Friday, July 06, 2012

Getting Tough on Sex Abuse

It appears that there is yet another prominent figure to come on board in the push to deal more effectively with sex abuse.

David Mandel is the chief executive officer of OHEL Children’s Home and Family Services. 
OHEL has not been without controversy on this issue. But whatever has happened in the past there can be no doubt about OHEL’s position now. It now seems that Mr. Mandel has even broken ranks with the Agudah Moetzes by supporting many of the measures they oppose.

This takes courage considering the support OHEL gets from that community.  As I understand his views now – he seems to have taken almost the identical position on this issue as victims advocates have. Positions that I have supported here.

When a man who works with victims has come out so strongly and forcefully for change, I think that means something. It should not be ignored. I don’t know why he has suddenly changed course on this issue. Perhaps he was always been on board with these actions but was not ready to be so public about it. Or perhaps he had finally seen one victim of abuse too many. Or maybe it hit close to home. I don’t know. But whatever it was this ‘call to action’ is most welcome.

Mr. Mandel has stated that it is widely believed that one in every four girls and one in every seven boys in the general population have been victims of some form of abuse. There is no reason to believe that the statistics among Orthodox Jewry is any different. That means in a typical Beis Yaakov class size of 24 girls, 6 girls have been sexually abused. And in a typical class of 28 Yeshiva boys 4 have been sexually abused.

Denials about these statistics will I’m sure be forthcoming. When in a recent post I said that the percentages of abuse could be as high as 33%, the incredulity was so high that even those who support the victims wouldn’t believe it.  My source did not allow me to identify him.

But now we have a respected professional in the field coming out with numbers not that far off. Maybe it isn’t one in three. Maybe it’s “only” one in four - at least in the case of girls. Does that really make any difference in terms of doing something about it? And fast? Does this not rise to the level of epidemic?

I challenge Agudah to endorse the following actions David Mandel has advocated. From the Jewish Press:
 1. All people should be mandated reporters as is the law in eighteen states. Mandated reporters in New York are limited to select professionals including physicians, nurses, psychologists, social workers and educators. The law should require all people to report to child welfare authorities or the police thus removing any ambiguity. 
2. Eliminate the statute of limitations on sexual abuse. Victims of sexual abuse have described their experience as the killing of the soul. Just as there is no statute of limitations on the killing of the body, so too, there should be no statute of limitations on the killing of the soul. The scars that sexual abuse can leave on a person can be equally permanent. Many victims disclose their abuse years later, as such, there should be no restrictions for prosecutors to pursue such crimes.
3. We need to more actively support victims who disclose and report to police. As far back as October 1999, I wrote in The Jewish Press of the imperative to report abuse to police, to prosecute child molesters, and for the community to support the victim. How can our community justify organizing a high profile fund raising event for an alleged abuser but not yet come out in greater support of victims whose primary reason for not disclosing is their feelings of personal shame and the resulting stigma. Rabbi Yakov Horowitz has championed the need for an outpouring of support for victims. We must all add our voice to the cause.
4. We should require fingerprinting of all employees in yeshivas and private schools. This legislation has long been championed by attorney Elliot Pasik, president of Jewish Board of Advocates for Children. Admittedly, this may take years to yield significant results – until many more child molesters are reported, prosecuted, convicted and registered. But the longer we delay implementation, the more such people can unwittingly be hired.
A good place to start would be in the case of a 28 year old man who was able to plead down a felony sex abuse charge to a misdemeanor child endangerment charge.  He was given 3 years probation and not barred from working with minors. And that is exactly what he doing currently. From the New York Daily News (partially reproduced on VIN):
For the past year Pinter has been working at Ohr Hameir Yeshiva in Borough Park chaperoning Hasidic teens on weekend getaways while parents had no idea of his criminal past - which also includes two theft convictions.
Why was he able to plead down? Because his victim declined to testify against him. Once again a predator roams freely because of the societal stigma placed upon victims. And the guilty go realtively unpunished and worse... are free to roam the streets.

People! If not now, when?