Monday, August 08, 2011

Reporting Abuse to a Rav - Agudah’s Explanation

It appears that Agudah has felt the pressure and responded to the criticisms regarding its recent statement on reporting abuse to the authorites. This was done in the from of an interview with Agudah’s Executive Director, Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zweibel in Mishpacha Magazine -republished in its entirety on Rabbi Daniel Eidensohn’s blog, Daas Torah.

First let me say that it was refreshing to see an admission of sorts that the prevailing attitude among Charedi Rabbonim in the past was to try and keep incidents of sex abuse internal and to not report them to the authorities at all – hiding behind issues of Mesirah:

We can no longer hide behind a blanket prohibition against reporting to the authorities if the gedolei haposkim are saying you should report to the authorities.

It is also gratifying to see an admission that this attitude still exists within their community in certain circles:

There is still an attitude that exists in certain quarters of the chareidi world that these matters have to be handled internally and not by the authorities.

I'm glad to see that everyone seems to be on the same page about reporting abuse to the authorities. But as with all things complex – the devil is in the details. And the most important detail is the requirement by Agudah to report all suspected abuse to a Rav before reporting it to the authorities. That has not changed.

The reasonable standard for reporting sex abuse is ‘ credible evidence’. This is the legal standard and it fits well with the Halachic standard of Raglayim L’Davar. They ought to mean exactly the same thing. But Rabbi Zweibel said that even though the two standards are very close there may be circumstance where Halacha differs from the legal standard. And that presents a major problem. What if there is a clash between the legal and Halachic definition of credible evidence - what is a mandated reporter supposed to do?

Rabbi Zweibel suggests that it should be up to a Rav with experience in these matters to sort it out. But in my view - if you strongly suspect that a victim is telling you the truth – especially if it is a child - you do not go to a Rav. You go straight to the police. I’ve said this before. A Rav might be reticent to see a respected member of the community reported to the police. No matter how much one tries to be objective it is hard even for an Ehrliche Rav to be objective in these circumstances.

I do give Agudah credit for constructing a fast track decision making process that is in line within the legal time frame for mandated reporters. But that does not help when the Psak differs with the law. No one thinks that Eizeh Dimyon - mere conjecture - should be reported. But what about borderline credibility? What if one is uncertain that what a child reported is actually sex abuse?

I can somewhat understand if it was only borderline incidents were required by Agudah to be vetted. But even there - why a Rav? Why not a professional who treats abuse victims? They are the real experts. They are the ones with the professional training and experience to know what is or isn’t credible evidence. Unless the Rav is someone who treats abuse victims, I don’t see him as being anywhere near as qualified as a professional to make that call.

Rabbi Zweibel says that all the Agudah is trying to do is to deal with the seriousness of the situation. Here is how he put it:

Not withstanding the very serious prohibition against mesirah, where there is raglayim l'davar, the gedolei haposkim are telling us today that we should report. While this is something very important that we wanted to bring to the community's attention, at the same time, we need to recognize the weightiness of the matter…

One of the advantages of the raglayim l'davar standard is that the halachic authorities are telling us you need to be very careful before you report. If it is eizeh dimyon, as in the phrase Rav Elyashiv used- mere conjecture – or if you have some vague sense, that's not enough. Part of what Rav Elyashiv and the other poskim are telling us is, this is dinei nefashos on both sides of the equation and we have to find a balance. We are concerned about some of the statements made by a few advocates for the victims, because there seems to be a lack of appreciation that sometimes allegations of this nature can be destructive to people who are entirely innocent.

No one has expressed more concern for the ‘other victim’ than I have. But it is precisely this attitude that is so problematic. The Agudah seems to be putting potential victims on both sides on equal footing. A victim of abuse is certainly a case of Dinei Nefashos – laws pertaining to life and death situations. That Agudah recognizes this is a good thing. Although I’m not quite sure why it took Rav Elayshiv to make them realize that.

I even agree that one can see a circumstance where a false accusation might be in that category as well. But when looked at in the context of frequency of occurrence, the argument fails. Especially when it comes to child sex abuse. Virtually all professionals say that it is extremely rare for a child to accuse someone falsely. The Dinei Nefashos concerns ought to therefore be far greater for the more frequent occurrence of the child as victim than the much rarer occurence of an adult as victim of a false accusation.

In my view Agudah needs to re-think their entire approach. Yes, Reglayim L’Davar needs to be there. But most people know what credible means. And in those cases where they are not sure, consult with a professional – and do it quickly.