Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Sexual Abuse in the Religious World

Convicted rapist Weberman and his wife (NYP)
Allegations of sexual abuse continues in what seems like a never ending parade of predators and cover-ups.  As the following report notes: 

Not only was nothing done to stop these predators from continuing their hellish crimes, staff members were reportedly told not to even engage those asking about how to stop their child from being sexually violated… Rather than a database to protect sexual abuse victims, the report reveals that these leaders had a database to protect themselves… 

...they wanted to conserve the old time religion. What they wanted was to conquer their enemies… no matter who was hurt along the way. 

This might sound familiar to those of us that have watched how our religious leaders have in the past reacted to reports of sexual abuse and how they treated victims who - hoping for some justice -   confided in them .

Only in this case it isn’t rabbis or Yeshivos we are talking about. It is one of the largest Christian denominations in the world, the SBC (Southern Baptist Convention). 

Ordinarily, I would not be concerned about what goes on in the non Jewish world since it does not affect us. But I mention it because of the similarity of their approach to ours.

While it is true that things have gotten a lot better in many instances, there are still pockets of denial in some cases. I believe, for example, that the Chasidic community to which convicted rapist, Nechemya Weberman belongs - still protests his innocence and considers his accuser to be a lair with a vendetta to destroy Yiddishkeit.

This is yet another area where I have to ask, Why? What is it about clergy that makes so many of them sexual predators? And why are religious leaders so eager to deny it - and instead vilify the victim?

One would think that a religious cleric who believes in Divine justice would be the last person to sexually violate another human being. And one might also think that seeking true justice would mean religious leaders taking any and all accusations seriously – and not automatically assuming the victim is a liar.

I think the answer to the first question is opportunity. Given their stature as trusted servants of God, it is a lot easier for them to groom victims who are members of their Church, Shul or religious school... and with whom they are in constant contact. Perhaps they are even drawn into that profession because of that. They believe with a certain degree of confidence that accusations of abuse will never be believed about a man of God. Which is why the Catholic Church and the SBC has had so many instances of it and gotten away with it for so long.

What about the cover ups? The one thing all religious leaders have in common is the preservation of the very institutions which they lead. And assuring their perpetuation. They seem to feel that sacrificing one victim to save an institution they believe is vital to their very existence is worth the price.

I will never forget the reaction one prominent rabbinic leader who many years ago was asked about reporting a case of abuse to the police. He said they had to cover it up. Because if they didn’t it had the potential to ‘kill’ Jewish education and destroy the future of Judaism. 

This is not unlike the reaction to sexual abuse by the SBC or the Catholic church. In all of these cases, the reputation of the ‘Church’ was more important that any justice the victim might get if it got publicized. 

Thankfully – even though there are still pockets of resistance - we have come a long way since then. We are far away from this approach, in the vast majority of Orthodox Jewish communities. As a recent letter signed by over 200 Orthodox leaders from all over the country suggested. A letter stating unequivocally that all cases of sexual abuse must be reported directly to the police.

What is however disappointing about that letter is who did NOT sign it. There are a lot of very prominent religious leaders who apparently still feel that rabbis must first be consulted before the police are contacted - so that they can decide whether or not to do so.

I guess they feel somewhat like the SBC does. That the institution is more important than the victim. All while explaining that false accusations can cause irreparable harm to innocent people. And their families. What about the damage to the victim and their families? They apparently believe in their own ability to determine whether accusations are true. I don't know why they think they can get at the truth better than the professionals that have been trained and whose job it is to do that.  But they do. apparently. Despite the obvious bias that must exist if the accused is known to the rabbis evaluating the veracity of the accusation.  But I doubt if bias can ever fully be eliminated when judging people with good reputations that they know. No matter how much they try.