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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.

“In orthodox communities girls are much less accessible to male pedophiles than are the boys; boys are often unaware of and less educated about child abuse, and are therefore vulnerable to this risk.”

More than 45% of the alleged victims were reportedly abused at their schools.

Morris says that while ” schools under the supervision of the Ministry of Education have well developed policies and practices for preventing abuse, and detailed protocols for responding appropriately to complaints,” this is far from being the case in schools which are independent. Those schools, he says, “are relatively under-resourced in this regard and have unclear policies. Unfortunately, this appears to have created a high risk environment for the children.”

As much as 95% of all reports made to Magen were from families describing themselves as Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox).

“Magen operates within the framework of halacha, the Law and best professional practice,” states Morris. “We are pleased that Magen is already trusted by members of the public, and by the Hareidi community in particular, with these most sensitive & important matters – and we admire the courage of parents who are increasingly open to improving the safety of their children, and to responsibly addressing this risk in our community.”

Since Magen came into being, two years ago, many local families have been coming forward with cases that go back years, even decades, and are, therefore, not included in the current statistics. The victims had never dared reveal their trauma to anyone until now.

“We are also seeing some common myths about child abuse starting to break down. For example, that children often lie about having been abused. In fact, according to international expert Dr. David Pelcovitz, who spoke for Magen, “the overwhelming majority of children who report they have been abused are telling the truth”; and according to the Israel National Council for the Child only 3% of children make false reports. It is critical that all adults are supportive, encouraging and empathetic to any child who says they have experienced abuse.

Another common myth is that reporting abuse to the authorities is traumatic for the child. As Magen volunteers have walked many families through the process of reporting abuse, and obtaining professional assistance for child abuse victims, they have actually seen the opposite. The social workers are well trained and sensitive, and the experience can be empowering and therapeutic. In the words of one brave nine year old that Magen helped: “I’m a “gibor” because I’m making sure he can’t do this to other kids.”

“These kids and adults are obtaining the help they need to progress from being a child abuse victim,” says Morris, “to becoming a child abuse survivor.”

In the case of Magen’s email warning of 20th February, the story had a positive result. This week Magen published a follow-up message to the community:

This follows Magen’s previous announcement about a present and current risk to young girls.

The police have now released for publication that a man has been arrested and held in custody on suspicion of attacking young girls over the past weeks in Ramat Beit Shemesh. The police are confident that this man will be indicted.

Magen would like to take this opportunity to express our appreciation to the whole community for all the assistance and cooperation to track down the alleged perpetrator.

While this does make our streets safer B”H, we would caution that most child abuse is not by strangers (as in this case) but by trusted parties – friends, relatives, teachers, neighbors, babysitters, etc.

“There is no doubt that the children of Beit Shemesh, and in Ramat Beit Shemesh in particular are somewhat safer now than they were just two years ago. However, there is a very long way to go – and everyone, kids, parents and professionals, must be more aware and more cautious,” Morris says.

Contact Magen: 02.9999-678; 050 8489001 Email: magenprotects@gmail.com

Confidential Hotline: 052-765.2929

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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