Latest update: February 10th, 2014
I really don’t want to become a sales rep for Mishpacha Magazine. But once again I feel compelled to comment on a wonderful piece by Jonathan Rosenblum. In the most recent issue he comments on an earlier story by Rachel Ginsberg about Moshe Bak, a Charedi Rabbi who founded and runs Project Innocent Heart. Rabbi Bak has taken up the challenge to educate his community about how to protect children from sexual abuse.
When I first read that article I was both gratified and somewhat troubled. But I decided not to comment on it since I did not want to hurt what he was doing. He is providing his community a valuable service. But now that Jonathan has publicly brought up one of my concerns, I feel I should not only offer my support, but commend him for his courage.
What was lacking from Rabbi Bak’s efforts is the fact that his organization does not deal with sexual predators. I understand that he wants to focus on prevention and that is a good thing. However, I also believe (as Jonathan seemingly does) that what he is not saying – should not be ignored. Predators should be hunted down and prosecuted.
Although I understand Rabbi Bak’s limited purpose, I protest that he had virtually nothing to say about this in his article. He has in essence passed the buck of not only the resposnibilty for dealing with predators, but from even expressing his personal opinion about it. The question remains, in Rabbi Bak’s opinion – what is an individual to do when they suspect someone of being a predator?
I have believe that he did not say anything because he does not want to contradict the publicly stated policy of his rabbinic leaders that one should first go to ‘the rabbis’ before reporting any suspicions of abuse to the police. Something that I’ll bet he feels uncomfortable with. Having been so intimately involved with this issue, he must realize the damage done to survivors with such policies.
I admit I am just speculating. But I do so with good reason. The Charedi Hashkafa dares not contradict public policy statements of their rabbinic leaders. Doing so goes against the very essence of that Hashkafa. It would also jeopardize his Charedi credentials. Which as a noted Charedi Mechanech are very important to him. This is hinted at by the following comment from Rabbi Bak:
“We don’t care who the perpetrator is. It [the abuse] must stop and the abuser must be punished.”
The first part of that statement is very telling. It says that his organization does not want to deal with this part of the issue. And the second part shows that he believes what every decent human being in the world believes. Who in their right mind would say that sexual predators shouldn’t be punished?! But more importantly it leaves unsaid how we get to that point.
Jonathan realizes this too – and has stepped up to fill that void. Which is – as I said – a very courageous thing for a Charedi columnist to do. Jonathan’s article should be read in full. But here are some important excerpts:
(I)t is important to emphasize that removing predators from our communities is inextricably related to the issues of prevention and successful treatment of victims. As Tanchum Burton, a therapist with a great deal of experience in the treatment of predators, wrote to Mishpacha last week, predators do take into account the likelihood of being caught, especially where detection entails the likelihood of a long prison term.
Prosecution of predators is a crucial component in the therapeutic treatment of their victims. (Here I’m drawing primarily on “Treatment of Victims of Childhood Psychological Abuse” in Breaking the Silence by Dr. David Pelcovitz, the Orthodox community’s go-to expert on the subject.)
Mrs. Debbie Fox, the creator of the “Safety Kid” program being used in many Orthodox schools today, writes that victims often express greater anger toward those who failed to protect them than toward the perpetrators themselves.
If a child who has been victimized sees his abuser still walking free in the community, his generalized sense of betrayal is magnified. Even if the abuse has stopped, each time he views the perpetrator, he experiences a fresh reminder of what happened to him. The trauma remains an open wound that cannot even begin to be healed. The perpetrator’s presence conveys a message to the victim that the “system” — in this case, the religious community in which he lives — does not really care about what happened to him.
Dr. Pelcovitz emphasizes the crucial nature of “validation” of what the child has suffered for any therapeutic intervention to be successful. In other words, the child seeks support for his feelings of having been horribly wronged. Where parents or others show a reluctance to prosecute the perpetrator — sometimes out of sympathy for the perpetrator or his family — the child will experience that reluctance as minimizing the magnitude of what he has suffered. Indeed, writes Dr. Pelcovitz, it is relatively common for parents to downplay the significance of what has taken place, perhaps out of a misplaced feeling that doing so will make it less traumatic.
Victims of abuse typically experience feelings of worthlessness and are prone to faulting themselves in some way for what happened to them. That is one reason why it is so crucial that they be treated as victims and not as accomplices. Reporting and prosecuting predators is a crucial component of validating the child’s status as a victim. “[W]hen the response of the community does not actively and unambiguously support [children] by validating their feelings and ensuring that they feel safe,” writes Dr. Pelcovitz, “feelings of guilt and worthlessness can be significantly exacerbated.”
Let me repeat perhaps the most important line in Jonathan’s article:
Reporting and prosecuting predators is a crucial component of validating the child’s status as a victim.
This is exactly what needs to be corrected in the world of the right. Going to rabbis with suspicions of abuse is not the same as reporting and prosecuting predators.
I hope this article signals a change with respect to reporting suspicions of abuse.
I should also add that what Rabbi Bak is doing has already been done by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz. It is Rabbi Horowitz who is in the forefront fighting this terrible scourge. It is Rabbi Horowitz that guided the publication of a children’s book that teaches them ‘How to Stay Safe’.
And yet Rabbi Bak made no mention of Rabbi Horowitz’s pioneering efforts in combating abuse. I think Rabbi Horowitz deserved better. In fact It would be far better use of resources if Rabbi Bak combined forces with Rabbi Horowitz, and follows his lead. He should also expand his organization to include reporting and prosecuting predators (…and enablers for that matter). In that way, he will no doubt increase his effectiveness and that will benefit everybody.
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About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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