What can a yeshiva do to institute practices that will help prevent any form of abuse?
Our community has become a focal point of scrutiny for not responding with greater fervor to the allegations and occurrence of sexual abuse. Not only does this create pain and suffering for victims and their families, it greatly undermines the very institutions built to help protect them. Yeshivas are bedrocks of our community, not only for education but also as a safe harbor for our children.
The following suggested course of action, though by no means comprehensive, provides a frame of reference for yeshivas, day-care centers and similar entities to adopt or to strengthen current action plans.
Establish standards: This gives principals, deans, executive directors and boards of directors an organized plan and a system to implement for both prevention and response.
In May 2003 Torah Umesorah issued its Statement on Behavioral Standards on the Prevention and Response to Child Molestation. Torah Umesorah reissued this in July 2007. Professor Aaron Twerski and I prepared these behavioral and reporting standards at the behest of roshei yeshiva “for principals to implement in their yeshivas and day schools, which, it is hoped, will strengthen the protection of students.”
Create a zero tolerance mindset: The proliferation of drugs in public schools in the 1980s led to the popularization of the drug-free school concept. This involved the development of a strong and active plan by administrators, faculty, parents, police and the community and greatly strengthened the ability to keep drugs out of schools, thus keeping children safer.
Key points of an abuse-free yeshiva include: training faculty in prevention and response; sending a clear message to students and parents that disclosure of any inappropriate conduct will be confidentially investigated; letting victims of abuse know they will be supported; and fostering a perception and understanding that perpetrators will be reported and prosecuted. All this creates a clear mindset of a zero tolerance policy.
Fingerprint all faculty and employees of the yeshiva: This is currently required in public schools, though not in private schools. True, it is an added expense, albeit an important one. This system would immediately alert the school of any employee previously convicted of any crime, including sexual abuse, as well as notify the school of any arrests that occur while s/he is in their employ.
There are too few child molesters in our community who have been arrested and prosecuted and few are registered sex offenders. Thus we are far away from a foolproof system. Yet if we collectively implement the fingerprinting of all yeshiva faculty and employees, yeshivas over time will become safer havens to teach and nurture our children.
Elliot Pasik, Esq, president of the Jewish Board of Advocates for Children (JBAC) has long advocated for fingerprinting in schools and he stresses that one should not underestimate how favorably parents will view yeshivas that voluntarily undertake this important step as an additional measure to protect their children.
Follow the law: The Torah Umesorah guidelines state that when there is reason to believe such a violation has occurred, the reporting of fondling, touching or any form of lewdness is not considered mesirah.
Kol Tzedek, a program under the purview of the office of Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, is a good resource for training faculty or providing guidance on mandated reporting law.
It is known that child molesters groom children, which first involves gaining their trust. This opens the door for the molester to abuse the child, subsequently instilling shame or fear in the youngster and inhibiting the victim from coming forward.
Following the law opens the door on reporting, thus hopefully closing the door on abuse.
David Mandel is chief executive officer of OHEL Children’s Home and Family Services and can be reached at email@example.com.