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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Protecting Our Children, Protecting Ourselves:
Sexual Abuse and Necessary Guidelines

If you aren't living under a J-blog rock, I'm sure you are well aware that an ugly subject has reared its disgusting head. I think I'd be hard pressed to find a subject that horrifies me more than the very fact that my children might not be safe around the authority figures that they will encounter over the years.

I'm not going to give any background on the sexual abuse case that is being covered in a prominent New York publication, since this particular case is not the focus of my post, nor is any other case in the frum community that has come to light in the past few years (and, sadly enough, I'm familiar with a number of cases including one from a camp where a good friend worked).

The focus of my post is two fold:

1. To bring to light the fact that there are sexual predators in every community out there, including our own, that we need to protect our children from.

2. To bring to light the fact that we need to protect ourselves from potential false accusations of sexual impropriety by enacting common sense guidelines for this day and age (which ties in directly with the first subject of my post: protecting our children).

It is Our Problem Too:

Many people in our community would like to believe that frum Jews are immune from problems of sexual abuse, impropriety, and misconduct, merely by the fact that they are "frum" Jews. Even an amateur study of the perpetrators of sexual crimes against children will be able to draw the conclusion that pedophilia is not restricted by race, religion, socio-economic status, ethnicity, or creed. Pedophilia is a disease that affects all communities, everywhere.

A perusal of the Sexual Offender Registry for my neighborhood indicates that my neighborhood has a sexual offender in frum uniform, and I'm sure that if you are living in a sizable frum neighborhood, that you too have a convicted sexual offender in frum uniform in your neighborhood.

Some Facts about Sex Offenders:

Once you have removed any rose-colored glasses and are able to admit that the frum community is not immune from harboring sexual offenders , you might want to arm yourselves with some Facts about Sex Offenders (a summary is below, please see the link for more important facts):
  1. Most men who commit sexual offenses know their victim.
  2. Most sexual assaults are committed by someone of the same race as the victim.
  3. Most child sexual abusers do not use physical force or threat to gain compliance from their victims.
  4. Most child sexual abusers offend against children whom they know and with whom they have established a relationship.
  5. Most sex offenders are male, however, there are some female sex offenders.
  6. The majority of child sexual abusers attracted are not exclusively attracted to children.
  7. Victims of sexual assault are harmed with or without the use of force. Emotional and psychological injuries cause harm that can last much longer than physical wounds.
  8. If a child does not tell anyone about the abuse, it is not because he or she consented to it.
  9. It is common for both child and adult victims of sexual assault to wait some time before telling someone about the abuse.
  10. Some sexual offenders prey on one type of victim (child or adult), others prey on a variety of victims and precautions should be taken regardless of his crime of conviction.
  11. It helps the victim to talk about the abuse.
  12. Sexual gratification is often not a primary motivation for a rape offender.
  13. Offenders need interventions and treatments. They cannot stop their sexually violent behavior on their own if they wanted to.
  14. Men who rape do not do so because they cannot find a consenting sexual partner.
  15. Drugs and alcohol do not cause sexual offenses to occur.
  16. Adult and child victims of sexual abuse are never to blame for the assault, regardless of their behavior.
  17. Sexual assault victims may not say "no" or not fight back for a variety of reasons. Lack of saying "no" does not mean that a victim was not assaulted.

So, what can we do to protect our children?

A good resource can be found here. I've highlighted some ideas and added some thoughts below.

Speak to our children in an age appropriate way about sexual abuse. For those that are worried a talk about sexual abuse is a premature chatan or kallah class, you will be glad to know that talking about sexual abuse to young children, does not have to include talking about sex/sexuality at all. In fact, it really should only be an extension of ideas that have already been introduced to them as they learn about the Jewish way and halacha.

Younger children should know that their bodies are private, that nobody should touch them underneath their clothing, that they should only go to the bathroom with Mommy or Daddy, that they must tell Mommy or Daddy if someone makes them feel uncomfortable in any way (which includes touching, but could be something as "little" as not giving them adequate privacy or personal space), even if that person said it was a secret or that they would hurt them if they told someone. Older children, can obviously be introduced to more "adult" concepts as they become more mature.

Parents should pay attention to the relationships that develop between their children and the adults (or older children and young adults) in their lives. The facts about abuse show that abusers do not randomly grab people off the streets, to abuse them. They use familiarity to gain access and within a long-term, ongoing relationship, the abuse escalates.

Parents need to pay attention and listen to their children. When something is not quite right, children often make that known, even if they do not use words to express themselves. Pay attention if your kids to not want to be around someone or if someone is giving them attention that seems out of place. If something doesn't seem quite right, it may not be.

We as parents and community members need to make ourselves into leaders. We should be asking our children's schools, camps, and daycares about what their hiring process and insisting in no uncertain terms that it must include a thorough background check. Obviously, when hiring caregivers for the home, the same background check should be performed. If our children are away at sleepaway camp, we should have a schedule and know where our children are and who they are with.

What can we do to protect ourselves?

I am surprised that when sexual abuse is brought up in the frum community, the missing element is a discussion about protecting adults from (false) accusations is not a focal point.

Those of us who have worked in a professional capacity, be it in civil service or private industry, have been subjected to the sexual harassment workshops. These workshops educate employees about how they should be behaving in the workplace in order to avoid accusations down the line. E.g., when one meets privately with a subordinate after hours, it is hard to protect oneself against an accusation, true or false, because the behavior was inherently unprofessional. Contrast this to meeting with a subordinate in an office during regular business hours where the secretary is sitting right outside the door and is free to walk in anytime.

I find it shocking that in today's day and age, that many of our schools have not instituted codes of conduct and safeguards that protect the school and its employees. Lawsuits can cost a community dearly, especially if there is negligence and the insurance will not cover such! While safeguards are not foolproof, I believe they go a long way in protecting everyone: employees and students.

Our Rebbes and teachers are to be commended for the great amount of energy that they expend on keeping students up to speed, in making learning enjoyable for their students, and in forming relationships with their students. But, lines still need to be drawn in the sand, made known to the parents, and enforced by the administration. (And, I would say that actual sexual abuse that is discovered, needs to be dealt with by the authorities) .

I'd like to hear my readers ideas of appropriate guidelines. Some of my ideas would include: Tutoring outside of class hours should be done in public places, either in the Beit Midrash or at the home of the parents. Overnight trips and Shabbatons should include supervision beyond that of the Rebbe and his wife.

Schools should perform background checks and maintain accurate personnel records. It is imperative for schools to enact guidelines and it is imperative for parents and community members to have a place where complaints can be brought and investigated without bias.

I would also say it is imperative that all authority figures (administrators, teachers, and camps counselors) be registered in a central data base and that any complaints be recorded there for a hiring school to take into consideration. Without a central database, we have to rely on those who hired the Rebbe before. Unfortunately, we can't always rely on all employers and need a greater level of protection.

I'm open to reader comments. Please chime in.

34 comments:

JH said...

As SephardiLady has said, awareness is critical. As a resource on handling orthodox sex abuse cases from a clinical, legal, and publicity stand-point, I would recommend the following site: http://jewishsurvivors.blogspot.com/

Steve Brizel said...

The article, despite some questionnable pop sociology about Orthodoxy and sexuality, raised many questions about this issue . Let's leave aside any alleged psak from R Scheinberg. We don't know how the case was posed to him or any other details.

The issue is whether this issue pervades our yeshivos. If you talk to frum mental health professionals who don't write for the JO or ArtScroll, you will learn that this is far from an isolated occurrence.

That being said, there are a number of points that can be made :

1) Why do Agudah and Torah UMesorah oppose legislation on this issue that the OU and RCA have supported since 2002? IOW, after the Lanner scandal., the OU and NCSY cleaned house and heads rolled. In the post Lanner era, the notion that self-policing of faculty works is almost as realistic as the cigarette industry claiming that it could reduce the level of nicotine or American car manufacturers producing a safe car without any regulations. Why do Agudah and Torah UMesorah view our childrens'safety as paramount when schools, rebbes, moros, and teachers act in the role of parents ( "in loco parentis") for the majority of their childhood and adolescence? Many of us posted on the tuition crisis-Yet, we see that "business as usual" is the modus operandi and that our tuitions and donations are expected even in the absence of any movement that our schools want to provide the safest environment possible in the light of recent events. Perhaps, we need to have parents, rabbonim and mchanchim convene a national conference of sorts to discuss this issue. Look at it this way-spousal abuse and kids at risk became communal concerns after R Pam ZTL spoke about spousal abuse and the JO published its issues on kids at risk. How many incidents of abuse of students do we need to realize that these allegations require our attention as a community?

2) The civil cases are being commenced in Federal court-which move a lot more quickly in every way than NY state courts. Federal judges impose sanctions with teeth .

3) There may be issues involving the following insurance coverage questions developing in these cases:

a)Any insurance policy has an exclusion for intentional torts such as an assault or activities beyond the scope of an employee's employment.

b) NY requires that an insured give notice of a claim as soon as possible as it knows of a claim. That gives rise to a question of whether coverage may have been waived by covering up the existence of the person's pattern of conduct.

4) NY's highest court recently ruled that cases arising out of sexual abuse by RCC priests were time barred. Yet, the Court also left open a route for plaintiffs to evade the statute of limitations-the withholding by the defendant of evidence of the existence of tortious behavior.

5) Issues revolving insurance coverage sometimes spawn collateral litigation known as declaratory judgments that resolve any issues of coverage.

6) Camp Agudah was also named as a defendant because the individual served there as a rebbe for many years. Believe it or not, during the Lanner scandal, many Agudahniks thought that the prohibition of yichud would prevent such conduct, despite the fact that the Agudah offices are staffed by Charedi women. OTOH, the allegations in these cases would seem to render that argument of dubious viability.

7) Those who want to read more about the milieu that produced this school and the events in question should read a blog called Unorthodox Jews. The content and tone is at times very mnuval, but the author is a Ben Torah, Musmach of a yeshiva and a prominent askan who has had enough of the excesses of the Charedi world. Despite my caveats as to the language, his blog is important background. I wonder how he stays in Flatbush.

Outoftown said...

My husband is a teacher and has worked in both public and private schools. He NEVER meets with a child, of either gender, with the door closed, even during school hours. It is very scary the things that go on, and it is also scary for the adults. Even if you are innocent, once you are accused, your life is over.

SephardiLady said...

Thanks for your comments Steve and OutofTown.

While we are members of the OU, not the Agudah or Torah U'Mesorah, I would like to believe that as Orthodox Jews, we are all on the same page. But, that, sadly enough is not the case and it will take a lot of talking to get the other organizations to start talking about such.

While the laws of yichud might make abuse of females harder, we seem to be struggling with the sexual abuse of males. (One has to wonder what the Agudah was thinking in making statements about the Lanner case).

In a professional environment, like out of town said, it is stupid to meet behind closed doors with a male or a female.

Looking forward to more comments.

MRN said...

Actually friends the thing that most frightens me is the possible abuse of boys by other boys in boarding schools and camps.

This is there's no way on earth my son's going to boarding school. Period.

SephardiLady said...

MRN-A valid concern, I believe.

Steve Brizel said...

I should note that the comments made by Agudah during the Lanner scandal did not make the Jewish or even the Charedi media. Yet, they struck me as typically triumphalistic, considering the source as if coed kiruv was the source of the problem, as opposed to the perpetrator.

SR said...

Steve mentioned Agudah and Torah Umesorah coming out against some legislation regarding pedophilia.

Can someone enlighten me about the background to this? what legislation are they against and have they said why?

with regard to this topic specifically, I think that it shows the importance of open lines of communication with your children. They need to know that if someone does this to them, that they are not the ones to blame and they should be free to tell you. personally, i'd call the cops real fast, because if someone did this to my kid i'd fly off the hook and the cops would have to hold me back.

Anonymous said...

MRN,

It doesn't have to be a boarding school. There was a case in our boys' school several years ago where one boy molested dozens of others during school. Luckily none of my children seem to have been approached. But someone we know their son was.

The bottom line is you have to watch out for the signs in any situation. The boys referred to above were no older than 7th grade (the molestor too). The boy we know had tremendous problems in school till he came of the closet with it. Now he is one of the more fully-actualized (and scholarly) young men I know. There is hope.

SephardiLady said...

Anon, that is scary. But, I definitely think it is easier to watch your children when they actually live with you!

The back of the hill said...

A very worthwhile posting.

kasamba said...

Possibly the most important post I've ever read.

queeniesmom said...

Evert year at the 1st faculty meeting (public HS), the staff is always warned about potenially dangerous situations that may arise. The guidelines are: NO touching, Never be alone with a student, if you must - leave the door open and ensure that a hall moniter is nearby. In instances where a detention has been assigned, ensure another student, but not the 1st student's friend, is in the room. If this is not possible combine your detention with another teacher. If that doesn't work, call the office and an arrangement will be made.

Re: tutoring
Only tutor in a central spot, kitchen table works well. Only tutor when the parent or another adult is home.

From the time my children were 2 or 3, the pediatrician always says to the kids during their physicals - remember no one can touch you here. I can only touch you becuase mommy is here. remember - you must tell mommy if someone touches you, even if they tell it's a secret. This message is reinforced whenever applicable during routine exams,so my kids have been hearing the message in a nonthreatening way but they know that certain types of touching are wrong.

Shavoah Tov!

Steve Brizel said...

In the aftermath of the Lanner scandal, the OU and the RCA supported legislation re a registry of sexual offenders who had been employed as teachers. Agudah , Torah UMesorah and the RCC all objected to the same as interfering with the authority of principals. They all subscribe to the view that this issue can be policed internally, which IMO is a dubious proposition.

Anonymous said...

One of the sites linked above brought today's article in New York Magazine. It's disturbing.

I am one who does not doubt that it all could be very true. I say that because I know of some cases -- one I mentioned above about a 7th grader molesting dozens of other boys. There are other cases, too, I know about from first or secondhand sources. None, though, was of a teacher-rabbi molesting a boy, as the above-mentioned article cites. However, I know the story could be true, and even if the laws of loshon hara lead me to doubt it's validity I must take precautions for my children and others in case it is.

However, the article included a few sentences that I found equally disturbing, and undermined its credibility, IMO.

Rabbi-on-child molestation is a widespread problem in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, and one that has long been covered up, according to rabbis, former students, parents, social-service workers, sociologists, psychologists, victims’ rights advocates, and survivors of abuse interviewed for this story. They argue that sexual repression, the resistance to modernity, and the barriers to outsiders foster an atmosphere conducive to abuse and silence.

If you read the article it only mentions one case of a rabbi being the molestor. It also mentions one person who runs an anonymous website and claims to be an insider (yet even he only mentions this one case). It mentions one woman who wrote a book that claims sexual abuse is more common than thought, but even that source does not say it is rampant among rabbis.

The article undermines its credibilty, IMO, by making a highly charged claim without backing it up. To me, backing it up would be -- I interviewed numerous or at least three or four social workers/psychologists (preferably observant) who report numerous cases (at least more than one) of a rabbi molesting children. Etc.

I'm not saying it can't happen. And I'm certainly not saying there aren't "orthodox" teenagers and even adults who fall prey to the worst impulses.

I'm just saying to write "Rabbi-on-child molestation is... widespread" and a function of "resistance to modernity" exposes the author's ignorance and bias against orthodox. He obviously has no concept that the vast, vast majority who live according to halachah are not molestors, do not have sexual deviations, divorce less, and tend to have far healthier, happier and intact families etc.

Robert Kolker, the author, has no clue about that. All he has is regurgitated biases of a lifestyle he knows nothing about.

Having said that, our community has to gain awareness of the issues raised in the article to protect our children from individuals who become sexual predators.

Note: If someone within the community -- say a mental health professional -- disagrees has inside knowledge that the problem is as widespread as the article suggests please come forth. I'm open. But until that happens to me Mr. Kolker's has exposed himself as just another ignorant outsider prone to exaggeration for sensationalistic purposes, not a truly serious investigative reporter.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Excellent Post! Should be mandatory reading for every school principal and parent.

SephardiLady said...

Back of the Hill, Kasamba, Jameel--Thank you very much. Hope to see you all back.

QueensieMom-Your training sounds like my experiences.

Steve Brizel-I could not agree with you more that self-policing is a lost cause. In fact, the organizations who talk about self policing have done NOTHING and there have been accusations for many, many years. I personally don't expect much in the future. They have not established a manual on professional behavior. They have not set up appropriate curriculum for children to teach about sexual abuse. They have set up a hotline for reporting. What's doing to change in the future? I'm not counting on much without the parents insisting something will change.

SephardiLady said...

Anon 1:21. I understand that they article's claims make you uncomfortable. They certainly make me uncomfortable as they do not appear well researched at all.

But, I think it is more than clear there is sexual abuse in our community and that there are not proper safeguards in place to protect our children and the employees of our institutions.

I'm sure there are plenty out there dismising the charges completely and picking apart the article. I am not going to be one of those people because I see gaping holes in the safeguards and think closing those holes should be our first and foremost concern.

stayathome2 said...

Thanks for the great post - focusing not on the article details and the accused, but on what we as parents need to do.

cool yiddishe mama said...

I received word about a divorced man in my neighborhood who is not allowed to be alone with his kids due to alleged abuse. (Interestingly, shortly after the charges were dropped, the ex-wife received her get so she could re-marry.) I came into knowing about him because I was contacted to give this man Shabbat hospitality (a meal). I felt compelled to refuse due to the fact that many in the community will not receive him into their homes either.

On a parent level, it was mainly because I care about the safety of my two kids.

SephardiLady said...

Thanks stayathome2. Welcome. Hope to see you back here.

Eli7-Like you, an accusation that is backed by funny business is enough for me to protect our own kids first. I find it incredible that years and years of accusations never resulted in action of the parts of the parents until now.

Steve Brizel said...

Take a look at R Gil's blog for some detailed suggestions that we should insist upon as SOP in all of our schools. In the wake of the Lanner scandal, NCSY implemented a mandatory guide for advisors that has many elements that can and should be adapted for use by yeshivos.

SephardiLady said...

Thanks Steve. I left some comments on R. Gil's sight and plan to include him in an upcoming roundup.

TzviNoach said...

Steve Brizel said (on 5/19 at 11:26 AM): The content and tone is at times very mnuval, but the author is a Ben Torah ...

Steve, can you tell me how you reconcile those 2 statements?

David Framowitz said...

Anonymous,

What else does one have to do in order to prove to you that the story in NY Mag is true?

How much more detail do you want or need?

I've gone out on the line with my name and my whole childhood history in order that people will believe that this molestation by Yudi Kolko really happened.

Since then I have been in contact with NUMEROUS other men who have contacted Jeff Herman and who have told similar facts - basically the same types of molestation committed by Yudi Kolko to them over the years. Some of these men are destroyed people, some not frum anymore.

Yudi Kolko is a sick man who needs to be removed from any contact with any children! Not only in YTT, but also as a tutor in his home. He needs help.

But the real issue now is the ongoing cover-up that has been going on for DECADES. Many many people within Agudah, Camp Agudah and Torah Temimah have known about this for decades!!

These people must pay for their cover-up. Because of them MANY lives have been destroyed.

Anonymous said...

Another good reason for home-schooling !

Anonymous said...

Child molestation is a tricky subject to legislate about in general, and a tricky subject to prosecute.

I have experience in the criminal justice system, and I have defended individuals accused of child molestation. I have no plans on doing so again, as it made me sick. Funny, it did not make me sick because of disgust for my clients, but because I had sincere doubts as to whether my clients did what they were accused of doing. Suffice it to say that both of these clients were staring down the barrel at a mandatory life sentence if they lost, and the evidence against them left room for doubt. Both of them were gentiles accused of molesting other gentiles, and both of them were very dumb individuals who are weak willed and easily led.

One-size-fits-all measures such as mandatory life sentences are a horrible way to deal with such incidents. It gives the prosecution too much power over potentially innocent defendants. What if there was some solid but untrue evidence against you. Your choices are go to trial and face a possible life sentence, or take, say five years in prison from the state? Not an easy choice if it is you, or your child accused, the chilling reality of such a situation is awful.

Children's testimony is also a shaky subject, and don't even get me started on that, as we have all dealt with one kid who accuses his brother or sister of stealing a toy or of hitting or some other such childhood dilemma. Well, when a big cop comes in and asks leading questions, and the child follows along, it's a whole new ballgame of awful. (Not to say that the child is not telling the truth, just that it is a touchy situation).

This stuff has to be dealt with on a case by case basis, and it has to be dealt with no matter how distasteful. It also must be dealt with harshly so that the world will know that we don't tolerate this kind of thing.

Charlie Hall said...

Here is the original source of the characteristics of sex offenders:

http://www.csom.org/pubs/mythsfacts.html

Steve Brizel said...

TzviNoach-take a look at UOJ's byline. He is a musmach of a well known yeshiva, an askan and someone who is just sick and tired of accepting a system that protects the perpetrators and punishes the victims. His own tone is sometimes intemperate and occasionnaly mnvuval. Yet, the personality and perspective of a Ben Torah is there if you read between the lines

TzviNoach said...

Steve:

I'm sorry, if I have to read between the lines of reckless defamation and over-the-top profanity and venality to find "the personality and perspective of a Ben Torah," that's not a Ben Torah in my book.

UOJ may be a fine individual, and certainly seems to be conducting his vendetta out of a heartfelt passion to right some terrible wrongs that he is convinced (maybe he knows) happened. I appreciate what he is trying to do and the immense frustration in trying to deal with something like this in our community, but this is not the way of a Ben Torah. Even if there is no choice but to make public (and even anonymous) accusations and declarations, do it like a mentsch. A prerequisite for being a Ben Torah IMO is being a mentsch.

Steve Brizel said...

Tzvinoach-Take a look at some of the comments of the Gdolim profiled in MOAG. They also did not hesitate to use over the top rhetoric. I think that your analysis of UOJ is an excellent example of what is called moving the goalposts-Instead of dealing with the issue, we dismiss the messenger

SephardiLady said...

I don't at all care for the decorum on UOJ either. But, he is making some valid points and I see no reason to shoot the messenger either.

We have some major issues that need addressed, and I think it is best to address the issues rather than focus on the messenger(s).

TzviNoach said...

I am not shooting the messenger. I'm just objecting to your characterizing him as a "Ben Torah." His writing shows otherwise.

I have no way of knowing if anything OUJ claims is true or not, and it's not useful for me to speculate.

I agree 100% with SL that we have some major issues to address. IMO, the way to address them is to focus on getting our schools to adopt standard policies and procedures, with full accountability, for preventing and dealing with these issues. Every staff member, parent and child needs to know what is acceptable and what is not, what are the procedures for acting on something unacceptable if it occurs, and what are the consequences if something occurs (as well as for false allegations). These need to be spelled out clearly, in every single yeshiva.

Allegations of past abuses are much more difficult to deal with. It is very hard to discern the truth, for all our outrage and amateur speculation. It is also hard to find anyone to investigate these claims who does not have some stake in the matter (including rabbonim, child welfare advocates, and everyone in between).

frum said...

maybe a blog of alleged/suspected molesters is order to protect our children.

better safe than sorry

watch out!

I don't think you''l want your name on the list.