Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Dr. Asher Lipner Responds

Guest Post by Dr. Asher Lipner

In my never ending search for Emes, I posted a concern for innocent people who are falsely accussed of sex abuse. I did so after seeing a case where this actually happened. The man is now living a nightmare even though he was completely innocent. While I whole-heartedly support all the efforts of Dr. Lipner and others to protect our children I fear that in our correctly zealous approach to doing that - the potential for false accusations has been increased.

As has been pointed out, this is an actual tactic sometimes used in child custody cases. To live with the taint of being a child sex abuser is in our day seen as worse than the taint of being a murderer!

That the proportions of false accusations is small compared to the number of real accusations (only 1 to 3% of the total reported sex abuse allegations have been proven false) this does not help those few who will suffer the rest of their lives because of it.

But as I said that should not detract one iota from our resolve to protect our children and seek justice for our victims. So while I have no answers, I felt it was an important point to make.

With all that in mind I am pleased to present the following response by Dr. Lipner - unedited and in full.

A false allegation is a terrible, horrific and traumatic crime. When any allegation of a crime is made, whether it is someone that has money stolen from them, someone is murdered, or someone claims that they were cheated in business, or someone is accused of espionage or treason, or someone is accused of driving under the influence, etc., we should also watch out for false accusations. I have heard that studies show that about 3% of people in prison have been falsely convicted, and this is looking at all crime.

Why is it that Rabbi Maryles is only worried about the false allegations of child sex abuse? Is there any reason to believe these false allegations happen any more often than other crimes? If anything, other crimes are almost always reported when they are found out, while rape and child molestation are the most under-reported crime around. Furthermore, studies show that when young children allege being molested by adults they are telling the truth around 98% of the time (except in custody battles where false allegations are somewhat more prevalent). In the frum community where the stigma of being a victim of abuse is only slightly less than that of being a perpetrator, and the stigma of being a victim who reports to the police is even higher, it stands to reason that the statistics would be a higher than the general 98%.

One way to try to prevent false allegations is to punish people who make up stories. I wonder if the girl in the story quoted was punished criminally or held accountable civilly to pay for the damage of slander. Another thing we need to work on is teaching our children to always tell the truth no matter what. Never to make up stories about people they don't like, because it is rechilus. The frum community has a ways to go in terms of teaching honesty in interpersonal relationships. Kudos to Rabbi Maryles for bringing up this issue.

Also, as a professional who works with children, I have been trained to be very sensitive about the issue of false allegations. There are steps we are taught to take to try to minimize the risk of being falsely accused, and these should be taught to all who work with children. However, there are no guarantees in life. Stuff happens. Children are molested and people are falsely accused.

Does it make sense that because false allegations exist we should not have a justice system at all? That is simply absurd. Of course we need a justice system and we need to make sure it works as well as humanly possible. There are many sugyos in Shas that deal with a Beis Din erring in judgment. There is also the famous gemora about Rav Pappa who gave lashes to a witness who testified alone against another Jew, because in that case (as opposed to regarding protecting children) one witness would not be believed so the motivation to testify was only to slander and say "lashon harah".

However, in the frum community, until recently, the alleged perpetrators have had the support and advocacy of the leaders and the community establishment all along. The fear of false allegations was one of the reasons why the issue was swept under the rug leading to the terrible situation Rabbi Maryles describes, in which we have too many victims who have suffered in silence for too long. In discussing the halacha with Rabbi Blau today, he taught me from the Chofetz Chaim that the idea of being "dan lkaf zchus" of judging someone favorably and always giving the person the benefit of the doubt only applies in Mitzvos Ben Adam LaMakom, between man and G-d, but when it is a question of one person claiming to be hurt by another, if you give one person the complete benefit of the doubt, assume innocence and stifle the allegations, you are automatically accusing the other of lying and not giving that person the benefit of the doubt.

Moreover you are running a serious risk of putting innocent people in harm's way. The Shoel Umaishiv rules that in regards to questionable allegations of child abuse by a rabbi for example, while the community is free to claim the rabbi is innocent until proven guilty and not remove his Chezkas Kashrus in terms of calling him a Rasha, not givng him an aliya to the Torah, etc., but he must be removed immediately from a position of teaching, where he might do harm to innocent children until the matter is cleared up completely. Not judging does not mean not being prudent.

The child advocates in the Jewish community are trying to even the playing field and restore a sense of balance after decades of neglecting the problem of abuse with intense denial due in part to an overreaction to the fear of false allegations.

In the 1980's, the question arose in psychology about "false memory syndrome". The theory was that psychologists were causing suggestible patients to "recover" memories of being molested as children, causing untold harm to many innocent adults. It is generally accepted now that although this might happen in rare cases, the vast, vast majority of people presenting with such memories are real.

Going further back, Sigmund Freud, who was one of the original doctors to discover the prevalence of child sexual abuse and incest in his patients' childhood histories, first attributed most of his patients' problems to such traumas labeling this approach "the seduction theory". However, living in Austria in the early 20th century in a "Victorian" culture, Freud's original theory was so shocking to even his colleagues, that they threatened something akin to putting him in professional "cherem". ("Daas Torah" is not the first nor the last philosophy that rejects the notion that child sexual abuse is prevalent.) So Freud went back to the drawing board and devised the theory of infantile sexuality, attributing his patients "memories" to fantasies of childhood incestuous desires, including the famous Oedipal Complex, in which little boys are seen to have unconscious aggressive instinct toward their fathers, and unconscious sexual instincts toward their mothers.

Needless to say, this theory didn't go over too well either at first, but was finally accepted during Freud's lifetime and is still utilized by many psychoanalysts and psychologists in understanding human development.

In the 1990's when the child sex abuse problem exploded from the pews of the Catholic Church to the television sets of soccer moms watching the Oprah Winfrey show, psychoanalyst and sociologist Jeffrey Masson wrote a book describing the irony that it seems to be that Freud was right with his first theory, and many of his patients that he diagnosed with hysteria, (who would now be labeled Borderline Personalities) were actually survivors of child sexual abuse and suffered from dissociative symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and what is now being called Complex PTSD.

The pendulum to believe or not to believe will probably continue to swing a little still, especially in the frum community that is about ten years behind the curve, but hopefully now that we are starting at least to acknowledge the problem we will be able to find solutions and balance in terms of justice, safety and healing.