Sunday, January 20, 2008

When Sexual Abuse is Suspected

There has been much discussion here and elsewhere about the outrage we all feel towards the way sexual abuse has been handled by the Torah world in the past. There has certainly been a ‘keep it quiet’ mentality in the Torah world that has helped perpetuate years and even decades of some of the most disgusting abuse by sexual predators. This has exposed ...and continues to expose innocent children to attacks.

And there has yet to be sufficient attention paid to it, in my view. By far. But I think that the following recommendations should stand out as a very minimum response to the situation we find ourselves in. This will not solve the problem but it will help. The following are not my words. They are the words of a religious psychiatrist (modified slightly to simplify). They are Psak Halacha. I agree with these words and present them with a sense of great urgency.

One must report allegations of child abuse (sexual or physical) when one is aware of it, (even if this means that the child might be places in a Gentile foster home).

If a child or infant is brought to a hospital with symptoms of sexual abuse... it is prohibited, after an investigation, to return him to his home. It is obligatory for the doctor to inform the courts, and with an order from the court, place the child with a foster parent or agency. There is no problem of informing. This is permitted even if they will place the child, due to no choice, with a family or agency that is secular.

It is permitted for the doctor to inform the authorities even if it is possible that the child will be placed with a family or agency that is not Jewish...

Sexual abuse (of either boys or girls) is no different than physical abuse. There is no difference between boys and girls since one is dealing with a seriously life wounding event and a danger to the public... one certainly must report this matter to the school administration and if nothing is done, even to the police.

I would only add that if nothing is done, the lag time between reporting it to the school and reporting to the police should be of very short duration… perhaps not more than a few days.

Is there anyone that could agree with this? This is the correct perspective for any Torah Jew to have. Our starting point should always be from the perspective of the victim. Their welfare should be our foremost concern. All else is at best secondary.