Monday, July 18, 2011

Bogoff, the Agudah, and Reporting Sex Abuse

Unless you’ve ‘been there’ you cannot imagine it. Not only can one not imagine being sexually abused - it is difficult for us to imagine people that we know well and who are on the surface fine people to be sexual predators. Especially in cases where it is a beloved family member, a popular teacher, or even a well integrated member of your community. I believe that is in part why this is even an issue today.

I was hoping that the rumor I heard wasn’t true. Alas it seems to be more than a rumor. From today’s Chicago Tribune:

Bail was set at $250,000 in Cook County Bond Court today for a 59-year-old Wheeling man whose alleged sexual abuse of his son's friend began over a decade ago and continued for four years, according to prosecutors.

Police arrested Reuven "Randy" Bogoff, 59, of the 400 block of Plum Creek Drive, on Saturday evening. He is charged with two counts of predatory criminal sexual assault after the alleged victim, a male who is now 22 years old, came forward to police, according to court records.

What is so perplexing to me is that I know this guy. I’ve known him for decades. He is a nice guy. Or so I thought. He apparently is not so nice after all.

The story says he lives in Wheeling - a suburb far from any of the Frum neighborhoods in Chicago. But that is a brand new address for him. Reliable sources tell me that when the news broke his wife immediately divorced him. This was just a couple of weeks ago ending a long and seemingly happy marriage. Until then he lived in the heart of the heavily Orthodox neighborhood of West Rogers Park in Chicago where there are a lot of young families –many of them Davening in the same Shul where he Davened.

His profile is anything but nefarious. He is a Baal Teshuva... a Viet Nam war veteran who lost his arm there and had it re-attached - or so he claims. He used to live near me and Davened in the same Shul I did. He later moved to a more upscale religious neighborhood.

There was never any indication of abuse at all. He was well liked and well respected. He was the candy man in his Shul and used to hang out a lot with the kids there. I'm told by his former neighbors that he used to give 'over the top' expensive gifts to Bar and Bas Mitzvah kids... like laptops and high end SLR digital cameras. He loved children. Apparently he loved them just a little too much.

As a Baal Teshuva he was someone I admired. But it was all bogus for Bogoff. He had a dark side that apparently no one knew about except for his victims.

I have been told by another reliable source that this is an instance where the rabbis were informed and they went straight to the police. I don’t know why the victim went to the Rabbis first but at least there was seemingly no delay in reporting the abuse to the authorities once it was known.

This once again raises the question about reporting sex abuse to the police immediately rather than going through a filtering process by rabbis.

By now it is well known that the Agudah Moetzes says that one must first consult with rabbis before reporting any abuse to the authorities. They claim that rabbis are better equipped to evaluate the validity of the alleged abuse than the average person. They fear that the accused may actually be the victim and that reporting it will cause him lifelong harm. I believe that this is a legitimate fear. Nonetheless I strongly believe they should reconsider.

Fearing false accusations does not mean that abuse should not be reported immediately to authorities. If anyone is trained to ferret out the truth of an accusation, they are. Much more so than a Rav with little to no training in these matters. Rabbis may be more objective than a parent of neighbor reporting the abuse. But they can be led astray by a popular and charming individual with a sterling reputation who secretly preys on children when no one is looking. Especially when it is only a child’s word against theirs.

Add to that statistics which have shown that the vast majority of accusations of sex abuse by children are true and there is absolutely no reason not to go directly to the authorities. Not doing so increases the chances that sex abuse will continue.

I recently heard a recording by a member of the Agudah Moetzes reiterating his call to first report it to the rabbis in response to a questioner in an audience he was addressing. He insisted upon it. And that saddens me. It is just too easy to give the accused the benefit of the doubt when he denies it in the face of a child who is seen as an unreliable accuser.

In the Bogoff case, the accuser is a 22 year old - reporting past abuse. I guess the rabbis believed him.

But what if he had been a child that ran to his parents with an accusation? The parents go the the rabbis and ask whether to report it to the police. What if the accused was a well liked and well respected member of the community? What if he was also a married man with children of his own; no history of abuse; and no criminal record of any kind? Would they have believed the child’s parent? Or would they believe the accused who vehemently denied the whole thing? A Rabbi might give the accused the benefit of the doubt – especially if he knows him.

The police and state child services on the other hand will investigate it and find out the truth. They are trained to do it. That’s the difference. It is a difference with lifelong and sometimes fatal consequences. By giving the accused the benefit of the doubt - the abuse will continue and the number of victims could increase. Experts say that victims often do not come forward out of embarrassment. This may be the case with Bogoff. To the best of my knowledge there has so far been only one accuser.

All of this being said - Mr. Bogoff is presumed innocent until proven guilty. But that is only his legal status. As I understand it the standard for guilt is very high and often difficult to prove in cases like this. Unless there were witnesses or unless more victims come forward, he may very well be acquitted. But is he innocent? Does anyone think Casey Anthony is innocent?