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July 3, 2015 / 16 Tammuz, 5775
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Beit Shemesh Agency Tackles Sexual Abuse One Case at a Time

David Morris, the founder of Magen.

David Morris, the founder of Magen.
Photo Credit: Yosef Symonds

By Maayan Jaffe

Sexual abuse of minors has for many years been among the most controversial and suppressed issues in the Jewish community. An inaugural conference in Israel next month will, at the very least, contribute to the conversation on that issue.

“The mere fact that we are talking with each other is crucial,” said Prof. Asher Ben-Arieh, director of the Jerusalem-based Haruv Institute, whose stated mission is “to become an international center of excellence contributing to the reduction of child maltreatment.”
The First International Congress for Child Protection Organizations in the Jewish Community takes place from March 3-5 at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Sponsored by Haruv and Magen LeYeladim U’Lemishpachot, the conference will draw representatives from the United States, United Kingdom, France, Belgium, South Africa, and Israel to talk about how to deal with sexual abuse of minors, particularly in the Orthodox Jewish community. Attendees will strategically review the participating organizations and their programs, and collaboratively generate a code of best practices.

“Ultra-Orthodox communities around the world are similar and share communal characteristics,” Ben-Arieh told JNS.org. “We also learned that… in many cases, perpetrators are ‘shipped’ to different communities instead of being dealt with.”
Magen, a Hebrew word meaning “protector,” is the catalyst for the conference as well as for bringing the topic of sexual abuse of minors to light among Israel’s Orthodox community.

In 2010, Magen was founded by David Morris to serve the Israeli city of Beit Shemesh. Three years later, the three-person operation is becoming well known across the Jewish state, as its efforts have resulted in sweeping change for the 98,000-person community.

Underreporting of sexual abuse is a global problem. According to Israel’s National Council for the Child, only about 1 in 10 cases of abuse reach the authorities. But in Beit Shemesh, it was an epidemic. In 2010, according to Beit Shemesh resident and non-profit consultant Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll, Beit Shemesh reporting was only one third of the national average. That equates to one in 30, the lowest rate in Israel.

“We want to think it won’t happen. We want to think it doesn’t happen. But it does,” wrote Jaskoll in an op-ed for the Times of Israel.

Morris came to know this all too well. He told JNS.org that Magen was started after he tried fruitlessly to gain assistance for a boy who was molested at school.

“A mother approached me for help when her son, after refusal to go to school and [demonstrating] peculiar behavior, confessed that his rebbe had touched him [inappropriately] and regularly for months. I turned to a community rabbi who was in a position to protect the family,” Morris said. “But instead of advising them to call the police, which is required by law, he referred them to the Modesty Patrol” in the Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem, he said.

Morris said it became increasingly clear that for victims of abuse and their families, there was no professional and responsible recourse or assistance within the community. Thus, he opened Magen. Since then, the organization has handled upwards of 250 cases, and reports to Magen are doubling each year. Furthermore, reporting of sexual abuse in Beit Shemesh has increased by more than 50 percent.

Magen works on four fronts. First, it educates. Professional or volunteer representatives are out in the community offering lectures and seminars to help parents and child educators understand the threat of sexual predators and how to protect their children against them.

Second, Magen offers a hotline and informational service, which can be contacted anonymously (Hotline@MagenProtects.org or +972-2-999-9678). Third is case management.

“An allegation or a case of child abuse is a trauma, much like bereavement. People really don’t know what to do,” Morris explained. “So we hand-hold, we support the family through the process.”

Finally, Magen helps with the management of alleged perpetrators in the community. Even if a case goes through the correct legal procedure—to the police, to the courts—and the even if the perpetrator gets sentencing, at some point he will return to Beit Shemesh.

“This is a community issue. What should a community do to safeguard its children?” said Morris.

All four components of Magen’s role are essential and necessary for the successful reduction of sexual abuse of minors in a community, explained Helise Pollack, a therapist in private practice in Beit Shemesh. She has been working with victims of childhood sexual abuse for 26 years.

“It is important for families to receive support and for children [victims] to receive intervention and treatment for dealing with their feelings of humiliation, anger, hurt and pain. If they cannot talk about it and understand it wasn’t their fault, then they carry this pain inside them and at some point it comes through,” Pollack said. She noted that victims who have kept the abuse a secret often become anxious teenagers, use drugs or alcohol, act out violently, or hurt themselves/become suicidal. Many leave religion. Others become perpetrators themselves.

Rabbi Yaakov Haber, rabbi of Kehillat Shivtei Yeshurun in Ramat Beit Shemesh, has been supportive of Magen. He said the organization has given potential perpetrators a fear they did not have before.

“It took away their safe haven,” he told JNS.org, explaining that a perpetrator might now think twice before acting on his inclination for fear of public and legal repercussions.

The rabbi also made clear that he does not think there is more abuse in the haredi community than in any other community, but rather, there are additional complications members of the haredi community consider before reporting such a crime. For one, he said, most Orthodox communities are close-knit, which means everyone knows and/or is related to everyone else.

“Once you run to the police and report this man… all of a sudden his [seven] kids are having difficulty in school, the wife is struggling—it is just a tremendous amount of pain,” said Haber. “This is really the fault of the poor choice of the abuser, but you can understand … how it will affect every single aspect of a very large family—even cousins.”

Additionally, he said there is a perception—especially in Israel, where “everything is so politicized”—that the press will jump on any report of abuse and make it a bigger issue than it might be.

Nonetheless, Haber advocates for turning to the police. So do most parents of victims, when they know what their options are and how cases will be handled. At a recent Magen event titled “Who are the people in our neighborhood,” dramatic presentations of three real Magen cases, written by local parents of children who were sexually abused, were read to the audience by volunteers. One boy was molested by the teenage son of a well-known community rabbi.

“We all assumed the perpetrator was some drifter from outside the community. We never imagined it could be a boy from a successful family within our own community,” said Parent A, who remained anonymous. “This boy was not some kid off the derech [non-religious kid]. His family was the derech we all admired and aspired to achieve.”

Parent A was told not to work through Magen, and not to work with the police by some area rabbis. But he worked with Magen anyway. Shortly thereafter, similar stories began to surface. With people aware and looking for the perpetrator, one afternoon he was caught shortly after he abused another victim.

“The boy was arrested. He has been placed under the supervision of the courts. … My 8-year-old’s cry for help and our full disclosure has led to other boys being saved,” said Parent A.

In another case, two young girls were molested by their 70-year-old grandfather. Parent B filed a report, and the grandfather and the young girls are getting the help they need.

“Sometimes doing the right thing will not make everyone happy,” said Parent B. “But it has to be done.”

“The more we speak about [sexual abuse], the more we write about it, the more we stand against it, the greater chance we have of preventing it,” Jaskoll said.

Maayan Jaffe is a freelance writer in Overland Park, Kan.

About the Author: www.JNS.org is an independent, non-profit business resource and wire service covering Jewish news and Israel news for Jewish media throughout the English-speaking world.


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5 Responses to “Beit Shemesh Agency Tackles Sexual Abuse One Case at a Time”

  1. Miriam Goodman says:

    Kol HaKavod! Time to unsweep child abuse from under the carpet…

  2. Stan Silverman says:

    It is clear that the frequency of child sexual abuse is higher in segments of the haredi community than in segments of the non-haredi Jewish community, the appropriate comparison group. The question is why – what haredi cultural norms cause this, and how can be changed? Until this issue is addressed with the haredi community by the haredi rabbinical leadership, the situation will not improve. Protecting haredi cultural norms are more important than protecting haredi children. I don't know how these people can atone for their sins during Yom Kippur.

  3. Shay Dorfman says:

    Parent A states that they assumed the perpetrator was 'some off the derech kid'. Sexual abuse has nothing to do with one's religious level and pointing fingers at those who have chosen a different way of life is disgusting and misguided.

  4. Shoshanna Keats-Jaskoll says:

    Excellent to see Magen getting international coverage. All parents must be aware of what can happen and make sure to speak to their kids!

  5. Yasher Koach that Israel has the Magen organization. It has clearly stepped in where others wouldn't. It is horrifying that the maltreatment of children is so rampant in the world. It is destructive to the soul of the victim and to the victims family, when many in the insular (and non-insular!) communities automatically support the "G-d fearing, chessed filled, learned, kind, good, family oriented, upstanding"….ABUSER! As they disregard and do not support the lost and confused victim. Some victims become perfect students, children, etc., while others make poor choices. Regardless, they are demeaned, concretizing the guilt they feel within themselves. Whether abuse is reported immediately or later on in life as an adult; due to suppressed memories, the child and/or adult MUST be validated, and not hushed or ignored. When family members support the victim, it is a step towards healing. However, if chas v'shalom family members take the side of the abuser the victim will feel completely alone and lost. A frum victim abused by a relative, a rabbi (the person who the child was taught to respect), very often times, the victim will go off the Derech, turn to drugs to numb the inconsolable pain and turmoil, and might unfortunately reach the point of nowhere to turn, feeling so hopeless and helpless and will commit suicide. Re-victimization that victims say can be more painful than the abuse itself. The abuser is raised to heights of greatness creates while creating a dimension of pain and suffering to the victim like none other – the salt is dumped even further into the opened wounds. All four fronts that Magen works on are fabulous. I'm wondering if Magen includes safety education to the children in addition to child educators and parents. Magen provides education to “professional or volunteer representatives are out in the community offering lectures and seminars to help parents and child educators understand the threat of sexual predators and how to protect their children against them”. Adding safety education to the children is crucial and key to prevention. Magenu.org is a Torah based grass-roots organization that started in Brooklyn, NY, does just that. Yeshiva’s, day schools and Bais Yaakov schools bring magenu.org into their schools. Magenu professionals educate the administrators and all staff members on child abuse and safety education. Second, they teach the parents, who are often shocked to learn that it's no longer "stranger danger" – but rather, the abuser is a trusted adult, one even living in their home. Finally, magenu educates the children on general safety and a high concentration to teaching the students (in a child centered and modest way) child safety education. Studies have shown that when the CHILD in particular is taught that it's ok to say "NO!" even to a respectable frum person, 95% of child abuse can be prevented! Magenu.org teaches to the child because some parents are uncomfortable teaching the topic of child abuse to their own children. In addition, unfortunately, the abuse is often happening by a member of the household, by the person who is trusted to teach the child. In addition, the child feels empowered knowing that HaShem, who gave him/her their body, agrees! HaShem wants the children to know that "their body is their own"! Thank you Magen in Israel and Magenu in America!

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