states, according to a translation by Rina Ne'eman Hebrew Language Services in New Brunswick paid for by the Press. "And it need not be stated that it is forbidden (for him) to continue to cooperate with them (secular courts) and to assist them in their efforts to pursue a Jew.''
The proclamation, dated in the spring of 2010, is signed by some of Lakewood's leading authorities on Jewish law, including heads of yeshivas and synagogues, Bais Din judges and two rabbis from the Beth Medrash Govoha yeshiva.
I have to ask – Are these rabbis not aware that significant numbers of abused young people go OTD because of attitudes like this? Some become so emotionally disturbed from the experience that they commit suicide? A suicide that could easily be prevented had the religious authorities been more sympathetic? …and tried to foster a more open environment for victims rather than a closed ‘hush hush’ attitude – lest it bring shame upon the community? Do they not remember abuse victim Motty Borger who committed suicide on his wedding night?
What will it take for them to realize that they do more harm with this approach than good? …that the right thing to do is work with the police and report any credible accusation to them as soon as possible? Lives are at stake here. And that is far more important than saving a reputation of an accused sex criminal.
The only thing the current attitude has accomplished is to allow the religious zealots to run rampant -harassing the victim and his family, and create yet another Chilul HaShem.