Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Progress on Issues of Sexual Abuse

Images from JCW website
It never fails to shock me when people that are otherwise so respected – having earned it due their many contributions to the community - end up among the lowest, most disgusting people on the face of the earth.

But it shouldn’t really shock me by now that a prominent person ended up as a pedophile whose secret life involved sexually abusing many children. There have been so many.

There was Nechemya Weberman a once respected Chasid with ties to Satmar, who was viewed with admiration as a ‘therapist’ for ‘at risk’ Chasidic teens. He is now serving a 103 year sentence for abusing a young female ‘patient’.

There was recent arrest of Daniel Greer, once a hero to his community for all he legitimately contributed - not only to his community but-  to all of Jewry. He now awaits trial being charged with some of the more heinous sexual crimes I have ever seen in print. There are so many stories like that. I should be used to it by now. But I’m not. 

This has once again happened in Israel with a man that was seen as an icon in his community. Rabbi Aharon Shlomo Lisson, a Chabad Mechanech from Beitar Illit, has been sentenced to seven years in prison for sexually abusing three brothers (from 2009 to 2014). 

Yankie Rainitz, a  survivor with the courage to identify himself tells the story (in Hebrew) of the sexual abuse he suffered from Rabbi Lisson on his Facebook page . It has been translated by Manny Waks.  

JCW, an organization dedicated to fighting sex abuse published a translation of that post on its website as well as the translation of a powerful Hebrew editorial about this by COL, the largest Chabad website in Israel.

Yankie’s story is devastating beyond words. I wish I could say I have never heard anything like it. But his story has become an all too familiar one. He described in detail when - as a 12 year old 8th grader – how he was groomed by this highly respected rabbi (and secret predator). He was eventually made to think his sexual abuse was a personal reward from his teacher, highly spiritual in nature, and the best thing in the world that could have ever happened to him. Multiple times. Until Yankie aged out. Lisson then went on to his next victim – Yankie’s younger brother. Also 12 by that time.

How is it possible that such accomplished people are actually so evil? I am inclined to think they do not believe they are doing anything wrong. They actually believe that they are expressing love. They keep it secret because they know what society will think about it if they find out. But in his own warped mind they thinks they are doing something wonderful for both their young victim and themselves. The world just doesn’t understand that level of love. That is the only way I can understand how someone so accomplished and so contributing to the world could do something like this.

But it doesn’t really matter what he thinks. The damage is real and so severe that it causes lifelong emotional distress to the survivor that often reads to depression dung abuse and even suicide.

In almost all cases like this, the survivor undergoes abuse in two phases. Once from the abuser and the second time from a community in denial of even the remostest possibility that such a respectd figure could do something like that. So as Yankie points out in his Facebook post, they turn on the survivor.

It took a lot of courage for COL to publish an editorial like this. Which JCW translated and featured on its website. One can see by their opening words how seriously they are taking this. It is - as JCW notes - unprecedented: 
What you are about to read is not a standard article. It will not increase respect for Chabad Chassidim or the community. Many of you may believe that our dirty laundry should not be aired in public. But the city is burning. If there ever was a moment to put our honor aside, this seems to be the moment. 
Yankie’s description of abuse as well as his excruciating experiences at trail is a must read. As is the Chabad editorial.

In a related event, Ha’aretz reports that the rabbis of Bnei Brak are finally  coming to term with their community’s sex abuse issues: 
In a rare gathering that took place Saturday night in Bnei Brak, ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) rabbis and activists spoke publicly for the first time on the issue of pedophilia in the community, providing a glimpse into how attackers and victims are dealt with. 
I still believe they have a way to go before they are fully on board with protocols established by survivors in conjunction with the police and therapists specializing in abuse. But they have come a long way since the days of denial and sweeping abuse under the rug.

For example, Rabbi Chananya Chollak [chairman of the Ezer Mizion aid organization]. Made the following startling admission: 
Unfortunately, assaults on children are nothing new. Almost every week there’s an incident, in our community as well, to our great regret. There was a story in Bnei Brak a while back. Twenty-eight children were assaulted within 10 days, three of them girls who were hospitalized.  
Rabbi Shlomo Levinstein, of the Mishmeret Hakodesh Vehahinukh (“Guardians of Holiness and Education”) organization, said the following:
“When we know who the attacker is, there is sometimes an option to deal with it in the community. We know how to do this, either through the Mishmeret Hakodesh or through Rabbi Chananya Chollak … We have ways of sending people for treatment and we do so with a waiver on medical secrecy. When we don’t know who did it, we call the Israel Police.”
He added, “Our community has all sorts of sensitivities that don’t exist in other populations. When police are called, the detectives don’t know our language and can sometimes ask things that a child wouldn’t know what they want of him. Sometimes we arranged to have children questioned in Rabbi Chollak’s office, and that’s acceptable to the police...” 
I believe this is a big step in the right direction. That they still require speaking to rabbis first is at least being done in conjunction with the police. Hopefully this ‘joint’ effort will bear fruit  and will significantly reduce the incidence of sexual abuse.

I do however have strong concerns about the following comment he made: 
(T)he first thing that must be done is to protect the children – that is, to warn them not to speak to strangers. 
This approach implies that strangers are the ones to be wary of. We now know that abuse most often comes from someone they know and respect.. As was the case in the above mentioned cases. If they do not make sure that this message is clearly imparted to their young people, they have not really prepared them at all.