Friday, November 15, 2013

Can This Man’s Reputation be Restored? Should it?

Last year I posted a series of articles about Rabbi Chaim Halpern. He was a prominent and popular Charedi Rav in London’s Golders Green Jewish Community. He was accused by 30 different women of various forms of sex abuse during their sessions with him as an unlicensed marriage counselor. The Jewish community there took action. Here is what I said at the time: 
They have taken action to relieve this man of his involvement with the Jewish community. There is no “What if he’s not convicted?” It doesn’t matter to these good Rabbis. They want him out! They do not want him to have any position of power. Anywhere! Not even in his own Shul… where members stand in complete disbelief and continue to support him. 
Rabbi Halpern was forced to resign from his many posts.

Today, almost exactly one year to the date of my first post on this subject, all charges have been fully investigated and dropped. From the Forward
A police investigation into sex abuse allegations against Chaim Halpern, a prominent London rabbi, has been dropped.
The Metropolitan Police said Friday that a file passed to the Crown Prosecution Service “regarding allegations of sexual assault has resulted in no charges being brought against a 54-year-old man,” The Jewish Chronicle of London reported on its website.
The report said that officers from the London borough of Barnet’s sexual offences, exploitation and child abuse command, who investigated the allegations, “confirm that all allegations have been fully investigated.”
Rabbi Halpern, who is the head of the Divrei Chaim synagogue in the heavily Jewish Golders Green area of the British capital, was arrested in February but had denied any wrongdoing.
The Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations will have to decide whether to reconvene a special rabbinical court, or Beth Din, which was suspended during the police inquiries, to examine his conduct, the Chronicle wrote.
The Law has spoken. There was no evidence found to indict him.  Is he really innocent? I don’t know. But after 30 different woman came forward it’s hard to know what to believe. The police investigation did not find any usable evidence that would make Rabbi Halpern indictable for a sexual crime. 

This is either a gross miscarriage of justice (30 different victim/witnesses?!) …or the man is actually innocent as he has been saying all along.

On the side that he is innocent - this is an excellent example where even after being cleared of all charges of sex abuse- especially in the current climate of zero tolerance on these issues - the man’s reputation will be tainted forever. I doubt that anyone will ever trust him again. I wouldn’t. And yet he may very well be completely innocent.

This is something that is often glossed over by victims’ advocates. While I completely agree with them about siding with the victim where an abuser denies it because the vast majority of reported abuse is true, there are occasionally cases where it isn’t and a man’s reputation will never be the same after his name has been dragged through the mud. Even after thorough investigation by the police which did not find enough evidence to indict. As has happened with Rabbi Halpern.

I would not change anything about how we proceed from here in treating sex abuse. If anything I would redouble our efforts in eliminating sex abusers from society and finding justice for the survivors of abuse. So I support the efforts of organizations dedicated to that cause.

But I think this case serves to reinforce the idea that once someone is accused of sex abuse, that stigma will stick with him forever even if he is cleared of all allegations.  Even though all credible allegations of sex abuse should be immediately reported to the police... and all accused sex abusers should be vigorously prosecuted and if found guilty punished to the fullest extent of the law… I do not think it can be emphasized enough that one should make certain that the evidence is indeed credible. Because the consequences of a false accusation, although quite rare, can ruin a good man’s life forever.

Point 1. I just wanted to make clear that I am not declaring Rabbi Halpern innocent. I don't think he is. But since no charges have been brought after a thorough investigation by the police - it is possible. If he is innocent his reputation will nonetheless be ruined forever. I am just making a point about what can happen if people are too quick to act on rumor an innuendo.

Point 2. If as has been suggested there was any kind of witness intimidation by supporters of Rabbi Halpern, that should be investigated. 30 women were sexually abused and not one is willing to testify?! That is not something that can so easily be done and so easily be hidden. (It was tried with Weberman and look what happened there.) If that is found to be the case, I would prosecute the perpetrators - and if found guilty I would sentence them to the maximum prison term allowed by law.

Point 3. If there was intimidation and it was done at the behest of the Charedi leadership there, they too should pay a price. There is no way that a serial abuser should be allowed to not only get away with it, but to continue doing it with impunity.