Saturday, November 22, 2003

More faith communities struggle with alleged child sexual abuse

Ragsdale: More faith communities struggle with alleged child sexual abuse
By SHIRLEY RAGSDALE, Register Religion Editor
Des Moines Register - November 22, 2003

American Jews have joined Catholics and United Methodists on the list of U.S. denominations that are wrestling with how to deal with allegations of child sexual abuse.
This year, the Rabbinical Council of America joined the other three Jewish denominations in voting to report allegations of child abuse to the police. 

Prompted in part by the case of a rabbi, whose appearance in Des Moines was cancelled earlier this month, the rabbinical council reversed a long-standing Orthodox practice of protecting accused rabbis or trying to take care of scandal internally. The organization's ethics policy is being rewritten with the help of mental health professionals and survivors of clergy sexual misconduct. 

It's a huge step forward for a faith tradition with a history of persecution. That history undoubtedly contributed to an ancient Jewish prohibition called a Mesirah, a mandate that no Jew should betray another Jew to civil authorities. 

The urge to stifle scandal and preserve the status quo has been a common reaction for congregations that are confronted by allegations of sexual abuse of children by clergy. But it's a bad choice that ill-serves everyone involved - the victims, the accused, the congregation and the community. 

Resorting to secrecy got the Boston Catholic Archdiocese in trouble, because when 50 years of accumulated accusations of sexual misconduct poured out over six months, it exaggerated the scope of the problem. 

A similar reaction by a Winnipeg, Canada, Jewish congregation to allegations of child sexual abuse has permanently scarred the synagogue, the victims, their families and the alleged abuser. 

Beth El Jacob Synagogue on Nov. 13 cancelled the appearance of New York Rabbi Ephraim Bryks because of an e-mail campaign to alert Iowans that Bryks was accused of molesting children nearly 20 years ago when he was the leader of a Canadian synagogue and Jewish day school. 

Like the Boston Catholic cases, the charges are decades old. 

Like the Catholic cases, synagogue leaders did their best to hush things up. 

Instead of immediately asking police or child and family services to investigate, they held an internal "investigation." A number of meetings were held which reportedly disintegrated into yelling matches between the families of the victims and the rabbi's supporters. 

Winnipeg social services agencies didn't get the case until later, after the congregation had taken sides and possibly victims had been intimidated. No criminal charges were filed. But investigators said Bryks' actions were inappropriate and unprofessional. 

Bryks has always denied he did anything wrong. He left Canada in 1990 and settled in New York where he worked as a principal and a teacher. This year he resigned from the Rabbinical Council of America after some members sought his ouster. 

Victoria Polin, founder, and Na'ama Yehuda, advisory board member of The Awareness Center, an international organization dedicated to addressing sexual abuse in Jewish communities, have said that Jews carry an extra burden when it comes to going public with a sex scandal. 

"Over the years there have been many reasons why the Jewish community kept silent about sexual crimes committed by individuals in our community," Polin wrote on her Web site "There is a large number of hate groups that would love to promote their propaganda on their Web pages and in publications by posting information about Jews who molest. Their eagerness is a reminder that anti-Semitism is alive and thriving." 

Additionally, some fervently Orthodox congregations feel bound by the Mesirah, that no Jew should betray another Jew to civil authorities. 

The prohibition arose because Jews have lived under autocratic governments and biased judicial systems for much of their history. Informing could lead to dangerous persecution of the entire Jewish community. 

Congregations relied on the judgment of special Jewish courts to settle disputes and deal out punishment. While those courts still exist, their power is limited, according to Rabbi David Jay Kaufman of Temple B'nai Jeshurun in Des Moines. 

"These special courts operated with authorities from civil authorities," Kaufman said. "They dealt with Jewish law, which many times was more stringent than secular law. It was useful for keeping community social structures intact." 

While the local Jewish community is still mindful of anti-Semitism and avoiding scandal, it would be unconscionable for anyone in the Jewish faith tradition to hesitate to report a child abuse situation today, Kaufman said. 

"In some states, clergy are required to report suspicions of child abuse," Kaufman said. "As far as I'm concerned, it is a good thing. My primary concern is for the children. The people who do this kind of thing usually don't have just one victim, so if you don't do something to stop them, you are endangering other children. I can't think of a reason that would morally or ethically make it allowable not to report." 

The work of Jewish leaders who share Kaufman's attitude toward reporting child abuse and the Orthodox community's decision to embrace a reporting policy show an "ongoing maturation process for the community in general to have the courage and determination to act aggressively against problems which have always been with us," said Rabbi Mark Dratch, who authored the Rabbinical Council resolution. 

"A lot of factors are forcing us to deal with (child abuse) to assert leadership and not just to look for cover," Dratch told The Jewish Week. "We need to do what is necessary for the welfare of the community and the integrity of the Torah."

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Biderman's Chart of Coercion (Mind Control and Cults)

Biderman's Chart of Coercion
(reprinted by Permission)

Most people who brainwash...use methods similar to those of prison guards who recognize that physical control is never easily accomplished without the cooperation of the prisoner. The most effective way to gain that cooperation is through subversive manipulation of the mind and feelings of the victim, who then becomes a psychological, as well as a physical, prisoner. (from an Amnesty International publication, "Report on Torture", which depicts the brainwashing of prisoners of war.

Deprives individual of social support, effectively rendering him unable to resist
Makes individual dependent upon interrogator
Develops an intense concern with self.

Once a person is away from longstanding emotional support and thus reality checks, it is fairly easy to set a stage for brainwashing. Spiritually abusive groups work to isolate individuals from friends and family, whether directly, by requiring the individuals to forsake friends and family for the sake of the "Kingdom" (group membership), or indirectly, by preaching the necessity to demonstrate one's love for God by "hating" one's father, mother, family, friends.
Abusive groups are not outward-looking, but inward-looking, insisting that members find all comfort and support and a replacement family within the group. Cut off from friends, relatives, previous relationships, abusive groups surround the recruits and hammer rigid ideologies into their consciousness, saturating their senses with specific doctrines and requirements of the group.
Isolated from everyone but those within the group, recruits become dependent upon group members and leaders and find it difficult if not impossible to offer resistance to group teachings. They become self-interested and hyper-vigilant, very fearful should they incur the disapproval of the group, which now offers the only support available to them which has group approval.

Warning signs
The seed of extremism exists wherever a group demands all the free time of a member, insisting he be in church every time the doors are open and calling him to account if he isn't, is critical or disapproving of involvements with friends and family outside the group, encourages secrecy by asking that members not share what they have seen or heard in meetings or about church affairs with outsiders, is openly, publicly, and repeatedly critical of other churches or groups (especially if the group claims to be the only one which speaks for God), is critical when members attend conferences, workshops or services at other churches, checks up on members in any way, i.e., to determine that the reason they gave for missing a meeting was valid, or makes attendance at all church functions mandatory for participating in church ministry or enjoying other benefits of church fellowship.
Once a member stops interacting openly with others, the group's influence is all that matters. He is bombarded with group values and information and there is no one outside the group with whom to share thoughts or who will offer reinforcement or affirmation if the member disagrees with or doubts the values of the group. The process of isolation and the self-doubt it creates allow the group and its leaders to gain power over the members. Leaders may criticize major and minor flaws of members, sometimes publicly, or remind them of present or past sins. They may call members names, insult them or ignore them, or practice a combination of ignoring members at some times and receiving them warmly at others, thus maintaining a position of power (i.e., the leaders call the shots.)
The sense of humiliation makes members feel they deserve the poor treatment they are receiving and may cause them to allow themselves to be subjected to any and all indignities out of gratefulness that one as unworthy as they feel is allowed to participate in the group at all. When leaders treat the member well occasionally, they accept any and all crumbs gratefully. Eventually, awareness of how dependent they are on the group and gratitude for the smallest attention contributes to an increasing sense of shame and degradation on the part of the members, who begin to abuse themselves with "litanies of self-blame," i.e., "No matter what they do to me, I deserve it, as sinful and wretched as I am. I deserve no better. I have no rights but to go to hell. I should be grateful for everything I receive, even punishment."

Monopolization of Perception

Fixes attention upon immediate predicament; fosters introspection
Eliminates stimuli competing with those controlled by captor
Frustrates all actions not consistent with compliance
Abusive groups insist on compliance with trivial demands related to all facets of life: food, clothing, money, household arrangements, children, conversation. They monitor members' appearances, criticize language and child care practices. They insist on precise schedules and routines, which may change and be contradictory from day to day or moment to moment, depending on the whims of group leaders.

At first, new members may think these expectations are unreasonable and may dispute them, but later, either because they want to be at peace or because they are afraid, or because everyone else is complying, they attempt to comply. After all, what real difference does it make if a member is not allowed to wear a certain color, or to wear his hair in a certain way, to eat certain foods, or say certain words, to go certain places, watch certain things, or associate with certain individuals. In the overall scheme of things, does it really matter? In fact, in the long run, the member begins to reason, it is probably good to learn these disciplines, and after all, as they have frequently been reminded, they are to submit to spiritual authority as unto the Lord.. Soon it becomes apparent that the demands will be unending, and increasing time and energy are focused on avoiding group disapproval by doing something "wrong." There is a feeling of walking on eggs. Everything becomes important in terms of how the group or its leaders will respond, and members' desires, feelings and ideas become insignificant. Eventually, members may no longer even know what they want, feel or think. The group has so monopolized all of the members' perceptions with trivial demands that members lose their perspective as to the enormity of the situation they are in.
The leaders may also persuade the members that they have the inside track with God and therefore know how everything should be done. When their behavior results in disastrous consequences, as it often does, the members are blamed. Sometimes the leaders may have moments, especially after abusive episodes, when they appear to humble themselves and confess their faults, and the contrast of these moments of vulnerability with their usual pose of being all-powerful endears them to members and gives hope for some open communication.

Threats sometimes accompany all of these methods. Members are told they will be under God's judgment, under a curse, punished, chastised, chastened if they leave the group or disobey group leaders. Sometimes the leaders, themselves, punish the members, and so members can never be sure when leaders will make good on the threats which they say are God's idea. The members begin to focus on what they can do to meet any and all group demands and how to preserve peace in the short run. Abusive groups may remove children from their parents, control all the money in the group, arrange marriages, destroy personal items of members or hide personal items.

Warning signs:

Preoccupation with trivial demands of daily life, demanding strict compliance with standards of appearance, dress codes, what foods are or are not to be eaten and when, schedules, threats of God's wrath if group rules are not obeyed, a feeling of being monitored, watched constantly by those in the group or by leaders. In other words, what the church wants, believes and thinks its members should do becomes everything, and you feel preoccupied with making sure you are meeting the standards. It no longer matters whether you agree that the standards are correct, only that you follow them and thus keep the peace and in the good graces of leaders.

Induced Debility and Exhaustion
People subjected to this type of spiritual abuse become worn out by tension, fear and continual rushing about in an effort to meet group standards. They must often avoid displays of fear, sorrow or rage, since these may result in ridicule or punishment. Rigid ministry demands and requirements that members attend unreasonable numbers of meetings and events makes the exhaustion and ability to resist group pressure even worse.

Warning Signs:
Feelings of being overwhelmed by demands, close to tears, guilty if one says no to a request or goes against a church standards. Being intimidated or pressured into volunteering for church duties and subjected to scorn or ridicule when one does not "volunteer." Being rebuked or reproved when family or work responsibilities intrude on church responsibilities.

Occasional Indulgences
  • Provides motivation for compliance
Leaders of abusive groups often sense when members are making plans to leave and may suddenly offer some kind of indulgence, perhaps just love or affection, attention where there was none before, a note or a gesture of concern. Hope that the situation in the church will change or self doubt ("Maybe I'm just imagining it's this bad,") then replace fear or despair and the members decide to stay a while longer. Other groups practice sporadic demonstrations of compassion or affection right in the middle of desperate conflict or abusive episodes. This keeps members off guard and doubting their own perceptions of what is happening.

Some of the brainwashing techniques described are extreme, some groups may use them in a disciplined, regular manner while others use them more sporadically. But even mild, occasional use of these techniques is effective in gaining power.

Warning Signs:
Be concerned if you have had an ongoing desire to leave a church or group you believe may be abusive, but find yourself repeatedly drawn back in just at the moment you are ready to leave, by a call, a comment or moment of compassion. These moments, infrequent as they may be, are enough to keep hope in change alive and thus you sacrifice years and years to an abusive group.

Devaluing the Individual
  • Creates fear of freedom and dependence upon captors
  • Creates feelings of helplessness
  • Develops lack of faith in individual capabilities
Abusive leaders are frequently uncannily able to pick out traits church members are proud of and to use those very traits against the members. Those with natural gifts in the areas of music may be told they are proud or puffed up or "anxious to be up front" if they want to use their talents and denied that opportunity. Those with discernment are called judgmental or critical, the merciful are lacking in holiness or good judgment, the peacemakers are reminded the Lord came to bring a sword, not peace. Sometimes efforts are made to convince members that they really are not gifted teachers or musically talented or prophetically inclined as they believed they were. When members begin to doubt the one or two special gifts they possess which they have always been sure were God-given, they begin to doubt everything else they have ever believed about themselves, to feel dependent upon church leaders and afraid to leave the group. ("If I've been wrong about even *that*, how can I ever trust myself to make right decisions ever again?").

Warning Signs:
Unwillingness to allow members to use their gifts. Establishing rigid boot camp-like requirements for the sake of proving commitment to the group before gifts may be exercised. Repeatedly criticizing natural giftedness by reminding members they must die to their natural gifts, that Paul, after all, said, "When I'm weak, I'm strong," and that they should expect God to use them in areas other than their areas of giftedness. Emphasizing helps or service to the group as a prerequisite to church ministry. This might take the form of requiring that anyone wanting to serve in any way first have the responsibility of cleaning toilets or cleaning the church for a specified time, that anyone wanting to sing in the worship band must first sing to the children in Sunday School, or that before exercising any gifts at all, members must demonstrate loyalty to the group by faithful attendance at all functions and such things as tithing. No consideration is given to the length of time a new member has been a Christian or to his age or station in life or his unique talents or abilities. The rules apply to everyone alike. This has the effect of reducing everyone to some kind of lowest common denominator where no one's gifts or natural abilities are valued or appreciated, where the individual is not cherished for the unique blessing he or she is to the body of Christ, where what is most highly valued is service, obedience, submission to authority, and performance without regard to gifts or abilities or, for that matter, individual limitations.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Rabbi's visit canceled amid abuse allegations

Rabbi's visit canceled amid abuse allegations
The Jewish community in D.M. received e-mails accusing the man of a history of child abuse.
By SHIRLEY RAGSDALE, Register Religion Editor
Des Moines Register - November 14, 2003

A Des Moines orthodox synagogue has canceled the appearance of a prominent New York rabbi scheduled to speak this weekend, after the Des Moines Jewish community was barraged with e-mails suggesting the guest speaker had a history of child abuse. 

Rabbi Ari Sytner of Beth El Jacob Synagogue had invited Rabbi Ephraim Bryks of Richmond Hill, N.Y., to speak at an event today. Bryks had spoken twice before in Des Moines at Sytner's invitation. 

Members of a victims advocacy network found the announcement on and sent messages to the newspaper and members of the Iowa Jewish community, said a member of that network. 

Bryks would not speak to a Register reporter Thursday, but in a May article in a New York newspaper denied the allegations, which are more than 20 years old. Despite the fact that he's never been charged with child abuse, Bryks said in the article that the allegations are like a ghost trailing him from city to city, school to school. 

And to Des Moines. 

"Rabbi and Mrs. Bryks have visited our community twice before in the last few years (before we knew of the allegations), and they were welcomed, loved and respected by all that met them," Sytner said Wednesday in a written statement. 

"Nonetheless, I still have absolutely no basis for determining this man's guilt or innocence, and unfortunately with the program scheduled for this weekend, time is not on our side to further investigate. As a result, I have decided to cancel Rabbi Bryks' trip to Des Moines until we can further clarify the matter." 

When approached about the e-mail messages earlier this week, Sytner said he believed it was a case of mistaken identity, noting that Ephraim Bryks is a common Jewish name. After Sytner received forwarded e-mails from "all over the country," he decided to cancel Bryks' trip. 

One of the early e-mails came from the executive director and founder of The Awareness Center, an international organization dedicated to advocacy and education on sexual abuse in Jewish communities. Founder Victoria Polin said Bryks is one of about 100 alleged abusers whose names are posted on the center's Web site. 

"Pedophilia has no religion," Polin said. "Some Jewish communities are 30 years behind the times in terms of addressing sexual abuse. In some Orthodox communities, they do not watch TV or read the newspapers. All they know is what the rabbi tells them. Someone has to speak out because nobody listens to the victims." 

The allegations stem from a period in the late 1980s when Bryks was the leader at a Winnipeg, Canada, Jewish day school and congregation, according to The Jewish Tribune, a publication of B'nai Brith Canada. 

According to various media reports, Bryks was accused of abusing five Winnipeg students, including a 17-year-old boy who committed suicide in 1994 after talking about the alleged abuse with his parents and police. 

A 1988 report by the government agency, Winnipeg South Child and Family Services on a 14-year-old girl's allegations, said there was no evidence to support a finding of criminal wrongdoing, but said Bryks' interaction with female students was inappropriate. A year later, parents of a young boy took a sex abuse complaint to Winnipeg police. The allegations were investigated, but there was insufficient evidence to bring criminal charges, according to a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation documentary. 

Bryks left Canada in 1990, relocating in New York, where the allegations blocked his hiring by at least one congregation and forced his ouster from at least one other, according to the New York newspaper. 

Attempts have been made to remove Bryks from the Queens, N.Y., Va'ad Harabonim, a council of rabbis that makes important decisions in the borough. 

Earlier this year, Bryks resigned from the Rabbinical Council of America under criticism. In June, the 1,200-member Rabbinical Council voted to report acts or suspicions of child abuse to the police, a break from a longstanding practice of protecting errant rabbis rather than reporting them to civil authorities, according to reports in The Jewish Week newspaper.

The Carlebach Phenomenon

The Carlebach Phenomenon
The Awareness Center's Daily Newsletter - November 14, 2003

Marcia Cohn Spiegel of Los Angeles, has studied addiction and sexual abuse in the Jewish community and has spoken to some 60 groups through Brandeis University, the University of Judaism, the Havurah Institute, along with many Jewish women's organizations, synagogues and Jewish community centers. She doesn't mention Rabbi Carlebach at all in her talks. Following such talks, women come up to her, even in the women's bathroom, to pour out their own stories, she says, "not seeking publicity or revenge, but coming from a place of shame and isolation." Consistently through the years women have come forward to share their stories explicitly about Rabbi Carlebach, Speigel says.

Spiegel states that in the years years, a number of women have approached her "in private and often with deep-seated pain" about experiences they had when they were in their teens. "Shlomo came to their camp, their center, their synagogue," she wrote, "He singled them out with some excuse...Getting them alone, he fondled their breasts and vagina, sometimes thrusting himself against them muttering something, which they now believe was Yiddish."

The other typical story, she says, is recounted by women who had gone to Rabbi Carlebach, "for help with problems, or who met him when they studied with him. They were in their 20s or 30s when it happened. He would call them late at night (two or three o'clock in the morning) and tell them that he couldn't sleep. He had been thinking of them. He asked, Where were they? What were they wearing?"

The Carlebach phenomenon
by Marion Fischel <>
Jerusalem Post - Nov. 13, 2003

Last Saturday night's Ninth Annual Shlomo Carlebach Yahrzeit Concert at Binyanei Ha'uma was packed to the rafters.

A large crowd of men danced at the right of the stage, spilling over into the adjacent aisles. Still others stood alongside their seats and danced. The crowds sang along with the performers; everybody knew the words; everybody was smiling.

The 2,500 Jews in attendance were from all walks of life and of all ages. They were gathered to celebrate the life and commemorate the passing of the "singing rabbi" who inspired so many.

"This year's concert was the best ever," said Aura Wolfe, 45. "The participants performed his music as opposed to their own versions of his songs and melodies."

In the previous eight years, says Michael Brand, 47, chairman of the Shlomo Foundation, the members of the foundation organized the concert, but this time they decided to hire professional producers Ariel Peli, 29, and Jonty Zwebner, 46, in order to reach the "essence" of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. Feedback from the public indicated that more of a "yahrzeit" feeling was desired, and less of a rock-concert atmosphere.

Zwebner is co-producer of the annual Beit Shemesh Jewish Rock and Soul Festival that takes place during Succot. He also brings musical acts to Club Tzora (at Kibbutz Tzora) on Thursday and Saturday nights.

"We were asked to make the [Carlebach] concert unplugged, more acoustic, less electric, to give it a softer tone," says Zwebner. "We asked the artists to play only original Shlomo material and we concentrated on having a majority of artists who hadn't even known Shlomo but were

One of those performers was 23-year-old Shlomo Katz. Katz also serves as hazan at dozens of Shlomo minyanim around the country.

Today there are nine Shlomo Carlebach synagogues in Israel, five of which are situated within the greater Jerusalem area: Efrat, Ma'aleh Adumim, Mitzpe Yericho, Har Nof, and Beit Shemesh.

Jerusalem also houses Shlomo minyanim in the new Shir Hadash synagogue in Baka, the old Shir Hadash in Nahlaot, at Yakar in the German Colony, and at the Western Wall.

So why is the Carlebach phenomenon even more powerful in the aftermath of Shlomo's passing?

Brand, who both founded and runs the Ma'aleh Adumim Shlomo minyan says it's because, "When Shlomo was around there were no minyanim because Shlomo was the vehicle, he was the one. The only places where his nusah was used were the places where he himself was, which were his synagogues on Manhattan's Upper West Side and on Moshav Mevo Modi'im."

However, The Happy Minyan in Efrat was started by Dovid Zeller, a close follower of Shlomo's, a year before his death. Zeller says he decided to establish the minyan because he became so steeped in Shlomo's melodies and songs, that that was his own preferred way of praying.

"These minyans appeal to people who may be intimidated or feel left out in larger, more traditional synagogues," explains Brand. "The atmosphere that is created and the way people are welcomed reflects the attitude of Carlebach himself. He never sat at the front of the synagogue but rather at the center or the rear and got up to welcome new arrivals personally."

When Shlomo was alive, Brand continues, he was not accepted by mainstream Orthodox, "because he believed that Jews who are lost to their roots are in a situation requiring intensive care, and that the measures that must be taken to ensure their survival cannot always be ordinary ones."

Carlebach was also well-known for going into discotheques and ashrams, and pulling Jews out.

"Of course his very presence in these places was frowned upon by the establishment, who questioned why he was there in the first place and whether he didn't have a personal agenda which pushed him to frequent these places," says Brand.

Carlebach was also generous in the dispensing of hugs - to men and women.

"If he felt someone needed a hug he would give it to them, and often they needed it very badly," says Brand.

Naturally, this was not acceptable halachic behavior and many rabbis would not allow their students to attend Carlebach's concerts or his learning sessions.

"Nevertheless," says Brand, "most religious people recognized that whether or not it was their approach, what he was doing was in fact beneficial to the Jewish people as a whole."

Brand also notes that many of those who were brought back to their roots by Carlebach ended up becoming very Orthodox and even criticizing [Shlomo] for his more liberal-seeming approach.

Yitzhak Attias, a frequent attendee at the Har Nof minyan, says back in the '80s, he used to host Carlebach along with up to 70 of his followers at seuda shlishit meals on the roof of his Old City apartment.

Saturday, November 01, 2003

When A Family Member Molests: Reality, Conflict, and The Need For Support

When A Family Member Molests: Reality, Conflice and The Need For Support 
(© 2003) By Vicki Polin, MA, LCPC, Michael J. Salamon, Ph.D., FICPP, and Na'ama Yehuda, MSC, SLP, TSHH

Among the many issues that need to be addressed when discussing Childhood Sexual Abuse, is the rarely discussed topic of family members of alleged/convicted sex offenders. Family members include spouses, children, parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins, as well as close friends.
It's a tough place to be. Think about it—what would you do if you suspected that someone you are related to or are friends with is being sexually inappropriate with a child? Would you talk to him/her about it? Would you tell another family member or friend? Would you share it with your rabbi? Would your rabbi know what to do? Would you seek professional help or advice? Should you keep quiet to protect your family member or sound the whistle to protect other children? How would your community react if they knew someone in your family molested? Would your community's expected reaction influence any decision you'd make? These are just few of the numerous dilemmas and questions regularly posted to The Awareness Center.
One of our advisory board members recently received a call from a parent of a seventeen-year-old boy. The father was concerned that his son might be abusing a six-year old girl. The little girl is the father's granddaughter and the boy's niece. The father wanted to protect his granddaughter but was deeply conflicted—he didn't want to get his son in trouble. Following a lengthy discussion, the father was advised to report the situation to the authorities, but out of fear for his son chose not to, even though he was still afraid for his granddaughter. Fortunately for the child (and hopefully the teenager boy as well, who also needs help) the father had contacted a professional who is a mandated reporter (an individual who is mandated by law to call a child abuse hotline to report cases of suspected abuse), and a report was made. However, what if this father contacted someone else, someone who was not a mandated reporter, or someone who was a mandated reporter yet decided to overlook their legal obligation and accede to this father's fears for his seventeen-year-old son and his promise to keep the son away from the granddaughter? Granted, the father may be successful in keeping his grandchild safe, but by doing so he would open the door for his son to seek out other victims, let alone prevent his son from getting much needed help.
In another case, years of allegations of sexual misconduct have been brought up against a rabbi from a prominent family. The first allegations were made when he was a still teenager—individuals close to a family member reported that one of the yet-to-be-rabbi younger siblings claimed to have been sexually victimized by him and a group of his friends in a gang rape. The alleged offenders and alleged victim's parents were aware of the situation, yet nothing was done to protect other children from future harm. Given that this case happened years ago, appropriate treatment for the alleged offender(s) may not have been available. However, the parents might have still been able to find ways to help their son stay away from children. They did not, and some years later the same alleged offender, now a rabbi, worked at a school, putting innocent children at risk, and allegedly continuing to molest. Once again, his parents kept his alleged past offenses quiet, choosing to protect their son and by doing so discrediting his victims. An agreement was reportedly made, where the "alleged sex offending" rabbi was to never be allowed a teaching position again. However, twenty years later the rabbi unilaterally reversed the agreement, and now there are new alleged victims. Did the family members (parents, siblings and close friends) of this alleged offender have a moral obligation to speak out and protect others, given their awareness of his past? Do they have a moral obligation to speak now? Does a family member who knowingly keeps quiet carry part of the responsibility for future victimization by their kin?
A neighbor of a seventeen-year old girl contacted The Awareness Center. The neighbor was haunted by an experience that happened a few years ago. The girl, whom we'll call "Marcy", used to baby-sit for the neighbor's two younger children on a regular basis from the time she was twelve to about fifteen. The neighbor told us that she had suspected the girl was depressed for some time, but couldn't quite put her finger on what was wrong. She'd tried talking to Marcy many times, yet Marcy never disclosed anything. One evening, Marcy came banging on that neighbor's backdoor, begging to be let in. Marcy was barefoot (there was snow on the ground), and was squinting and couldn't see (she usually wore either glasses or contacts, but didn't have either on that night). The neighbor let her in. Marcy ran to the windowless basement, stating again and again, "my father's after me", "he's going to kill me", "I don't know what to do or where to go!" Marcy went on to tell the neighbor about her father's violent temper and disclosed that her father took her shoes, glasses, and contact lenses, and sent her to her room. She said that her father had been hitting her and that she was afraid he'd come back to her bedroom to continue. The neighbor told us that she'd felt in a bind—wanting to help Marcy, but not knowing what to do. It was obvious to her that the girl was terrorized and needed a respite.
About ten minutes later, Marcy's father came knocking on the door. The neighbor answered the door, but lied and told the father that she was unaware of Marcy's whereabouts, and that she'd tell him if Marcy should come by. The father left and the neighbor asked Marcy if she had a relative who would help her. Marcy called her aunt and uncle, who came to get her.
A few years later, this neighbor heard rumors that the seventeen-year old girl had attempted suicide. She also learned that there were allegations of childhood sexual abuse. The neighbor felt guilty for not making a report to the child abuse hotline in her state the night Marcy came seeking refuge in her house. She wonders if making the call would have gotten Marcy the help she needed, stopped the abuse, and prevented Marcy from getting so desperate that she tried to end her life.
A forth case comes to mind: a rabbi pled guilty to attempted child endangerment charges after being caught in a police Internet sex sting operation. Authorities said that this rabbi struck up a conversation with a police detective posing as a 13-year-old girl after entering an on-line chat room called "I Love Older Men." The rabbi was arrested and is currently in therapy, having pled guilty as part of a plea deal to avoid a prison sentence of up to four years. He is slated to be sentenced this month (October, 2003) to five years probation with treatment and registration as a sex offender. This rabbi is married and has a young child. What support system is in place to help his wife and child? If the rabbi was ready to have sex with a 13-year-old child, is his own child safe in his home? The convicted rabbi isn't in prison—where does he stay? Does his neighbors know about his criminal behavior? Are the children in that community safe? What protocols had been put in place to ensure that these important issues are being addressed? What should be his standing as a member of the community, as part of a Minyan?
It is interesting that family members are usually not mandated to report a relative whom they suspect is a sex offender. Professionals who are mandated reporters have a clear requirement: the law states that if there is any reasonable cause to suspect abuse, the mandated reporter must report. When it comes to family members, the conflict of interest is easy to understand, but the question still remains—even without a legal obligation, isn't there a moral obligation to protect children from being victimized?
Dealing with sex offenders and their family members presents complex ethical issues. What can be harder than being the mother or the father of a sex offender? Denial is clearly the first line of defense, because who in their right mind wants to believe that their offspring, someone they love and care for, could hurt a child? How can a parent even think of supposedly relinquishing their instinct to protect their child by reporting him or her to the authorities? It is a terrible dilemma. Could you as a parent turn your child over to the police? Could you force an adult child of yours into sex offender treatment? And what would friends and other family members think if they learned that you were the parent of a sexual predator? A similar between a rock and a hard place is the reality for people who are married to sex offenders. If your spouse molests children outside the home, could he/she be molesting yours, too? What about the stigma and shame if anyone learned your secret, learned that you married, live with and or bed such a person? And what about the children of a sex offender—how would you feel if you were one? How would you face your friends, schoolmates, or co-workers once your parent's criminal behavior was made public? Would you still be allowed in your friends' homes? Would you still have friends? Would you and your siblings face shunning and stigma come marriage age?
The dilemma isn't limited to blood relatives. What if it's a close friend who was charged with sex offences? A business associate? Or even your rabbi? What is one to do?
These heartbreaking and complicated issues are real, and need to be addressed. We need to address them as a community. Every sex offender has parents, family, friends and colleagues—people who are close to him/her and are faced with this reality, often unprepared, and in many ways, also victimized, hurt, confused, disillusioned, and ashamed. 
Do you know of a family member or friend of an alleged or convicted sex offender? It is critical that you don't turn your backs on them. They need your support. Put yourself in their place. If you were one, what would you need? 
The spouse of an alleged and/or convicted sex offender may need financial support while the offender is in prison and or treatment. If there are children in the home, the non-abusive spouse may have to keep them away from the offender to keep them safe. Can you imagine the feelings of anger, shame, guilt, and fear that the non-offending parent will need to deal with? 
Every member of a family of alleged and/or convicted sex offenders will need the community's emotional, financial, and spiritual support. And what a difference such support can make in the healing process of non-offending family members; versus them being shunned for their "association" with a sexual predator and/or for helping to stop the abuse... If support is offered more cases would be reported and subsequently more children will be kept safe and those who have already been victimized will get the help they need.
There is no doubt that we all have a moral obligation to help stop abuse so that offenders cease to victimize and the victims receive the healing they deserve. It is our obligation to report abuse and protect the children. Whether we know the offender or not, hiding, denying and covering up his or her actions make us accomplices to the crime. At the same time, the pain of having a family member or friend who is a sex offender has to be one of the hardest pains to bear. How can one be expected to report an abusive family member and not only lose their previous image of this person, but also their place in the community? It is also our moral obligation, as a community, to offer a holding environment (not shunning and shame) for all families torn by abuse—those of the victims, and that of the offender.