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New Group Combating Child Molestation in Ultra Orthodox Enclave

Magen Executive Director David Morris fights child abuse with education.

Magen Executive Director David Morris fights child abuse with education.
Photo Credit: Magen

“Magen” is a new Child Protection Agency operating in Ramat Beit Shemesh, two miles south of the city of Beit Shemesh, whose Haredi vs. National Religious and Secular clamorous encounters made headlines a month or so ago. But Magen deals with a quieter, more sinister aspect of life in this area. Founded two years ago, Magen’s website now reports the presence of at least 36 suspected child abusers in the community of Ramat Beit Shemesh.

Two weeks ago, on 20th February, the new organization sent out this message to the Beit Shemesh community by email:

WARNING

It has come to our attention that there is a man operating in  Ramat Bet Shemesh who has reportedly lured and attacked young girls.

His modus operandi is reportedly that he approaches a young girl and invites her to “help him” in darkened or secluded areas (storage areas, car parks, etc) and then he attacks the girl. (This method may change – so it is better not to be too specific when discussing this with your children).

Anyone who notices anything strange of this nature should immediately call the police and if possible take photos.

If one sees a child being lured or led into such a dark or secluded area, or into a vehicle, one should certainly intervene, without placing oneself in danger, for instance by asking the child if the man is her or his father. Please note any identifying information, such as location of incident, description of the person and what he is wearing, ethnicity, age, unusual facial characteristics, smells and any other details, even if they seem inconsequential at the time.

For victims, it’s essential that the police are informed and that they be able to interview any children involved (which is done exclusively by highly trained experts), so that they may investigate and arrest this person, and also so the child receive professional assistance if required.

Please contact the Police and Magen if you have any information or you need assistance in coping with this problem.

Yorkshire, England born Magen Executive Director David Morris, is a young looking father of six who says he is affiliated with the National Religious and is an entrepreneur in the field of electro-optics. Some 10 years ago, he founded a charity organization called Lema’an Achai (For my Brothers) in the then fledgling Ramat Beit Shemesh, applying innovative methods to empowering poor residents.

As part of his function as head of the charity organization, David Morris started hearing more and more reports of child abuse from clients, and began to look for ways of resolving each one.

In spite of strong support from much of the community and rabbinical leadership for improving child safety, he began to encounter resistance within the community, and his endeavor was at risk. All closed communities are anxious about revelations of corruption in their midst, and their natural tendency is often to circle the wagons.

David Morris decided to pick his battles, and so, instead of courting confrontation, he decided to separate his charity work from his dealing with child abuse cases, and launched Magen, a completely independent organization dealing strictly with complaints of child abuse in Beit Shemesh.

That was two years ago. Today Magen has identified four areas of activity in child protection against abuse in this orthodox enclave.

1. Raising awareness through education 2. Hotline, email for questions and reports 3. Support and help for victims and their families 4. Management of alleged perpetrators in the community.

A few months ago, Morris reported to the Nefesh Mental Health Conference in Jerusalem that in the first 18 months of the new agency’s involvement in the community, 40 men have been reported to Magen as having abused children. The organization is aware of 109 children who have allegedly been abused. That makes it one alleged perpetrator to three alleged victims.

According to Morris, 90% of the cases reported to Magen were from the community of Ramat Beit Shemesh.

“Magen is now well known in Ramat Beit Shemesh, and this probably explains much of the frequency and quantity of abuse reports we are seeing in that community. As our activities increase in other communities in Bet Shemesh, we would expect some evening-out,” Morris says.

Of the reported offenses, 78% were sex crimes against children. This compared to 10-15% nationally, as reported by the Child Protection Association of Israel.

Magen also reports that 72% of the alleged victims are boys – which reflects the trend in Jerusalem, where, according to the Child Protection Center of Jerusalem, a majority of child sex-abuse victims are also now male.

“Families have traditionally been primarily worried about their daughters being potentially abused,” Morris confirms. He urges local families, while continuing to guard and educate their daughters in this area, not to forget the risks to their sons.

About the Author: Tibbi Singer is a veteran contributor to publications such as Israel Shelanu and the US supplement of Yedioth, and Jewish Business News.


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