Wednesday, January 04, 2017

A Charedi Response to Sex Abuse

Zvi Gluck - head of the Orthodox social service group Amudim
65. That’s the number of suicides that took place among Orthodox Jews in the year 2016. Many of those by a drug overdose. I have no clue whether that number as a percentage of the whole of the Orthodox world is the same, more, or less than the percentage of suicides in the general public. But in my view 65 souls that could not face life to such an extent that they saw ending their lives as the only way out – is an epidemic. Certainly to the families of those people.

65 is the anecdotal number of Orthodox suicides given by Zvi Gluck, a Charedi Jew involved in trying to help these people. God bless this man.

Josh Nathan-Kazis reports in a Forward article that most of these suicides are the result of rejection by their home communities for stepping out of their ultra Orthodox way if life. As well as the result of not being able to adjust in the outside world. Which I believe in most cases means dropping observance altogether. 

I am not going to speculate about the variety of causes of dropping out of observance. There are many reasons why one decides to drop out. Nor am I going to assess blame. The point is that it happens. And that often leads to depression so severe that suicide is often contemplated and sometimes acted upon. In the course of 2016, that happened at least 65 times in the Orthodox community.

There is one cause for dropping observance that is rather well known. Sexual abuse. Not necessarily from the abuse itself. But from the reaction to the victim by his community. Instead of compassion, a survivor often feels rejection. Especially when they accuse prominent and popular people. Abusers are often found to be among the most generous and contributing members of their community. I recall reading one case where an abuser was purposely generous with both his time and money so he could feed his sickness. Should he be accused of sex abuse - no one would believe he could do what he was accused of. 

That feeling is understandable. Most people will say it isn’t possible that such a generous and giving man of so much accomplishment – a family man with wonderful children could do such a thing. So the victim is victimized again, this time by his entire community. Nobody believes him and instead considers him some sort of vindictive human piece of garbage out to destroy good people with accusations that will destroy their reputations. 

Is there any wonder why survivors of sex abuse drop out of observance altogether? And so often contemplate suicide?! Their community has disappointed them. Their expectations about justice from the Torah world has been destroyed.

This is why there is so much anger at those rabbis that insist that any suspicions of sex abuse must first be reported to them – to see if there is any ‘Raglayim L’Davar’ - to see if those suspicions are reasonable. The problem is that rabbis are human. They see the accused in the same positive light the rest of the community does.  They see his family and his children that need Shiduchim, and realize that if reported, it will become public knowledge. So that even if claims about abuse are proven false, that man’s reputation will quite possibly be ruined for life. And their children will be tainted by it - harming their Shiduch prospects. 

So they want to be sure. But there is no getting around the natural bias they have - having experienced the positive contributions the accused has made to his community. 

And then there are issues of Mesirah which are treated very harshly in Halacha. One is not allowed to inform on a fellow Jew to the authorities. The Shulchan Aruch states that one loses their Olam HaBah for doing so! There are a variety interpretations of this Halacha in our day. But even according to the most stringent view - there are circumstances where Mesirah is actually a Chiuv - a Halachic requirement to report a Jew to the authorities! The question remains about whether these instances qualify for any of those exceptions. 

Suspicions of sexual abuse are clearly an exception requiring it to be reported to the authorities.They do not have the bias members of that community have. They can therefore judge accusations more objectively. Not to mention the fact that police at sex abuse divisions are trained to do this

I’ve discussed all this before. Let me repeat. There is not a question in my mind that suspicions of abuse must be directly reported to the police under all circumstances. The damage done to a victim of abuse by not reporting it directly to the police or even delaying it, is incalculable. The cost of which may end up being his death… let alone his dropping observance.

I was sent a video (below) of a Shiur given by the Gateshead Rav, R’ Shraga Feivel Zimmerman. In a clear and straight forward fashion he explains the importance of dealing with sex abuse the right way. It is a tour de force Halacha Shiur using sources.

What makes this Shiur unique is that it is geared to the Charedi world of which he is a respected member. But we can all learn from it. From Modern Orthodox to Charedi. At almost 55 minutes in length, it is well worth watching.

Rav Zimmerman is a man of great insight, compassion, and courage. The best of the best of what the Charedi world has to offer. A true hero and a role model of leadership. We need a lot more like him.