The issue is that they do NOT make hotline reports when they SUSPECT a child is at risk of harm. They say they don't because of confidentiality issues. The laws in NY are not the same as in other states. Unfortunately, until they change this policy The Awareness Center can not use them as a resource and suggests that those looking for help go. –– Vicki Polin
By Michael Orbach
The Jewish Star - March 12, 2010/ 26 Adar 5770
Kal Holczler and Melanie Curtin, managing director of Voices of Dignity
A new organization is aiming for a softer edge in helping survivors of sexual abuse.
Much of the success of Voices of Dignity, as it will be known, will depend on the charisma of founder Kal Holczler, 27. With blue eyes and a trim beard, it seems like he would blend right into the pages of GQ, rather than the sordid world of abused children. The organization hopes to work in the Orthodox community to prevent sexual abuse from within. Their approach is based on Holczler’s own life.
Sitting in a Starbucks across the street from where the trial of Boruch Mordechai Lebovits ended with a conviction on March 9, Holczler told a story that has become now disturbingly familiar. The son of a prominent Chasidic family, he grew up in the town of New Square. As an adolescent he was sexually abused by a rabbi and then again by a community member close to New Square’s religious leader.
“He would drive [us] to the Refuah Health Center. He’d lock the door and go upstairs to one of the doctor’s office and do his duty…Over the last 40 years he has abused hundreds of people that I’m now in communication with,” Holczler explained. “I started running away when I was nine.”
Soon after, he was sent to the first of a number of yeshivas in Brooklyn and Monsey. Eventually, like so many other survivors of abuse, he fell into drugs and petty theft. He ended up in Israel on a program for troubled teens, but found he kept to the same pattern there. The head of the program was eventually sent to prison for molesting his own daughters.
“Those abusers, given the nature of the community, are usually the ones who are paying attention to us,” he related.
Holczler left Judaism completely for the next few years.
“I was selling drugs, stealing, trying to not remember what happened. I attempted suicide,” he said.
As his drug use intensified, friends and family convinced him to attend a drug rehabilitation program upstate. Newly sober, he met with rabbis who he said gave him a transformative experience.
“They showed me something I had never experienced: compassion and willingness to help people who have gone through sexual abuse or who come from traumatic experiences. Not just judging,” he said.
Holczler eventually returned to Israel, to Aish HaTorah, and took night classes to become a substance abuse counselor and began working with Jewish survivors of sexual abuse. He has spent the last few years working in different abuse programs in the United States. Phone calls from victims just like him kept on coming.
Six months ago, after hearing from a relative who was abused in New Square, Holczler returned to New York to found Voices of Dignity.
“It’s not the case that everyone in the Chasidic community wants to cover up sexual abuse,” he maintained. “That’s been put in the papers for the last year and a half. People in the Orthodox community are eager to deal with sexual abuse, even to put people in prison or to send them to treatment.”
He says that the community is hampered by a lack of knowledge about the prevalence of sexual abuse inside the community, as well as how to recognize and deal with it.
“People who have authority … are not even educated in what to look for and how it’s affecting people,” he said. “So far, [it’s] been my experience, if we can get them the funding and introduce the program they think they can implement then the chances are big.”
Voices of Dignity’s first goal is to coordinate pre-existing organizations inside the community. They arranged for an advertising campaign for Sovri Helpline as well as a new hotline number. They plan to work closely with the police, but said that for the community, wide-scale reporting of abuse is “a long way from that.”
“It’s heading in that direction,” he said. “If you have a critical mass when it is acceptable to talk about [sexual abuse], but not acceptable to keep it under the radar, then things will start changing.”
“Kal’s strength lies in his ability to work with such a broad array of people, from Chassidic to secular Jews, from professionals to at risk-teenagers, from law enforcement to victims,” said Asher Lipner, a psychologist in the Orthodox community. “He epitomizes the saying of the rabbis, ‘Who is the wise man? He who learns from every person.’”
So far, Holczler’s work has even brought him back to his own hometown where he met with the man who sexually abused him.
“The only remorse he showed was he was willing to pay to have it go away,” he said.
But, Holczler said, he’s not going anywhere.