Prioritizing Our Children’s Safety As We Approach The New School Year Learning from FBI Reports on Child Molestation and the Law Suits Against The Boy Scouts of America and The Roman Catholic Church
Introduction – Why Now?
As the new school year begins, we parents must gain insight into one of the common causes of youth at risk — abuse and molestation. It is a highly sensitive issue generally deemed the domain of mental health professionals and community leaders, with a host of significant halachic ramifications, such as raglayim l’davor – meaning reasonable suspicion, which is the halachic threshold to permit reporting to authorities under the rules of mesira. While the abduction and brutal murder of Leiby Kletzky a”h, by someone in our community, was an extreme case of abuse, it highlighted the need of the lay community and parents to study child abuse prevention.
A child who has been a victim of abuse and/or molestation has seen the dark side of humanity, invariably from a person he trusts, who is supposed to be a role model. Such a victim cannot reconcile that Hashem exists if the person who taught him about Hashem’s existence has violated him. It is incumbent upon us to prioritize our children’s safety and bravely confront child abuse prevention by educating ourselves.
In the aftermath of Leiby’s shocking murder, Ami Magazine interviewed Dr. Michael H. Stone, a forensic psychiatrist who stated that Levi Aron appears to be a pedophile even though it seems he did not act upon it in this instance. This made me wonder – what are the differences between a pedophile, a predator, and a molester? Is there a difference? I had no idea, yet I knew I must keep these types of people far away from my children and grandchildren. Furthermore, if Levi Aron is a pedophile, then we need to know the characteristics and modus operandi of pedophiles so we can identify them.
I did research into a legal definition of these terms and found the answer in the monograph entitled “Child Molesters: A Behavioral Analysis for Professionals Investigating the Sexual Exploitation of Children” by Kenneth V. Lanning, former supervisory special agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and currently a consultant in the area of crimes committed against children. I thank Mr. Lanning for encouraging me to write this article and generously giving me his time, guidance and support. We had long conversations on child abduction and molestation, and on his experience in investigating thousands of child molestation cases during his tenure at the FBI, which spanned over thirty years. I initially disagreed with Mr. Lanning’s opinion that our community’s struggle with child molestation is analogous to the very same struggle across mainstream America. I argued that our community is devoutly religious and lives by a high standard of family values. Nevertheless, at the end of my research, I regretfully concurred with him: pedophilia effects our community like any other.
In Greek the words “pedo-phile” mean to love children. A pedophile has deviant fantasies, urges or behaviors that are recurrent, intense, and arousing and all of which involve children, generally ages 13 or younger; frequently pedophiles are men and their victims are boys. The pedophile’s preference for children usually begins to manifest itself in early adolescence. A pedophile can satisfy his urges without ever touching a child. He may be satisfied by just staring at children in places where they roam freely, as in the street or the park, teaching them in class, or interacting with them in shul or in the mikveh.
Conversely, a child molester is an older individual who engages in any type of forced physical activity with individuals legally defined as children (persons under the age of 18). Common definitions of “molest” are “to harm, to annoy, to interfere with, or bother.” A child molester does not necessarily love children; rather, he or she desires to control and often inflict pain. The child molester may prefer physical relationships with adults but will settle on children as they are more available, vulnerable and easy prey. Thus, a person can be either a pedophile or a molester or he can be both.
The term “predator,” which means “to prey, destroy or devour others,” has become increasingly popular when describing offenders. While many offenders are predatory in their behavior, using this term indiscriminately is counterproductive as it makes it more difficult to determine the accurate category of each offender. And the term has a very negative connotation, conjuring up an image of an evil, violent person – when in fact many offenders who victimize children are usually considered nice people and rarely, if ever, use violence.
Pedophiles invariably are “nice” guys and may be pillars of the community, who have earned the trust of parents, seem to be good with children and attract them. They typically seek employment where they can be in close proximity with children, even in highly respected fields, as doctors and therapists; or they may volunteer to work on projects helping children. That is a major reason they join organizations where they can help troubled children, volunteer to search for missing children or participate in “Safe Zones.” Many pedophiles spend their entire lives attempting to convince themselves and others that they are not perverts, but good guys who love and nurture children. Pedophiles have always been with us, and in Ancient Greece and Rome the relationship between men and young boys was respected among the upper class. While ancient civilizations may have condoned pedophilia, the modern world recognizes its damage and condemns and criminalizes it, thereby classifying pedophiles and molesters as “offenders.” If the FBI’s expert opinion is that dealing with pedophiles in our community is no different than in other communities, we need to learn how other communities have dealt with pedophiles.