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September 2, 2014 / 7 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Michael Salamon’

When Religious Doctrine Undercuts Mandated Reporting On Abuse

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

The New York Times got it right. In an editorial published on Thursday May 19, the Times castigated the Vatican for issuing “flimsy guidelines” for combating the sexual abuse of children by the clerical hierarchy.

According to the Times, the Vatican “issued nonbinding guidance,” giving authority to local bishops which in effect bypasses the need to report the criminal offense of sexual abuse, or for that matter any abuse performed by an official of the Church, to the proper legal authorities.

In essence the report places Church doctrine ahead of the law and allows the local diocese the religious right to shield abusive priests from prosecution. At about the same time the guidelines were released, a study, funded primarily by Church sources, was released. The study allegedly reviews the causes for the sexual abuse scandal in the Church and, in an interesting twist of propaganda, blames the social climate of the 1950s, 60s and 70s for priestly indiscretion.

Taken together, this bizarre approach to coming to grips with the depth of the problem and working to set up parameters to prevent further transgressions is not just counter-intuitive, it’s absolutely backward.

The law is quite clear. Individuals who are mandated reporters must report any suspected abuse to the proper authorities. In most states mandated reporters are teachers, doctors, lawyers and child care workers. In many locales clerics are also mandated reporters. Apparently the Church feels that reports are not mandated by Church doctrine and that the best needs of society are secondary to religious doctrine. This could be humorous if it wasn’t so sad. Unfortunately, the Church is not alone in this folly.

Last month Agudath Israel of America held a conference for professionals at which the topic of how and when to report suspected abusers was discussed. The presentation of the topic included a good deal of source review and explanation. The presenter was knowledgeable about the issue. But, shockingly, the position advocated by the Agudah sounds astoundingly similar to that promulgated by the Vatican.

The conclusion stated in the Agudah position is that you must first ask a senior rabbi with experience or “even better, you should ask a full beis din” before you can call the proper authorities to report suspected abuse.

As a mental health professional I am a mandated reporter. What this means is that if I am made aware of a situation that raises a reasonable a measure of suspicion that abuse of any type is taking place, I am obligated by law and my professional license to report the situation to the proper authorities.

Nowhere in my professional training are rabbis considered proper legal authorities in this matter. In fact, if I report only to a rabbi, I put not just my professional license in jeopardy but also the welfare of the individual who is being abused.

Rabbis are not generally trained in forensics or police work and simply have no authority to intercede in any legal capacity to aid the abused person or apprehend the abuser. In addition, I may be breaking certain HIPAA laws related to confidentiality if I discuss a situation related to someone I am treating with someone who has no legal standing.

It is important to understand that most professionals do not have to report often, and certainly they do not do so lightly when they feel the need to report. Further, the reporting system, at least in New York and several other states, allows for a discussion with the agency to which the professional reports in order to better determine if a particular case merits investigation.

A professional can discuss in total confidence what he or she sees as suspected abuse – without providing any identifying information – if there is any uncertainty about the situation being a reportable offense. The specialist helps the mandated reporter determine what is reportable. The system is not generally set up as an immediately reflexive and overwhelmingly reactive response – unless there is clear and obvious abuse.

By issuing the doctrine of rabbis as the first report, Agudath Israel has put my license, my parnassah, my professional integrity and the law of the land in jeopardy. And while that alone is sufficient cause to ignore the position, there is one even more imperative justification for not following the mandate. So many poskim, from Rav Elyashiv to Rav Hershel Schachter, have declared that individuals who abuse children are in the category of a rodef  (a pursuer) and should be reported to the police.

Abuse And The Brain

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

We may not want to accept it, but abuse occurs everywhere, even in our own communities. The effects of abuse are devastating and long lasting – not only on those individuals who are abused but on their families as well. Even one act of abuse against a person, regardless of age, can have a significantly negative impact that may last a lifetime.

The impact is often much worse when the abuse occurs to a child. People, especially children, who are abused can and often do develop a constellation of different mental health problems including anxiety, depression, suicidal ideas and acts, post-traumatic stress, eating disorders and a variety of other problems most notably character flaws referred to as personality disorders. We understand that abuse is wrong and harmful and should not be tolerated but we are not all that clear on why and just how severe abuses’ bearing is on the most basic quality of life issues.

Recent neuropsychological research is beginning to explain why abuse can harm even the most resilient of individuals. What we are learning is that the old nature versus nurture controversy is simply a straw man. Both components – the genes we are born with and the nurturing we are provided – work together, virtually in equal measure, in forming who we are. This finding has led to an area of research entitled epigenetics. The epigenetic approach has found that the environment an individual is exposed to has an impact on both the expression of the underlying genetics a person is born with and can also actively alter the internal structure of genes themselves. Advertisement

Not only genes but certain basic structures within the brain may be altered by the exposure to abuse. Two structures set deep within the brain, the hippocampus and the amygdala, have been found to be smaller in people abused in childhood as compared with people who were not exposed to trauma. The hippocampus is known to be involved in the process of learning, memory and depression. The amygdala helps to regulate emotions, mood, fear and sleep. It is no wonder, then, that traumatized people can suffer from so many problems. While the young, developing brain may be more vulnerable to these actual physical changes, trauma has been found to alter brain make up regardless of the age of the maltreated person.

What is most interesting is that just as the brain may be altered by horribly traumatic experiences, positive experiences may also alter the brain. Loving, nurturing, supportive and encouraging experiences help the developing brain make connections at the cellular level that enhance experiences later in life. A warm early life has been linked to the development of a resilient approach to life. People who are resilient tend to see challenges as opportunities and have a “can do” attitude about life. They have a healthy network of social and family support, are often very spiritual and have a religious perspective on the meaning of life.

Abused people are more likely to avoid social involvement and discount the spiritual aspects of life. Treatment is predicated on the concept of “plasticity.” Just as the brain may be molded by traumatic experiences it may also be reshaped into a healthier functioning mode by the right therapy and the correct positive social and emotional experiences. For some people the process of change may take many years, even decades; for some the change may never come; but for many it may happen in just a few years.

Of course, one of the best ways to help stop the spiraling negativity and subsequent pathology that traumatized people experience throughout their lives is to stop their abuse and give them the social support and nurturing they so desperately need. That unfortunately does not seem to be a real possibility just yet. Abuse will probably continue and in most communities there is still an entrenched habit of blaming the victim.

While abusers are likely to have been abused themselves when they were young, only about 20 percent of those who were abused become abusers. The remaining 80 percent tend to lead internally troubled lives. Both these groups need to be identified and dealt with. There is not much clinical or research evidence that supports a treatment that successfully stops abusers from continuing their abusive behaviors there are however ways to contain abusers so that they no longer hurt others.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/abuse-and-the-brain/2011/03/23/

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