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Table of Contents:
- Regarding "Voices of Dignity", SOVRI Helpline and Kal Holczler (04/21/2010)
- Declaration of the Rights of the Child
- WARNING: VIDEO - This is an organization that has leaders who may be dangerous to women (04/21/2010)
- Victims’ advocate accused of misconduct Several groups severs ties with colleague over allegations (04/23/2010)
- The Story of A (Sexual Violence) Victim's Advocate
Regarding "Voices of Dignity", SOVRI Helpline and Kal Holczler
The Awareness Center's Daily Newsletter - April 21, 2010
Over the last month The Awareness Center has done its best to work with Kal Holczler’s new organization, Voices of Dignity. Due to concerns about both the safety of adult and child survivors of sexual abuse/assault we have no option but to sever our ties.
One of the many issues we have with this new group includes the fact that Voices of Dignity has strong ties to the SOVRI Helpline/hotline (Support Orthodox Victims of Rape and Incest).
The SOVRI Helpline is an organization whose policy is not to make hotline reports in cases where they suspect a child is at risk of harm. They have been justifying this by saying that since they are a volunteer based organization, they are not mandated to report. They fear that no one will utilize their services if they do the right thing, and protect children when they suspect they are at risk of harm and or neglect. The Awareness Center is also an all volunteer based organization, and our policy is to always make reports and let law enforcement and or child protective services make the determination if something is wrong. Throughout the history of our organization we have found that those who call us find it comforting to know that we do everything in our power to ensure children have the opportunity to grow up in abuse free environments.
It is also important to note that according to several halachic authorities all Jews, regardless if stipulated by American law, are considered mandated reporters.
One would think that organizations like Voices for Dignity and the SOVRI Helpline, who say they care about ending sexual abuse/assault in the orthodox world, would take the high road and do everything in their power to ensure orthodox Jewish children’s civil rights are protected and report all suspicions that a child is at risk of harm would be reported.
SOVRI was originally created many years ago and then folded. It was revived again back in 2008 as a reaction to the hotline/recorded message put out weekly by Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg, who was encouraging members of the ultra orthodox community to make hotline reports and work with law enforcement officials.
Unfortunately, SOVRI has many ties to Ohel, which is a mental health agency based in Brooklyn, NY. This is an organization that receives federal funding, yet their policy is to discourage individuals from making hotline reports when they suspect a child is at risk of harm. The four key players in this “helpline" include: Chaya Mermerstein, LCSW and Cheryl Friedman, LCSW, both of Beth Israel's staff and psychotherapist Yoni Hikind, LMSW. The original founder of the organization is Bassya Littman.
SOVRI’s halachic advisor is rabbi Dovid Cohen. For those of you who are unaware, rabbi Cohen is also the halachic advisor for Ohel. Please watch the youtube video of David Mandel, who is the CEO of Ohel providing an educational seminar in Baltimore, in which he gives false information relating to sexual abuse survivors and discourages the audience from protecting children: "Is David Mandel A Mandated Reporter"
“Places a near-exclusive emphasis on women’s pleasure — in which love, romance and even flirtation are not required. The group has retreats in which about a dozen women, naked from the waist down, lie with eyes closed in a velvet-curtained room, while clothed men huddle over them, stroking them in a ritual known as orgasmic meditation — “OMing,” for short. The couples, who may or may not be romantically involved, call one another “research partners.”
A commune dedicated to men and women publicly creating “the orgasm that exists between them,” in the words of one resident, may sound like the ultimate California satir.”
The Awareness Center believes consenting adults have a right to privacy and that what one finds as healing in one’s private life should remain private. The issue The Awareness Center has is that Kal Holczler has been allegedly coaching unsuspecting female survivors with his techniques in the guise of healing them from sexual trauma. Holczler is not a licensed mental health professional nor does he have any degrees in the field or certifications as a rape crisis counselor. He is not being provided clinical supervision by any qualified individual.
Declaration of the Rights of the Child
(Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on November 20, 1959)
Proclaims this Declaration of the Rights of the Child to the end that he may have a happy childhood and enjoy for his own good and for the good of society the rights and freedoms herein set forth, and calls upon parents, upon men and women as individuals, and upon voluntary organizations, local authorities and national Governments to recognize these rights and strive for their observance by legislative and other measures progressively taken in accordance with the following principles:
Principle 1 The child shall enjoy all the rights set forth in this Declaration. Every child, without any exception whatsoever, shall be entitled to these rights, without distinction or discrimination on account of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, whether of himself or of his family.
Principle 2 The child shall enjoy special protection, and shall be given opportunities and facilities, by law and by other means, to enable him to develop physically, mentally, morally, spiritually and socially in a healthy and normal manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity. In the enactment of laws for this purpose, the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration.
Principle 3 The child shall be entitled from his birth to a name and a nationality.
Principle 4 The child shall enjoy the benefits of social security. He shall be entitled to grow and develop in health; to this end, special care and protection shall be provided both to him and to his mother, including adequate prenatal and postnatal care. The child shall have the right to adequate nutrition, housing, recreation and medical services.
Principle 5 The child who is physically, mentally or socially handicapped shall be given the special treatment, education and care required by his particular condition.
Principle 6 The child, for the full and harmonious development of his personality, needs love and understanding. He shall, wherever possible, grow up in the care and under the responsibility of his parents, and, in any case, in an atmosphere of affection and of moral and material security; a child of tender years shall not, save in exceptional circumstances, be separated from his mother. Society and the public authorities shall have the duty to extend particular care to children without a family and to those without adequate means of support. Payment of State and other assistance towards the maintenance of children of large families is desirable.
Principle 7 The child is entitled to receive education, which shall be free and compulsory, at least in the elementary stages. He shall be given an education which will promote his general culture and enable him, on a basis of equal opportunity, to develop his abilities, his individual judgement, and his sense of moral and social responsibility, and to become a useful member of society.
The best interests of the child shall be the guiding principle of those responsible for his education and guidance; that responsibility lies in the first place with his parents.
The child shall have full opportunity for play and recreation, which should be directed to the same purposes as education; society and the public authorities shall endeavour to promote the enjoyment of this right.
Principle 8 The child shall in all circumstances be among the first to receive protection and relief.
Principle 9 The child shall be protected against all forms of neglect, cruelty and exploitation. He shall not be the subject of traffic, in any form.
The child shall not be admitted to employment before an appropriate minimum age; he shall in no case because or permitted to engage in any occupation or employment which would prejudice his health or education, or interfere with his physical, mental or moral development.
Principle 10 The child shall be protected from practices which may foster racial, religious and any other form of discrimination. He shall be brought up in a spirit of understanding, tolerance, friendship among peoples, peace and universal brotherhood, and in full consciousness that his energy and talents should be devoted to the service of his fellow men.
The Awareness Center's Daily Newsletter - April 21, 2010
Victims’ advocate accused of misconduct
Several groups severs ties with colleague over allegations
by Michael Orbach
The Jewish Star - April 23, 2010/ 9 Iyar, 5770
Vicki Polin, CEO of the Awareness Center, an organization devoted to combating sexual abuse in the Jewish community, sent an email blast to her supporters in which she warned about a charismatic new activist, Kal Holczler.
Holczler founded Voices of Dignity, an organization with goals similar to her own, but the Awareness Center, Polin wrote, would be severing all ties with Voices of Dignity. (Holczler was profiled in The Jewish Star on March 12.) She cited a number of reasons.
The first, Polin said, is Voices of Dignity’s association with SOVRI, the Support Orthodox Victims of Rape and Incest Helpline, based out of Beth Israel Medical Center.
“The SOVRI Helpline is an organization whose policy is not to make hotline reports in cases where they suspect a child is at risk of harm,” she wrote. “They have been justifying this by saying that since they are a volunteer based organization, they are not mandated to report.”
Given the extensive cover-ups of sexual abuse that have occurred in the Jewish community, activists consider failing to report to be a grievous offense.
“They fear that no one will utilize their services if they do the right thing, and protect children when they suspect they are at risk of harm and or neglect,” Polin wrote.
Polin saved her most serious allegations for last. Holczler and Voices of Dignity’s managing director, Melanie Curtin, have “current and past connection” with a San Francisco-based movement called One Taste, which promotes a form of deviant sexual behavior. More importantly and more dangerously, Polin concluded, “Holczler has been allegedly coaching unsuspecting female survivors with his techniques in the guise of healing them from sexual trauma. Holczler is not a licensed mental health professional nor does he have any degrees in the field or certifications as a rape crisis counselor.”
Rabbi Yosef Blau, mashgiach ruchani of Yeshiva University, and one of the leading rabbinical figures in raising sexual abuse awareness, also weighed in.
“I have been told by reliable sources,” he wrote on the Frumfollies blog, “that Kal Holczler has behaved improperly with survivors of abuse whom he was ‘helping.’”
Ben Hirsch, president of Survivors for Justice, another advocacy organization, told The Jewish Star that “while we have no direct knowledge of the facts here, any allegations of improper boundary crossing must be taken seriously.”
“Clearly such behavior can never be tolerated,” he continued. “It is incumbent upon those of us who have spent years painstakingly working on this issue to be vigilant in protecting the integrity of this effort.”
Polin met Holczler at an advocacy event called Male Survivor’s Conference; Polin had invited him to speak on their panel. She was taken by his charisma, she said, although she was also alarmed by Holczler’s willingness to work with SOVRI. She asked Holczler to respond to her concerns but said that he never did.
Polin was not at liberty to discuss the allegations of sexual misconduct against Holczler, she said.
“There’s allegations of him being inappropriate with people whom he has been counseling,” she explained. “I could not write or send something out unless I had enough information.”
She struck a note of compassion for Holczler’s situation: “I mean, he’s a survivor [of sexual abuse] and like any other survivors we have our struggles and issues. It’s obvious that Kal has issues that haven’t been resolved and worked through. Is his behavior criminal? That would be up to a court. Was he being sexually reactive? I don’t know. He obviously needs help… My hope is he’ll get help and everything will be okay. I’m scared. I don’t want anyone to get hurt,” Polin said.
In her letter Polin stated that Holczler and Curtin are entitled to do whatever they want, but the allegations are no less strange given Polin’s own history. On May 1, 1989, Polin appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show claiming that she was a survivor of a Jewish ritual satanic cult (the clip is available on YouTube). Polin, who went by the name Rachel, spoke about how she and her family sacrificed babies to the devil.
“Does everyone else think it’s a nice Jewish family?” Oprah asked? “From the outside, you appear to be a nice Jewish girl?” Polin responded that there were several other Jewish families like hers, though she added, “Not all Jewish people sacrifice babies. I mean, it’s not a very typical thing.”
The Anti-Defamation League criticized Oprah over the program. Since then, the video has been linked to a variety of anti-Semitic websites as ‘proof’ about Jewish Satanic cults.
Polin won’t discuss her appearance on the Oprah show, except “with law enforcement who are investigating the case.” However, she forwarded The Jewish Star information about her appearance gathered by Luke Ford, a blogger in Los Angeles. Everyone involved in The Awareness Center is aware of her appearance, she says, which took place some 20 years ago. Several volunteers run the organization out of Polin’s home in Baltimore.
“The majority of people who go into the mental health field go into it for different things that happened in their life, not necessarily sexual abuse,” Polin asserted. “The same thing with people who go into law enforcement – someone touched by some kind of crime.”
The Awareness Center’s website functions as a morbid Who’s-Who of Jewish sexual abuse offenders. Most activists regard Polin as a key player in raising awareness of sexual abuse.
“On some levels I think if it wasn’t for Vicki there wouldn’t be much of an advocacy program in the Jewish community,” said Dr. Michael Salamon, a Hewlett-based psychologist who serves on the board of The Awareness Center and is also an occasional contributor to The Jewish Star.
“There is no doubt that Vicki has put in many years under very difficult circumstances working for people who were abused in the community and has contributed a great deal helping individuals and creating the growing awareness of the seriousness of the problem and the need for communal change,” said Rabbi Blau.
Holczler said he was “shocked” by Polin’s email and flatly denied having any improper relationships with other survivors.
“I’m not claiming to treat anyone, I’m not even giving an endorsement. I showed up in New York and I started listening,” Holczler told The Jewish Star on Thursday.
He defended his relationship with SOVRI. ” They’re a professional organization. It’s legitimate; it’s run by certified mental health professionals,” Holczler said.
Cheryl Friedman, co-coordinator of the SOVRI Helpline and a clinical social worker at the Beth Israel Medical Center in Brooklyn, where SOVRI is based, called Polin’s complaints, “unfounded.”
“Her bone of contention is that if there was a child abuse case we would not report it,” said Friedman, said. “At our helpline, we don’t have enough information. For example, we do not know how old our callers are, or where they live; we don’t have Caller ID. There is no mechanism for us to have the information [that] she’s referring to.”
Friedman said she would have been happy to speak with Polin about the issue, “but we were not given the opportunity.” She said that she believed the letter was sent out because Holczler was asked to denounce the SOVRI Hotline and declined to do so.
Friedman has been in touch with Holczler about getting grants to form a coalition of organizations in the Jewish community, she said.
Holczler said that he believes Polin’s letter is a result of a difference of opinion about how to interact with the Orthodox “establishment” of institutions and organizations.
“I cannot avoid or reject the establishment where I want to see the change happen,” Holczler explained. “There are people in the establishment that really want change but need to be educated and need to be held responsible. Today, it’s almost common knowledge someone speaking about sexual abuse has rabbinical support.”
Holczler does not deny his and Curtin’s involvement in One Taste, but said that he has not been a part of the movement in a year and a half.
“I’m aware of the statistics that people who have gone through sexual abuse will have promiscuity in their history and I fall in the same category,” he said. “I’ve made decisions to deal and heal from the abuse [I experienced] growing up in New Square.”
The allegations have spooked at least one of Holczler’s earlier supporters.
“Kal has the potential to play a vital role in the struggle against complacency and cover up in Charedi communities,” said Isaac Schonfeld, a community activist. “Being from a Charedi community gives him the credibility, within those communities, that others don’t have. Being himself a victim of abuse gives him an empathy and understanding that others may lack, but it also too easily leads to dangerous crossings of lines when dealing with other victims of abuse. He correctly notes that he is not a counselor or therapist and therefore most definitely should not be advising victims themselves. Kal has a ‘conquer the world’ youthful dynamism [that is] so important, yet in need of sober direction.”
Holczler said he plans to continue his work in the abuse field.
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