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Sexual Abuse: Prevent, Police, Prosecute


We play the odds all the time, don’t we? We may not consciously think about it as such, but in effect we do. Hashem rules the world and controls the odds; we have to do our hishtadlus. We get behind the wheel of a car, board a plane, or cross the street knowing there are risks such as car accidents, plane crashes and pedestrian injuries.

This is not meant to be morose; it is just a fact. Still, the laws of probability work in our favor. We go about our daily lives and while we are not oblivious to these statistics, we do not obsess over them. We feel bad that people inevitably will be hurt or, God forbid, die, but anonymity and distance enables us to continue our normal patterns of behavior and routine.

But would you play the same odds with your son or daughter? Do their safety and well being follow the same set of rules?

Tens of thousands of children attend yeshivas and day schools. They are taught by thousands of self-sacrificing rebbeim and teachers. We rely on the schools to recruit and hire the most talented, motivated people to teach and lead our children. Advertisement

Typically a school administrator or principal will complete an extensive reference check prior to hiring. This is all good. But there is one important missing piece of information – a criminal background check on the potential employee.

In every large group there may be a very small number of individuals who engage or might engage in unacceptable behavior. So the question becomes, how do we identify such individuals and prevent them from entering our schools?

Social service organizations have for many years been required to fingerprint and complete a criminal background check on all employees. It can take from several days to a week to get results of a fingerprint check. Every now and then a hit comes back on a prospective new hire showing a criminal record. The system also sends information to employers of any new criminal proceedings against a person already in their employ.

Which brings us to the point of Prevent, Police, Prosecute.

There are several ways we can work to prevent the sexual abuse of our children. Parents must speak to their children at several different stages in the child’s life, while schools must adopt a strong program to educate students, faculty and parents as well as monitor and adhere to mandated reporting protocols.

Another important factor whose time has come is the fingerprinting of all people employed in yeshivas and day schools, as is currently required in public schools. A detailed proposal by Elliot Pasik, Esq., and other advocates is a sound template urging the state legislature to enact laws requiring fingerprinting in private schools.

Why is this important? It comes down to playing the odds. It’s only a matter of time before a hit will come back on an employee of some yeshiva or day school who has a criminal record and possibly a history of sexual abuse.

There are very few individuals in our community who have been convicted of crimes related to child sexual abuse, and even fewer on Megan’s List. It may be a long shot, but we always want the odds to be in favor of our children.

Years ago in an article for The Jewish Press, I urged parents who had reason to believe their child had been or was being sexually abused to report it to the police. “The concept of protecting one child (from shame and stigma) by not reporting this to the police,” I wrote, “virtually assures that other children will be hurt in shul, in yeshiva or in the neighborhood park.”

In a dozen subsequent articles in newspapers and magazines I emphasized the importance of working with police and district attorney staff to prosecute child molesters. Only by pushing abusers into the criminal justice system can we prevent them from harming other children. Moreover, once child molesters are prosecuted and have a criminal record, we will know who they are, and through fingerprint checks can keep them from jobs that provide access to children.

In Breaking the Silence: Sexual Abuse in the Jewish Community, a book I edited with Dr. David Pelcovitz, Rav Dovid Cohen, Ohel’s mara d’asra for 41 years, describes the imperative of adhering to mandated reporting laws including contacting the police when sexual abuse takes place.

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What can a yeshiva do to institute practices that will help prevent any form of abuse?
Our community has become a focal point of scrutiny for not responding with greater fervor to the allegations and occurrence of sexual abuse. Not only does this create pain and suffering for victims and their families, it greatly undermines the very institutions built to help protect them. Yeshivas are bedrocks of our community, not only for education but also as a safe harbor for our children.

Ten years ago, If you had asked a victim of sexual abuse what he or she wanted most, the answer would have been, “I want my abuser to apologize, to acknowledge that it was his fault and not mine.” Today, if asked that same question, the victim would speak of prosecution and justice.

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