Sunday, June 17, 2012

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz Responds

My post about the high percentage of sex abuse in hard core Chasidic enclaves has stirred controversy and has generated some passionate responses. As expected I have been skewered by my harshest critics. My motives have been questioned, as has my integrity… and even my sanity!

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is someone who deals with abuse victims and is a warrior on behalf of them… a leading figure on behalf of protecting our children from abuse. I asked him if the high percentages I was given have any possible validity to them. He has graciously taken the time to respond to my question. The following are his words unedited, in their entirety.

Dear Reb Harry

I hope all is well with you, and please once again accept my sincerest wishes of nechama and comfort for your entire family on the tragic loss of your grandson Reuven a'h. I met your daughter and son-in-law at the recent Agudah Mid-West Convention and their grace, dignity and emunah in light of all that transpired to their family over the past few years was simply remarkable. May Hashem grant all of you only simcha and nachas in the months and years to come.

In response to your question regarding the validity and accuracy of the quote you mention on your recent post that up to 1/3 of the children in the most chassidish circles were abused, please understand that I have no access to any hard numbers on this matter. To the best of my knowledge, there are no reliable studies to support any firm percentage (which you correctly noted in your post), and to be perfectly honest, due to the "hush factor" one would be correct to question the integrity of the data even if there was published research to reference.

Having said that, I would not dismiss out of hand the number you quote as wildly overstated. There are several reasons for this.

1) Even with all the dizzying number of arrests/convictions of many dozens of heimishe predators over the past few years, there has been, to the best of my knowledge, little or none of the child-safety education campaigns conducted in the non-chassidic community during this time.

2) There is still a stunning amount of support for accused and even convicted molesters among the "charedi street" and even rabbinic leaders as evidenced by the grotesque fund-raiser for Weberman and the public visit of rabbis to Weingarten indicate.

3) The victims of child abuse are far less likely to be referred for professional help -- causing an exponential rise in the abuse rate as the untreated survivors are far more likely to abuse others.

4) The sheer numbers of arrested and convicted predators in recent years point to many thousands of heimishe victims. In Brooklyn alone, there were reports of 50-100 arrests of heimishe predators. With the average pedophile in the general population (where they have far less access to kids) molesting 50-200 kids in his lifetime, the low-ball number would be thousands and thousands of victims. Now just calculate the real number factoring in the numbers of unreported predators.

With all this in mind, how can one rule out an admittedly breathtaking percentage like the one noted in your post? Keep in mind, that the number quoted in the general population is 1/6 of the children. See here . How would one not think that the additional risk factors noted above would not dramatically increase the percentage of children molested?

Reb Harry, abuse happens everywhere. Everywhere. No society is immune from this phenomenon.

The difference between isolated instances/lower percentages and the raging forest fire of a true epidemic, however, depends on the response to the abuse once it is uncovered.

Kindly have a careful read of this essay which ran in Mishpacha Magazine back in 2008 and take a few minutes to click on the links at the bottom of that post.

The great tragedy in the Heimish community is that it is truly "All Pain and No Gain" as there seems to be no change whatsoever from how things were conducted with regard to abuse a generation ago.

From my vantage point, there is a direct and powerful correlation between a community's attitude to reporting predators to the authorities and the rate of abuse among today's children.
If you doubt the validity of that statement, just ask yourself a simple question: If you were a predator in today’s climate, where would you be less frightened to molest a child – in Teaneck or Williamsburg?

I would have loved to take a pass on responding to your question, and I cringe in pain and heartache at voicing my thoughts on this in such a public forum. Nonetheless, there is an enormous responsibility resting on the frail shoulders of those of us in the trenches to warn the members of our community as to the magnitude of the problem with the hope that a paradigm shift will occur in our thinking -- where the safety of our dear kinderlach will finally matter more to us than dealing with the "pain" associated with addressing this problem will entail.

Best and warmest regards


Editor's Note:

With summer vacation upon us, I very strongly suggest that all parents take the time to watch this free 34-minute video on child safety released by Project YES as a public service.

It has just been re-edited and posted -- and the original version was viewed nearly 30,000 times since June of 2011.

If you do not have we access that allows for video streaming, you can listen to the Project YES Child Safety Teleconference recording by clicking here or by dialing (209) 647-1699 and entering Participant Code: 827269

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is the Dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam and Director of the Center for Jewish Family Life/Project YES 

I  received a note from Rabbi Raffi Bilek,Outreach Coordinator of Project S.A.R.A.H. I’ve done some checking and I have been assured that this is a worthwhile organization.  I am therefore passing along the following message sent to me in an e-mail:  

Project S.A.R.A.H., as a resource for those in NJ - one of our many initiatives is to run in-home parent groups to train parents on how to talk to their kids in order to keep them safe from abuse.  We also do school programming around this issue.