Sunday, January 25, 2009

Jewish Coalition Want Abuse Victims to Speak out

By Carolyn Peirce
January 25, 2009

A Baltimore survivors coalition is starting a public awareness campaign this week to break the silence about the sexual abuse of children within Jewish communities.

The Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Abuse, an international network based out of the Awareness Center in Baltimore, is organizing a series of "speak outs," that are aimed at allowing suppressed survivors of sexual abuse to educate others through their stories. The speak outs start Monday in Brooklyn, N.Y., and will begin in Baltimore Feb. 8.

Rabbi Yaakov Hopfer
Rabbi Yaakov Hopfer speaks at the Glen Avenue Shul.

The coalition also wants local rabbis to implement "safety plans" to protect children from registered sex offenders who are attending services at their synagogues unbeknownst to parents. However, some community members said outing a convicted sex offender is unjust to the offender who already has been punished through the court system.

Cantor Stuart Friedman - Convicted Sex Offender
The coalition recently faced a backlash from Rabbi Yaakov Hopfer, who refuses to notify members of his Glenn Avenue Shul that they attend services with Cantor Stuart Friedman, 54, a registered sex offender in Maryland. Friedman spent time in federal prison for participating in an international child porn ring.

The coalition asked Hopfer to notify parents within the Eruv of Baltimore that Friedman resides in the 6000 block of Clover Road. The coalition also asked to create a special service excluding children under the age of 21, so Friedman can pray "without being tempted," said Vicki Polin, the Awareness Center spokeswoman.

"We don't think our demands are outrageous, because this is someone who's aroused by children. He's dangerous," said Polin, who added that the Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Abuse has "a few thousand members."

Polin said she worries that Friedman could endanger children, possibly by photographing them, if he is not escorted in the synagogue.

The coalition contacted Hopfer with its demands, but "he just slammed down the phone," Polin said.

Hopfer encourages victims to report abuse to a rabbi instead of police, Polin said, and uses the Holocaust to illustrate that "reporting another Jew will bring on more hatred to the Jewish community."

"It's like the Catholic Church all over, but not as large," she said. "They encourage people to come to them rather than authorities, but they don't have education or training in how to handle these things."

Hopfer was reluctant to discuss Polin's allegations in a phone interview, saying he "refuses to cooperate" with the coalition because "they're irresponsible people."

"This is opening up something that I don't want to speak about," he said. When asked if he notified his synagogue of Friedman's criminal record, Hopfer said, "I can only say that we've done everything possible to be responsible, caring people."

Hopfer also denied ever referencing the Holocaust to encourage members of his synagogue to report abuse to a rabbi rather than authorities.

"I've been accused of many things and these allegations don't mean a thing," he said.

Hopfer said he wrote a letter to the community about a year ago "acknowledging that such things exist and people should speak with a professional or a rabbi and sometimes police," but he would not provide a copy of the letter.

Hopfer's message to "sometimes" notify police raised concerns for the Baltimore Jewish Council, which encourages victims to "always report" abuse, said Arthur Abramson, the council's executive director.

"We encourage people to go to the police, and also speak with a rabbi if they need to, because this is a person who has committed a crime and could be dangerous," he said.

Friedman's neighbor, who was too scared to give her name because she also attends the Glen Avenue Shul, said the coalition's demands would only tarnish Friedman's reputation.

"I think the Awareness Center should be going after people who are actually molesting children and not someone who just looked at things on the computer," she said.

Friedman told The Examiner he had no comment.

He has lived in the Orthodox Jewish Baltimore community since May 2007 when he finished a 15-month sentence in federal prison for sending pornography through the mail to an undercover FBI agent in California, according to a March 1999 Los Angeles Times story.

Before that conviction, Friedman was arrested in Nova Scotia, Canada, where he was a cantor at Beth Israel Synagogue leading prayers and teaching children Hebrew lessons.

Canadian authorities suspected Friedman had participated in an international child porn ring, and raided his residence in September 1996 where they found him seated at his computer downloading child pornography from the Internet, according to newspaper reports in the Daily News in Hailfax, Nova Scotia.

Police seized hundreds of images, and dozens of videos depicting children, some as young as 8 years old, performing sexual acts, according to the Daily News.

Canadian authorities said no evidence existed that indicated Friedman was physically involved with children in the synagogue or in the material seized.

He pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography and received a $2,000 fine before he was deported to the United States and arrested on federal child porn charges.

Friedman stood trial in Los Angeles and could have faced up to 15 years, but his attorney, Marcia Brewer, successfully argued the punishment down to 15 months in prison and three years of probation, according to the Awareness Center.

Brewer also persuaded the judge to remove the requirement that Friedman disclose his child-pornography conviction to parents of anyone younger than 18 with whom he has contact because the pornography didn't include boys younger than 12, according to the Awareness Center.

Brewers argued that the pornography Friedman mailed to the FBI agent only depicted boys over the age of 12.

Friedman, who was listed as noncompliant for more than a year on the Maryland Sex Offender Registry, is now considered in compliance.

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