Latest update: June 18th, 2012
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.
Abuse Cover-Up Scandals – Learning From The Mistakes Of Others
The recent molestation cover up scandals which rocked the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America resulted from the desire to deal with pedophiles “internally” to avoid scandal, prevent people losing faith in G-d, and protect the identity of victims and their families. The Church learned that it was not the actual molestation by priests that was the catalyst for many followers to leave the fold. Rather, it was the molestation coupled with the cover-ups which turned people off. Allowing pedophile priests to go unreported, and moving them from parish to parish where they still had contact with vulnerable children, was unforgivable and sacrilegious. It was also expensive and cost the Catholic Church more than $2.6 billion in abuse-related costs.
A similar abuse cover-up scandal recently hit the Boy Scouts of America — the respected long standing club founded in 1910 — where every Scout takes an oath to be faithful, trustworthy, loyal, kind, brave and courteous. The Boy Scouts of America is so venerated that for the past 100 years, every President of the United States has been its honorary president. Nevertheless, last year an Oregon jury awarded former boy scout Kerry Lewis $18.5 million for the years of abuse by his scout leader, Timur Dykes, in the 1980’s. This is one of the largest punitive damages award to a single plaintiff in a child abuse case in the United States. Ironically, the Boy Scouts of America, an American hallmark organization, founded to teach moral values has evolved into a large corporation with a huge portfolio of assets and property, lost touch with its original purpose and has settled 60 similar abuse cases.
While the media were inundating the public with revelations of abuse cover up, the American public was hurting and in need of guidance. Oprah Winfrey, the popular talk-show host, stepped up to the plate and interviewed over 200 adult men who were child molestation victims. She advised people on where to turn for help and also featured a program of confessed molesters who shared their experiences. Mr. Lanning explained that Winfrey exonerated victims because they were young and innocent at the time of molestation. However, there are other victims to exonerate, such as those who were older, and may have consented to and even enjoyed the molestation. These victims still harbor guilt and shame and need reassurance that they too are innocent and blameless. The following is a summary of information culled from my extensive research and experience counseling youth in our community.
Key Elements Parents Should Know About Child Molestation
Stranger Danger Myth
The majority of molesters know their victims; they are called “Acquaintance Molesters.” They are one of us, look like us, do not have “bad” character traits and are generally known as “nice.” These molesters have always existed, but society, organizations and the criminal justice system have been hesitant to accept this reality.
Grooming Process to Seduce the Child
Targeting the Victim – Offenders look for vulnerable children with emotional needs and low self-esteem. Children from dysfunctional families or with learning disabilities are prime targets. Gaining Victims and Victim’s Parents’ trust – The offender earns the trust of the child and his parents by observing and compiling information about the child and his needs without raising suspicion.
Filling a Need – As the offender begins to fill the child’s needs, often showering the child with attention, gifts and affection, he becomes increasingly important in the child’s life. Isolating the Child – Offender creates situations to be alone with the child, such as babysitting, tutoring, mentoring, coaching and creating a “special” relationship.
Making the Relationship Physical – Offender desensitizes the child through various physical activities, such as playing games or swimming, and then exploits the child’s natural curiosity. Maintaining Control – Once the abuse occurs, offenders use secrecy and blame to maintain the child’s continued participation and silence. The child becomes entangled, confused and dependent on the offender.
How Parents Can Protect Their Children
Communication – Parents should communicate with their children in open, non-frightening discussions and explain that no one may touch them in certain private areas; and if anyone tries to, they should tell their parents. Children who are unable to communicate with their parents are the most vulnerable and, therefore, ideal victims. Parents need to listen to what their children are saying and encourage them to speak.
For example, a child asks: “Mommy, what do you think of my new teacher, Mr. Jones?” The wrong answer would be “You should be so happy that he came into your life; he’s helping you so much!” The right answer would be “Why do you ask; tell me what you think.”
Awareness – Be Aware of Certain Facts on Pedophiles:
Although most victims of child molestation do not become offenders, research indicates many offenders are former victims, older than 25, single or married.
Pedophiles frequently move and/or change jobs as a result of organizations, schools or leaders not reporting them to the authorities but rather just “asking” them to leave.
A teacher who molests a child, has likely molested or attempted to molest other children in the class.
Pedophiles sometimes marry for convenience, for cover, or to gain access to children from a spouse’s prior marriage.
Parents should beware of anyone who wants to be with their children more than they themselves do and showers the children with lavish gifts and attention.
Pedophiles try to get children into situations where they stay with them overnight or where there are no other adults. Although having two adults present is a good idea, it does not guarantee a child’s safety, as the other adult may not recognize what is happening.
Education– Learn Certain Facts on Victimized Children:
Children resist disclosing their victimization based on fear of stigma and shame. Some victims, after their disclosure, will recant out of positive feelings for the offender or threats by the offender. Children often distort facts to describe what happened to them in a more socially acceptable manner. For example, they may try to excuse themselves claiming they were forced, which is seldom true of molestation by pedophiles.
Consider the developmental process of children and totality of the circumstances when they disclose molestation. It cannot be assumed children never lie, however, because of their developmental stage, they may make inaccurate statements.
The key to getting child victims to disclose their victimization is to communicate subtly to them an understanding of the grooming process.
After molestation is discovered, Mr. Lanning cautions that offenders, and those who harbor them, threaten, harass or bribe victims and witnesses, as well as those involved in the investigation. Some molesters may express deep regret and claim they are pillars of the community in order to arouse pity and compassion. Any indicator that an offender is justifying or minimizing his activity makes him more dangerous and likely to reoffend. To combat this problem, we need to learn how to detect offenders and to seek professional help immediately upon the slightest suspicion of molestation. Offenders should be compelled to seek treatment, and children should learn to speak out and stay away from them.
I take this opportunity to thank Mr. Pinny Taub, a survivor of childhood molestation, and an advocate for victims, for helping me with this article. He has taught me that it is possible for a child to survive abuse, mature into a strong, healthy adult and raise a fine frum family. Together, as a community, we can educate ourselves on abuse prevention and find the balance between denial and paranoia. By combining faith in hashgacha pratis, awareness, knowledge, and reasonableness, we will prove that our community is different from all others as we unite our efforts to protect the future generations of Klal Yisrael and to preserve the communal trust we value and cherish among our family, friends and neighbors.
Ruchie (Rachel) Freier, Esq. is a practicing Charedi attorney, admitted in New York, New Jersey and the District of Columbia, with offices in Brooklyn and Monroe. In 2008 she founded B’Derech, the organization advocating for chassidic youth. She is a member of the New York State Bar Association’s Committee on Children & the Law and New York City Family Court Attorney Volunteer Program. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 718-259-4525.Ruchie Freier
About the Author: Ruchie (Rachel) Freier, Esq. is a practicing Charedi attorney, admitted in New York, New Jersey and the District of Columbia, with offices in Brooklyn and Monroe. In 2008 she founded B’Derech, the organization advocating for chassidic youth. She is a member of the New York State Bar Association’s Committee on Children & the Law and New York City Family Court Attorney Volunteer Program. She can be reached at email@example.com or 718-259-4525.
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