Sexual. That 6 letter adjective seems to dominates much of public discourse these days. Mostly in its negative sense. Unfortunately there is a good reason for that. That is because of the word it usually modifies. Words like predator, abuse, molestation, harassment, and misconduct. Most recently the discussion has been about exposing the many prominent and formerly highly respected people guilty of one of those things. And the list keeps growing. It is the issue of our day.
It is not however a new issue. Sexual abuse has been a scourge plaguing mankind since the beginning of time. When it happens to our children it can have lifelong negative consequences. Awareness of this problem has much improved in recent years as has the way we deal with it.
Rabbi Michael Broyde recently published his thoughts on this issue. That was followed by a rebuttal from Asher Lovy . Both opeds appeared in the Jewish Week. I found myself being sympathetic to both.
For me, the response to all of this should be pretty clear. Sexual misconduct of any kind ought not to be tolerated in any way shape of form. It ought to be eradicated from our midst. Whatever it takes to do that, must be done. I don’t think anyone would disagree with that statement. Especially when it comes to our children.
A less often discussed problem is when accusations are false. How are we to deal with those? How are we to even know if they are false? What happens to those that have been falsely accused after it has been made public? Even after being fully exonerated, those falsely accused are tainted for life - as are their families.
Now it is true that the incidence of false accusations is relatively rare. Asher tells us that only 2% of all accusations are false. Obviously that means that 98% of them are true. But for the falsely accused, that number is 100%. Is it fair to err on the side of the victim even at the expense of the 2% that are innocent?
Most victims advocates will tell you that ultimately it is. Because no matter what the damage is to a falsely accused individual, even after they are exonerated, it is nowhere near the damage done to the 98% of actual victims when they are not believed. The damage to a victim is often permanent and far more devastating that the damage done to a victim of a false accusation. Besides the accused will have their reputation is restored.
The problem is that that reputation is never fully restored. Many of us will wonder - what if he really is guilty and just got away with it? How many people would for example entrust their children to a teacher that was accused of sex abuse even after being fully exonerated?
Advocates will respond that since the chances of a false report are so rare… it is far better to allow that to happen than to err on the side of the accused.
I hear that. But it is a lot easier to say that than it is to experience it. In the current climate the assumption has become - Guilty until proven innocent!
I get it. We have to protect our children. Isn’t that more important than protecting someone in the rare circumstance that they were falsely accused? Should presumed innocence matter when it come to the welfare of our children?
Obvioulsy not. A teacher - for example - accused of sex abuse should immediately be removed from the classroom and closely monitored. Our children come first. But is that fair to an innocent person so accused? Obviously that too is unfair.
What to do about it... I don’t know. But I do know that in the current climate false accusations are rarely a consideration. The consequences to the falsely accused and their families are rarely discussed. Those too can be devastating. They too are victims with lifelong consequences. That lack of concern troubles me. We need as a society to have compassion for all victims. Including people that are falsely accused. Rare tough they may be, they exist. I know two people like that.
There is another issue that is not that black and white for me either. Asher Lovy tells us:
New York State (has) been attempting to pass the Child Victims Act, which would eliminate the civil and criminal statutes of limitations prospectively, and open a one-year retroactive window during which civil cases, whose statutes of limitation have previously expired, could be brought to court.
Asher makes a couple of points in support the passage of this law. One is that it would help cover the cost of treatment. The other is that it would allow abusers to be legally identified thus protecting the public from them.
These are indeed valid reasons to pass this law. But it comes with a price that victims advocates refuse to address. Or at best minimize. It is the argument made by opponents of that law. The Child Victims Act allows not only abusers to be sued - it allows institutions that in any way enabled the abuse to be sued as well. Which can destroy those institutions long after the abuse took place and the enablers are gone. The massive financial verdicts sought by attorneys for their clients are well into the millions of dollars.
This victimizes a school decades after the abuse happened. Whose board of directors, teachers, administrators, parent and student body are completely different and innocent of those charges (possibly not even aware of them until the lawsuit was filed). And yet will be made to suffer the consequences.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t pass such a law. I am still in favor of it. But I do have reservations. The current climate has produced an air of near vigilantism on behalf of victims. Which is good for the victims. But it might at the same time harm others unfairly. Even if unintentionally.
Vigilantism is not a Jewish trait. This attitude must change. Compassion must be there for all. It cannot remain one sided. Being fair to one person at the expense of another is just not right. There ought to be some way to prevent that from happening so that there can be justice for all. Let us come up with some ways to accomplish it.