Wednesday, February 04, 2015

The Right Move

Wall of Shame (JCW)
A few weeks ago the suicide of a 24 year old convicted sex offender was reported in the news. What makes this significant to me is that he was an Orthodox Jew, and that I know his family. The news of both his suicide and being exposed as a sex offender was shocking. I did not know the young man personally. But considering the family he came from I was taken aback by this news. I guess the personal demons that cause people to do evil things are not always the fault of family dysfunction. His family was not dysfunctional to the best of my knowledge.

There was speculation at the time that the young man committed suicide in part because he was placed on the JCW (Jewish Community Watch) Wall of Shame. JCW is an organization that describes its mission as  protecting our children from child sexual abuse, and to help victims heal.

As part of that mission they have taken it upon themselves to place the names and photos of sex offenders on their website. The young man was overcome by that shame and ended his life.

I cannot image the shame that someone like this feels by having his picture placed on such a list. But they only have themselves to blame for it. And the JCW has every right to inform the public about potential sex offenders. As I always say, knowledge is power. The way to protect your children from sex offenders begins with first knowing who they are.  So I don’t really blame JCW for his death. Although I’m sure that there was a lot of introspection there about what happened and about what part if any they played in it.

But whatever guilt they might feel over this - it was not the goal of JCW to see this young man dead. They just want to protect Jewish children from being harmed in the future by him. And if one is going to compare where the greater number of suicides takes place, I have no doubt that it is by far the  survivor community (as victims of sex abuse refer to themselves).  So for me, putting these people on that list is the right thing to do.

I bring all this up now because of a favorable article about them in Matzav. Here is some of what they had to say:
During September of 2014, despite just 5 days’ notice, a large crowd of parents, educators and abuse survivors from the Miami Jewish community gathered in Miami Beach for an emotionally charged evening to raise awareness for child sexual abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community and learn what Jewish Community Watch (JCW) is doing to combat it.
The crowd heard from rabbis, survivors and therapists. By the end of the evening, which many described as ‘raw’, ‘vulnerable’ and ‘emotional’, over a dozen victims of child sexual abuse stood up and publicly acknowledged their abuse - some for the very first time.
 JCW will be holding a second event here in South Florida to further its goal of educating parents, preventing child sexual abuse (CSA), assisting survivors and breaking the silence and shame that surrounds CSA in the Orthodox Jewish community…
 (Founder and CEO of JCW Meyer) Seewald… stated “Unfortunately, along with the epidemic of abuse, there is this epidemic of silence amongst many of our community leaders. The event last year in Miami was really a turning point in the battle against abuse and showed what we can do when we get together as a community to put an end to this evil. We are returning to the Miami area to build on the momentum created by the previous event and to reach additional parents and survivors.”
The day after last event, JCW received the following message from an attendee: “Last night’s event was probably the most important event I’ve ever been to. The honesty, rawness, humanity and bravery that was shown by every single speaker and survivor affected me so deeply I really can’t describe it.
Eli, Meyer, and Baruch–who were so courageous in sharing their stories just saved countless lives. I have never been prouder to be Jewish than I was last night, when we all stood together and sent a message to the abusers and cowardly murderers that they will never again be free to lay a hand on anyone with the help of JCW.” 
I have to give Matzav credit. Organizations like JCW have not generally been so accepted in the Charedi world which tends to be reluctant to report suspected abusers to the police. Especially if they come from prominent families. Or if the accused has a longstanding great reputation. The disbelief is so strong that they often turn against the victim – accusing them of lying about the abuse. I would therefore not be surprised if rabbinic leaders would strongly oppose something like the Wall of Shame. 

Denial has happened time and again in all segments of Orthodoxy. It happened in Ger; it happened in Satmar; it happened in Lakewood; it happened in YU; it happened in Charedi seminaries; and it happened in a religious Zionist Yeshivos. Denial ran supreme in all these organizations because they could not believe their ‘star player’ could be guilty of anything like that. But in just about every case, they were proven wrong.

Even though sex abuse and bad responses cross all Hashkafic lines, it seems like the more right wing the Hashkafa, the slower the move to rectify. So when a Charedi news outlet like Matzav posts a favorable article about an organization like JCW, it deserves our attention and our praise.