Friday, June 01, 2012

Outing Victims and Obstruction of Justice

Yankie Sigenfeld, Yossie Turnovsky, and  Molly Shmeterer have one thing in common. They were all victims of sexual abuse who refused to be outed. But in the interest of justice for all victims and the prevention of future abuse of potentially new victims, I have just outed them. Now their abusers can be tried in court and they can testify against them.

I hope that I am not crucified for outing them against their will. But I doubt that I will be since the entire first paragraph is a lie. These are fictional names. I made them up.

I just wanted to highlight in a dramatic way that Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes (pictured) policy of not identifying abusers for purposes of protecting victims who do not want it their identities known is not an all or nothing proposition. While I understand and agree that all those who have credible accusations of abuse against them should be known to the public, it is indeed unfair to their victims if they choose to keep that information private.

The greater good may be served if their identities are known even if it means that victims’ identities may become known as a byproduct. But in good conscience I completely understand the victims’ reluctance to be identified. Identifying them against their will is in effect a psychological re-molestation of sorts. I think it would do us all well to realize that.

The right thing to do is convince the victim that it is in their, and society’s best interests to come out, testify, get treatment and get on with his or her life, rather than keeping it all inside. But if they continue to refuse to be outed perhaps they ought to be respected. Sometime the greater good is not so great for the victim who just wants to be left alone.

In fact DA Hynes has just done a remarkable thing in the area of sex abuse. He has in effect said that any rabbi who is told about abuse and advises not to report it to the police can be arrested for obstruction of justice. This flies in the face of Agudah claims that he was OK with rabbis vetting reports of abuse and making decisions about whether they should be reported or not. If a Rav decides not to report it, and the authorities find out, it could spell big trouble for them.

Having said that, I understand the concern of Agudah leaders.  They want to make sure that accusations rise to the Halachic level of Raglayim L’Davar (credible evidence) which would allow a Jew to go to the secular authorities. They interpret the Halacha of Mesirah as applying in our day even in America. The only permissible way to report abuse directly to the police is if you see it in progress.  Otherwise the rabbis get to decide if it should be reported.

I assume there are instances where even rabbis would agree that there is a standard of evidence that will allow an abuser to be reported even if it is not going on at that moment. The question is what that standard is. And why it can’t be shared with the public. Why should each and every case be subject only to the approval of a rabbi?

I have said many times, evidence of abuse should perhaps be vetted to see if it is credible. But those doing the vetting should be experts in the field, like the psychologists found in the special victims units of police departments. Not by rabbis who are not trained for that purpose other than perhaps a crash course in it. In my view that is not enough training to gain the expertise to determine whether the evidence passes the standard of credibility.

Expert rabbinic advice is is not only about knowing Halacha. It requires knowing  as much as possible in the field of criminology and psychology. Crash courses are not enough. No more than a crash course in Halacha is enough to Psakin a Shaila. To me that means getting a formal education in these matters and practical experience on the field. One without the other is not enough.

I don’t want rabbis to start getting arrested for doing what they believe is following Halacha. But I do question whether they have enough knowledge in all aspects of this subject to be actually following it. 
This is basically what DA Hynes said in an interview in the Forward. I think he’s right. 

I don’t know how Agudah will respond to this, but my hope is that they rethink their approach and advise their constituent rabbis to comply with the law… and with the view of the Aruch HaShulchan that laws of Mesirah do not apply in a country like ours. All credible reports of abuse should be reported to the police. Let the justice system do the rest. The last thing I want to see is Orthodox rabbis who are good and decent people being arrested for obstruction of justice.