It is difficult to describe the sickening, gut-wrenching sensation I experience when I get phone calls from parents whose children were sexually abused or from adults who have carried the horrible scars of childhood abuse for decades, often shredding their relationships and ruining their lives. And, I am sad to report that those calls are getting more frequent as time goes on.
L’maan Hashem – what will it take for us to take this issue seriously? How many more indictments of frum pedophiles will it take for us to cut through the denial and deal with the fact that we have a real problem? Not a Jewish problem, but a human one. (As I’ve written in the past, abuse and molestation are issues that all communities face. It only becomes a Jewish problem when we choose to bury our heads in the sand and ignore it.) How many more suicides or drug overdoses do we need to endure before we will start understanding that this is one of the pressing challenges that we need to squarely face? And, in my opinion, sexual abuse is by far the leading cause of high-end drug use and ruined lives of the teens in our community.
The saddest thing of all is that the steps that need to be taken to prevent today’s innocent children from future abuse are not terribly complicated. From my vantage point; all it takes is to:
1. Raise the awareness level by having community leaders write and speak about this issue in a forthright and unequivocal manner.
2. Teach our parents and educators how to speak to their children about personal privacy. And this can be easily done in a modest, Torah-appropriate manner.
3. Develop the righteous indignation to finally protect our children by sending a clear message that those who molest them will be treated like the rodfim and murderers they are – reported to the authorities, arrested and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
This is not only a school issue; it is a communal one. Abusers are far more likely to be family members or kids on the block, rather than educators. This is not to say that schools should not address this matter squarely; rather to note that simply dealing with it in the limited scope of school will not eradicate the scourge of abuse. We are all in this together and it will take broad-based initiatives to improve things.
Is there any more sacred obligation than protecting the children entrusted to our care? Shame on us, for failing to treat it as such.
Shame on us, for allowing ourselves to repeatedly get distracted with meaningless and often silly non-issues raised by self-appointed “askanim” that purport to pose spiritual risk to our children while our paramount communal responsibility to keep evil people from destroying the physical and spiritual lives of our children keeps getting bumped to the back burner.
Shame on us, for allowing people like Avrohom Mondrowitz, and others like him, to live peacefully in our communities while their alleged victims live tortured lives. Please excuse my sarcasm, but lately, when people ask me what they ought to be doing to rally support in their communities to keep our children safe from predators, I occasionally tell them, tongue-in-cheek, that it might be a good idea to spread rumors that the pedophiles are distributing non-kosher candy to their children while molesting them. Who knows; maybe that might get people to take notice.
I began writing about sex abuse in these pages more than four years ago – before this was thrust in our faces when we were shamed in the national media with reports of the abusers in our community. I wrote about the scandal of our silence over Mondrowitz’s alleged crimes months before it became public news, when efforts were made to finally extradite him to America to face a small modicum of justice after all these years. Shame on us that little has changed in that time despite all the chillul Hashem we have endured over this matter since then.
Recently, my wife and I had the incredible zechus of walking our fourth child to the chuppah and it is exactly one year since Hashem blessed us with the birth of our first grandchild. Knowing what I know and listening to what I listen to on a daily basis, makes me fearful for his safety and the safety of our grandchildren yet to be born. For so long as we do not make every effort to have the warped pedophiles in our midst locked up in prison or in treatment facilities − trust me, when I say that none of our kids are safe. At this moment of great simcha in our lives, I commit my passion and energy to see to it that our grandchildren will be raised in an environment where the evil monsters that prey on our children live in fear – not the parents and grandparents of our kinderlach.
Here is how I ended a column I published on the matter of sex abuse in these pages in January of 2007. The final question is one that I still ask – on behalf of the many silent, silenced and voiceless victims of sex abuse in our community.
I think it is a terribly sad statement that an individual who sold non-kosher food in my hometown of Monsey ran for his life the moment the story broke and was not seen since, while a fiend who allegedly molested both Jewish and non-Jewish children in Boro Park is living comfortably in Jerusalem while evading extradition. I am most certainly not promoting or condoning vigilante violence. But it would be a positive step forward when child molesters in our community need to ask for police protection for fear of being harmed by righteously indignant people.
Incredibly, in that case, only the non-Jewish parents pressed charges. Here is text from a Nightline article on the subject: “The only victims that cooperated with the investigation were Italian. They were neighborhood boys who trusted the rabbi because he bought them gifts like bicycles. Not a single Orthodox Jewish boy or their parents would talk to the police. The statements of four Italian boys aged 11 through 16, were the basis for the indictment against Avrohom Mondrowitz. He was facing eight counts of sexual abuse in the first degree, endangering the welfare of a child, and five counts of sodomy in the first degree.”
I ask, “Are Jewish children less sacred and worthy of protection than are non-Jewish children?”
© 2008 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved