Sunday, February 04, 2018

The Other Side of the Sex Abuse Issue

Rabbi Shmuel Krawatsky (Jewish Week)
There is no doubt about what to do when there are credible suspicions of sex abuse. The consensus on this is enormous: Victims, victim advocates, mental health workers, the police, and a large number of respected Poskim (like Rav Elyashiv, ZTL) all agree. Credible suspicions of sex abuse must be reported directly to the police.

And yet there are other respected Poskim that say one must first report those suspicions to rabbis. And let them determine what is and isn’t credible. They justifiably fear that an innocent person might be accused and therefore along with their families will suffer the lifelong consequences of public accusations - even after being completely exonerated.

While that is a legitimate fear, the the fear of what almost always happens to victims that are not believed is a far worse consequence ending in lifelong depression - and sometimes even suicide. Victims are in essence abused a second time when they are disbelieved and treated like dirt.

There are additional arguments against going to rabbis first. First, they are not really trained to know which accusations are credible and which ones aren’t. Second, there is the fact that no matter how ethical and honorable a rabbi is, bias is inevitable in cases where they know the accused and especially when the accused is a prominent member of the community that is otherwise an exemplary citizen. The tendency of rabbis to believe his denials over those of a child cannot be dismissed.  

And even in those rare instances where there is a false accusation and the attendant repercussion of  even having been accused of sex abuse... that would still have a better outcome than the reverse, where a victim is disbelieved and victimized themselves and treated as liars and reprobates. 

There is also statistical evidence that strongly suggests that victims of sex abuse rarely make up these stories. They are almost always true.

That is why there is wide consensus among all of the above to go directly to the police and let them sort it out. That is my position as well.

But rarely does not mean never. And the effects of a false accusation should not be dismissed either. It does happen. I know of several cases where that was the case. One of them was reported here a while back by Rabbi Dovid Landesman, ZL. In short - when he was the principal of a religious school a student reported that he was abused by a teacher. Rabbi Landesman sensed that there was something off about this accusation. Rather than going directly to the police, he investigated it and eventually got the accuser to admit it wasn’t true. That student was upset by a teacher and wanted to hurt him.

Thankfully that teacher never had to suffer the consequences of the public exposure that kind of accusation would have wrought. It would have tainted him and his family for life – even after the police would have come to the same conclusion Rabbi Landesman did.

Which brings me to the case of Rabbi Shmuel Krawatsky, a charismatic 40 year old married  teacher and father of four. He had been accused of sexually abusing three boys when he was head of the lower boys division in a Kiruv summer camp.  I am not going to describe the disgusting details of those accusations. Suffice it to say they turned my stomach.  Nor am I going to describe the behavior of those three children displayed after the alleged abuse. Can’t really stomach that either.

The alleged abuse was reported to the police and investigated. After which it was concluded that the abuse likely happened. 

Incredibly Rabbi Krawatsky was never prosecuted. The final determination was that there was not a preponderance of evidence to convict at trial. He was not exonerated. But it was determined that the allegations were unsubstantiated.

I don’t know Rabbi Shmuel Krawatsky. Never met him. Don’ know a thing about him. The ingredients of abuse seem to be clearly there as described in the Jewish Week article. For his part  Rabbi Krawatsky denied everything and claimed to be completely innocent of all charges. He apparently passed a lie detector test to that effect.

He was nevertheless fired from his job teaching at both a day school and a Shul in Baltimore. He is currently suing the three families accusing him for 75 million dollars.

I am not here to defend Rabbi Krawatsky. My strong inclination is to believe his accusers. There seems to just be too much evidence of abuse. But what if it never happened? If on the outside chance that it didn’t, this man will nevertheless lose any chance to pursue his profession as a teacher of young children. He will live in dishonor for the rest of his life. His family will forever be tainted. 

Even though the evidence seems so strong, the fact that the authorities say that the abuse is unsubstantiated, he passed a lie detector test; and to the best of my knowledge had never been accused of anything like that before or since... makes me wonder if my inclination is right. As noted there are more than a few cases – in some cases involving people I know - where I am 100% certain that abuse never happened.

I would further ask whether in the current climate where there have been so many prominent and powerful people that have been exposed as sexual predators to one degree or another, that it might be impossible to not automatically believe any accusation to be true assuming guilt until proven innocent. It is almost as though anyone that wants to hurt someone for the slightest of reasons will just accuse them of abuse and be believed. This is where I believe we are at right now as a society.

Please do not misunderstand. I have not changed my views about reporting abuse directly to the police. Nor do I doubt that the vast majority of accusations are true. Especially in cases like Rabbi Krawatsky where the accusers were minors. 

But that does not free me from the concern about the possibility that he might just be innocent. Nor does it free me from worrying about the possible increase in false accusations that may arise because of the current #MeToo climate. 

Good people may suffer needlessly on both sides of the equation depending on the actual facts: Real sex abuse victims who are disbelieved and those innocent of it that are accused because of the possible increase in false accusations. The waters have been muddied.

Just thinking out loud.