Friday, May 13, 2016

Fraud? Sex Abuse? Or Neither?

Image from surveillance video (JTA)
I watched the video twice. It was quite disturbing to see a Chasidic looking guy kissing a young child several times while holding him on his lap with his legs moving about. The video in question was a surveillance video of the principal of a Satmar elementary school in Kiryas Joel. He was interacting with a child who apparently needed some disciplinary measures.

If I was a parent in this school, I would demand that this fellow be relieved of his position and never be allowed to be around children of any age again. And if that were not done, my children and I would be out of there faster than the speed of light. There is no way I would ever want a child of mine - or any child - to be subjected to that.

That said, I am not entirely convinced that what I witnessed was actual sexual abuse. That’s why I watched it twice. It may have been… or not. I have never been a part of a community that disciplines children that way. It is quite possible that this video could be interpreted as a Mechanech simply telling that child how much he is loved by the principal – as he loves all children. And that he kissed him just like a father would his own young child.

He held him on his lap so that he would be forced to pay attention to him. But he wanted to assure the child that he was not ostracized and indeed loved. Kissing him several times to make that point. There was no sound to that video so we cannot hear what that Mechnech is saying. This is what Satmar in essence implied by a public statement on the issue: 
“While this type of restraint may be unacceptable to some viewers, it in no way rises to the level of a criminal assault,”   
Perhaps this is the means by which this principal deals with misbehavior. A means acceptable to Kiryas Joel parents.

For me, that would be a stretch. I was appalled by what I saw. At the same time I did not see any fondling, inappropriate touching, or other activity that is definitive of sex abuse. Did that Mechanech somehow pleasure himself while this child was on his lap? It’s hard to tell. And since I am not part of that community, I cannot say whether this kind of activity is more or less the norm.

The only people that may have a clue are actual members of Kiryas Joel where this incident took place. How do they see it? Are they comfortable with what they saw? Or did they even see it?

If I was in law enforcement that is the first thing I would do. I would select a fairly large panel of Satmar Chasdim from Kiryas Joel – consisting mostly of parents - to view that video and see whether or not what they witnessed was OK with them. In particular I would watch study their reaction to the video as they were watching it.

I would of course also ask the child how he felt about it, but only under the guidance of mental health professionals trained to deal with child sex abuse cases. 

One thing is certain. We cannot allow this incident to go un-investigated – as Satmar would wish it to be. That is a ‘no go’ in my book. Because their bias in these matters are a matter of record. One need only look at how their sister neighborhood in Willamsburg dealt with convicted rapist Nechemya Webberman. He was sentenced at trial to 54 years in prison for the continued rape and sexual abuse over several years of a young teenage girl under his care. To this day, they proclaim his innocence.

Yesterday there was a raid by federal agents in Kiryas Joel. From the Times of Israel
It is not clear whether Thursday’s raids were related to the videos. In March, FBI agents raided schools in the village — as well as in nearby Rockland County — in connection with their use of the federal E-rate technology subsidy program. Also in March, a United Talmudical Academy facility in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn was raided, reportedly on suspicion of defrauding the federal school lunch program. 
Either way, this is a good thing they need to clean up their act in both educating their children and in how they handle sex abuse.

I’m sure that the Satmar Rebbe of Kiryas Joel, R’Aharon Teitelbaum, is not pleased with this. I’m sure he considers those responsible for this raid to be a Mosrim – people that inform the authorities against a fellow Jew. Which is condemnable if it is done in an antisemitic locale where Jews would not be treated fairly.  But as far as I am concerned there is no Mesirah in a country like this where Jews are subject to the same justice system as everyone else.

So if this raid misuse of federal funds, if proven to be true, it will be a major Chiul Hashem. Blaming a whistleblower does not excuse the crime – if there actually was one.

If this is about investigating if there was sex abuse, then the ‘Moser’ is their own surveillance system. And for that, they have only themselves to blame. But for which I applaud. Thank God for that. Maybe this will be the beginning of the end to sweeping sex abuse under the rug.