Thursday, March 04, 2004

Political Issues and Resources Relating to Childhood Sexual Abuse

Political Issues and Resources Relating to Childhood Sexual Abuse 

If there is information you feel should be on this page, please forward it to The Awareness Center.

Mount Sinai


Disclaimer: Inclusion in this website does not constitute a recommendation or endorsement. Individuals must decide for themselves whether the resources meet their own personal needs.

Table of Contents:
  1. Articles
    • Background Information and The History of Rabbinical Ordinations (0719//2007)
    • Orthodox Rabbis To Report Abuse (06/04/2003)
      • Does the Agudah protect innocent children? Or alleged sex offenders? (06/04/2003)
    • Sex Abuse On The Radar  (05/07/2003)
    • Does the Jewish Community Sacrifice Victims of Sexual Abuse?  (05/30/2002)
    • Clergy As Mandated Reporters  (02/2003)
    • Religious Groups Stall Reform Law (08/01/2001)
    • Few local safeguards to prevent indiscretions (11/01/1996)
    • Sexual abuse of children (01/25/1993)

  2. Political Jewish Organizations
  3. Rabbinical Organizations
  4. Secular Political Resources

Orthodox Rabbis To Report Abuse
By Debra Nussbaum Cohen - Staff Writer
The Jewish Week -  June 4, 2003

Centrist group tells members to inform police of suspicions of misconduct; controversial member resigns.
Orthodox rabbis are pledging to take action in confronting the reality of sexual abuse in their midst.
The nation's main association of centrist Orthodox clergy, the 1,200-member Rabbinical Council of America, has passed a strongly worded resolution committing the organization and its members to report acts or suspicions of child abuse to the police — a watershed break with longstanding practice in the Torah-observant community of protecting errant rabbis rather than reporting them to civil authorities.
At the same time, the fervently Orthodox Agudath Israel of America is fighting behind the scenes in Albany to defeat a bill that would require clergy and religious institutions in New York to review old files and report past allegations against a religious leader.

The centrist Orthodox rabbis' group will be reconsidering "the role and function" of its Ethics Committee, which has never before dealt with issues related to sexual misconduct. It will adopt policies and procedures for reprimanding, censuring, suspending and revoking memberships of those found guilty of such acts.

Their resolution was unanimously approved by nearly 300 attendees at the group's annual convention, held May 27-29 at the Rye Town Hilton, after less than an hour of discussion.

"A whole confluence of events inspired us to take a step back and re-evaluate our leadership and responsibility in this area," said Rabbi Mark Dratch, a vice president of the RCA and author of the resolution.

"As rabbis our job is to be the servants of the community. Their welfare and well-being, not only spiritually but physically, is our prime concern," he said. "Otherwise we have no right being rabbis."
He is heading the committee that will re-draft an ethics policy by the organization's next annual meeting. He hopes to involve mental health professionals and survivors of clergy sexual misconduct in the deliberations, he said.

Events pushing this to the top of the RCA's agenda at its conference include the fact that rabbinic sexual misconduct in all of Judaism's major denominations has lately been much in the news, and has been plaguing the RCA's sister organization, the synagogue body the Orthodox Union, with the conviction of long-time youth leader Rabbi Baruch Lanner.

What's more, one of the RCA's members has been facing such allegations. Rabbi Ephraim Bryks has for the last few years run Yeshiva Berachel David, a small Orthodox high school in the Kew Gardens Hills section of Queens. Allegations of child molestation have followed him for years, going back to his leadership of a yeshiva and a congregation in Winnipeg, Canada, two decades ago. Canadian civil authorities investigated charges there and found no conclusive evidence of wrongdoing.

Rabbi Bryks has repeatedly denied the allegations, but because they have continued to circulate, RCA sources say, he is leaving the Queens yeshiva and at the conference, he resigned his RCA membership.
Efforts to reach Rabbi Bryks were unsuccessful. But Rabbi Heshie Billet, immediate past president of the RCA, spoke with him at the convention and told The Jewish Week that Rabbi Bryks "is leaving Jewish education. The school is closing and since he no longer will have a formal rabbinic position he feels it's not necessary to belong to a professional rabbinic body.

"He told me his resignation should in no way be construed as an admission of guilt. He denies all the allegations against him," said Rabbi Billet. "I don't know what he'll be doing next. I just accepted his resignation at face value."

There are no charges or allegations outstanding against any other member of the RCA, Rabbi Dratch said.

Sexual impropriety and related issues were the convention's focus. Leading rabbis from Chicago and Los Angeles presented case studies of how the Orthodox rabbis in their communities have handled abuse issues. Other sessions addressed rabbinic stress, rabbis and the media, and rabbis and legal issues as they relate to pastoral counseling, said Rabbi Basil Herring, the RCA's incoming executive vice president. He succeeds Rabbi Steven Dworken, the popular professional who died suddenly earlier this year and was memorialized at a tribute dinner at the convention.

Confronting sexual misconduct and the weave of related issues "is part of 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 Dratch.

"A lot of factors are forcing us to deal with it, to assert leadership, and not just to look for cover. We need to do what is necessary for the welfare of the community and the integrity of the Torah."

One of the central elements of the "Resolution Regarding Members Accused of Improprieties" is the exploration of why reporting rabbis suspected of child abuse does not constitute mesirah, which can be translated as one Jew "informing" on another. The principle has long shaped a culture of suspicion toward civil authorities in much of the Orthodox world.

Mesirah is also one of the reasons supplied by Agudath Israel for its opposition to a bill that has passed the state Senate and is currently working its way through the Assembly. The bill would add clergy to other categories of professionals, like educators and health care workers, who are required to report suspected child abuse. A similar bill was killed last year.

The law, if passed, would also require clergy and religious institutions to review records from the preceding 20 years and turn over old allegations to civil authorities.

This would be an "unconstitutional" law, said David Zwiebel, the Agudah's executive vice president for government and public affairs. The group is working behind the scenes in Albany to defeat it.

"It is a sensitive issue now especially with some of the attention that's been focused on allegations within our own community," he said. "The last thing we want to be seen as is obstructing whatever legitimate inquiries may be made among our own rabbinate.

"At the same time," said Zwiebel, "it would be unfortunate if the stories that have made their way into the papers and TV programs were to cause the kind of overreaction that this represents by perpetuating the notion that clergy, of all people, are more suspect than any other profession or group in society."


Does the Agudah protect innocent children? Or alleged sex offenders?
June 4, 2003

In the New York Jewish Week's article called "Orthodox Rabbi's To Report Abuse," the following statement was made:

Mesirah is also one of the reasons supplied by Agudath Israel for its opposition to a bill that has passed the state Senate and is currently working its way through the Assembly. The bill would add clergy to other categories of professionals, like educators and health care workers, who are required to report suspected child abuse. A similar bill was killed last year.

The law, if passed, would also require clergy and religious institutions to review records from the preceding 20 years and turn over old allegations to civil authorities.

This would be an "unconstitutional" law, said David Zwiebel, the Agudah's executive vice president for government and public affairs. The group is working behind the scenes in Albany to defeat it.

The Awareness Center stands strongly behind the belief that there should be NO statue of limitation when it comes to childhood sexual abuse. It is a known fact that "alleged" offenders continue their "alleged" molesting careers, even after 20 years. "Alleged" sex offenders of yesterday," may be creating more victims today. It appears that by the statement made above, that the Agudah is more concerned about protected an "alleged" pedophile and they way they might have mishandled a case, then they are in protecting our children of today from being victimized. Could it be that they don't understand the long term ramifications childhood sexual abuse has on an innocent soul? We as a community need to do what ever it takes to educate this group of Jewish leaders, so they will also be more concerned about protecting the next generation of Jewish children.

The Awareness Center strongly advocates that No more children be victimized. Not one more person needs to grow up to learn how to become a survivor. Both adult and child survivors of childhood sexual abuse deserve to be heard, they need to have a voice. After twenty years or more of waiting, don't you think it's time?

Vicki Polin, MA, LCPC
Executive Director - The Awareness Center

Religious Groups Stall Reform Law
The New York Post - August 1, 2001, Wednesday
All Editions; Pg. 014

(Please note the date the article, written by The New York Post  (August 1, 2001). Has anything changed in 2 years?)

A strongly backed bill that would make it a crime if educators fail to report an accusation of school sex abuse to the police is being stymied by two of the city's most powerful religious organizations, City Hall sources told The Post.

Bill No. 933, inspired by several mishandled complaints in public schools, would require cops to investigate allegations of sex abuse involving private schools run by churches and temples as well as public schools.

The law could set the stage for a battle between church and state because both Catholic and Jewish schools deal with sex-abuse allegations against clerics internally, experts said.

City Hall sources admit they were surprised by the religious groups' 11th-hour request to postpone the vote in the City Council's Education Committee on June 4.

"They [religious schools] claim they were unaware that the provisions of the law applied to both public and private schools," one source said.

Council staffers are quietly negotiating with a coalition of religious groups hoping to tailor the bill to fit everyone's demands - a delicate process during an election season.

When told the law covers "co-curricular and extra-curricular activities" such as prayer groups or kids helping out in religious ceremonies, New York Archdiocese spokesman Joe Zwilling seemed surprised.
"I'm not sure the law covers that," Zwilling said, who refused to say if the church supported the bill.
Zwilling insisted the bill applies to clerics working only in schools, but a second City Hall source said it reaches into "all of the properties on school grounds."

Zwilling referred questions to Rabbi David Zwiebel, of the Agudath Israel of America, a Jewish advocacy network that's spearheading talks with council.

Zwiebel argues the bill is too broad in its definition of abuse, and thinks it will strip school principals of their "professional discretion" to resolve disciplinary problems internally.

The failure to let principals "exercise professional judgment and discretion in dealing with actual or threatened criminal conduct is a serious flaw," he wrote in a five-page June 28 letter to Council Speaker Peter Vallone and committee members.

Zwilling and Zwiebel deny allegations they want to kill the bill to protect accused clerics.

Zwiebel said the law could create "tensions" between church and state.

The committee is scheduled to have a hearing on the matter in the fall.

"The new legal mandate is not embraced by everyone because it is designed to change the usual way of doing business for the protection of children," a mayoral administration source said.

"Because of the delay, the window for getting this in place by September is closed - and that's a terrible shame."

Does the Jewish Community Sacrifice Victims of Sexual Abuse?
Jewish Exponent - May 30, 2002
V.211; N.22 p. 37

The arrest earlier this year of Howard Nevison -- longtime cantor at Temple Emanu-El in New York City -- on charges he repeatedly sexually abused his nephew is worth much more than a passing shudder from the Jewish community.

The case (in which Nevison's congregation was reportedly warned of abuse allegations long before the arrest) stirs unpleasant echoes of a recurring problem: The denial by Jewish communities, and their leaders, that sexual abuse of all kinds occurs among Jews -- with the ugly result that victims can pay a higher price than their tormentors when their accusations come to light.

Sandra Butler, an expert on sexual abuse, wrote in 1999 in the Journal of Religion and Abuse. "One urgent concern I have is that there are many in the rabbinic leadership who still hold tightly to the illusion `not here,' `not them,' `not us,' when faced with alleged sexual abuse in families, in yeshivas and in the synagogue."

Just recently, two adults and two children in Oklahoma City reported to authorities that a Conservative rabbi had repeatedly victimized them with "lewd acts" and sexual battery over a nine-month period. But members of the accused's former congregation vehemently protest the rabbi's innocence: one woman insisting that "this is a man with five children and a wife, so how could he be guilty?"

Joan Featherman, a Massachusetts psychologist and a contributor to a 1995 book called Sexual Abuse in Nine North American Cultures, points out that such denial only makes potential victims more vulnerable: "The myths surrounding the existence of sexual abuse in the Jewish community leave children, male and female, unprepared to identify early warning signals related to abuse."

Those myths can also leave those who accuse their attackers vulnerable to additional abuse from their own communities. In 1992, a young, divorced woman in Brooklyn was allegedly beaten and raped by a rabbi who taught in a local yeshiva. After she filed charges, she found herself ostracized by the local Jewish community.

In our examination of cases of alleged sex crimes by Jewish offenders in recent decades, we have found that both Jewish community figures and Jewish media lag behind in giving victims the support they deserve. This means that all too often the victims, not their alleged attackers, are sacrificed to the community's sense of shame.

For instance, two years ago, a young boy in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Borough Park, Brooklyn, accused a rabbi of having sexually abused him over a period of 18 months during private lessons. A child-abuse expert backed his story, but the Chasidic community was so eager to protect the accused rabbi -- whatever the facts -- that when a group of rabbis managed to persuade the District Attorney to drop the charges, the community celebrated publicly.

The media have recently been reporting a broadening awareness of sexual abuse within Jewish communities, but sacrificing the victims is still too easy in too many places.

Rabbi Dr. Mordechai Glick, vice president of an international organization of Orthodox Jewish health professionals, complained two years ago in a letter to The Jewish Press that "if the police do get involved, a massive cover-up and pressure campaign usually ensures that the case will either not get to trial or if it does, will be dropped because potential witnesses are pressured (code for threatened) to refuse to testify or outright lie." And even Dr. Glick was reluctant to repeat this frank statement for an audience outside the traditional Jewish community.

"To be silent is to incur the grave guilt of accessory after the fact," said New York Rabbi Yitz Greenberg more than 10 years ago in an article appearing in Moment magazine. "Spiritual leaders who ignore or even cover up the presence of sexual abuse, Jewish media that continue the conspiracy of silence by acting as if this does not happen, bring upon themselves the judgment that the Torah places on the accessory and the bystander," Greenberg wrote.

How many victims must be sacrificed on the altar of the community's shame before this conspiracy ends?

Sex Abuse On The Radar
With many accusations against rabbis, authorities and the religious establishment are slowly coming to grips with the problem.
Judy Klitsner - Special To The Jewish Week
The JewishWeek - May 7, 2003

Jerusalem — There is a growing public awareness in Israel of sexual abuse by rabbis, in part because of so many new cases being reported, including accusations against the recently elected Ashkenazic chief rabbi.

Unfortunately, these charges have come out in the press instead of being dealt with in a systematic and sensitive manner within the religious system. This points to the overall failure of the religious establishment to monitor itself and to take decisive action when complaints are brought.

As a result, the public is reading about it, becoming angry and increasingly aware of the need for some kind of action.

For years following the abuse I suffered at the hands of Rabbi Baruch Lanner, I tried in many ways to persuade religious leaders to stop his progress. When he was finally exposed and deposed (only because of the press), I began receiving calls from many quarters about abuses by other rabbis. I tried to help minimize the damage these rabbis could do by calling whomever I knew to put pressure on institutions that hired or promoted offending rabbis.

There were a few of us out there, people with extra sensitivity to this issue, and we learned to enlist each other's help whenever needed. Sometimes we succeeded; often we didn't.

I was greatly disturbed that an issue as serious as this was being addressed in this ad hoc way. Where were our leaders? Why was this not an issue of concern to all?

I finally decided to look for ways to address the problem in a more structured way. The immediate impetus was an expose some months ago in the Israeli daily Maariv on Rav Shlomo Aviner, the revered chief rabbi of Beit El and a central figure in the religious Zionist camp — "the rabbi's rabbi," the "holy of holies," as he has been called by his followers.

In the expose, two women accused the rabbi of creating emotionally intimate relationships with them. These relationships included his expressions of his love for them during regular late-night phone conversations, extracting details from them of their sexuality and promoting an unhealthy emotional dependence on him.

The women claimed they reported these problems to the highest echelons in the rabbinic establishment and were either passed along to other rabbis or told to keep silent and destroy any correspondence they had from the rabbi.

In response, the rabbinic establishment displayed a nearly unprecedented show of unity: on the very day the article appeared, my children (along with thousands of other children) returned from school with a letter signed by dozens of respected rabbis denouncing the "lies" that were reported by allegedly unstable, delusional women. Instead of calling for some kind of investigation, the community rallied around Rav Aviner and against his accusers.

Believing there had to be some way to defend these women and others like them, or at least to give them a chance to be heard seriously, I contacted the organization Kolech, a group of Orthodox feminists led by Chana Kehat, a religious scholar and activist. Fortuitously, I found that the group was beginning to organize itself around this issue. While discussing strategies for addressing the problem as a whole, a new case presented itself that put Kolech in the eye of the storm.

Several women called Kolech to complain about Rabbi Yitzchak Cohen, a former head of, and later a lecturer in, the midrasha at Bar-Ilan University, who they claimed sexually harassed them when they were students at the university some years ago. Despite strong pressure against Kehat, who was accused of pursuing a "feminist" agenda, the university appointed a committee, headed by a rabbi, which heard testimony from several women in the presence of the accused rabbi. In the end, the unambiguous ruling was to dismiss Rabbi Cohen.

He is still fighting the decision and claims openly that he is the victim of a slander campaign by the "feminists." Rabbi Cohen says the feminists want to push rabbis out of their positions so they can replace them. The Bar-Ilan commission found no basis to his arguments and ruled that Kolech was operating entirely in good faith.

While I found the charge about feminists repugnant, it is fair to ask why we are practically alone in seeking to stop this terrible phenomenon, with the help of the press.

I can say from firsthand experience that these women do not relish this type of activity and in fact would much prefer to be working on positive reforms in the religious world. There is a palpable sense of distaste, yet a solemn duty to follow up on complaints that no one else wants to touch. This is a job that rabbis should be doing themselves but are not, for various reasons (collegiality, politics, fear of airing dirty linen in public, not wanting to deal with "unsavory" topics, etc.)

The Knesset, to its credit, recently held a special session, chaired by Gila Finkelstein, on the question of sexual harassment in the religious community. Many educators, including heads of prominent institutions of Torah learning for women, were in attendance as speakers addressed a number of issues, including the need for acceptable guidelines in conduct between rabbis and students.

Partly as a result of all this, I have been working for a long time toward constructing a rabbinical ethics committee. It would follow the precedent of other professional ethics committees, such as those of doctors, psychologists and university professors, setting down clear sets of norms and guidelines for acceptable behavior. The committee would hear and investigate complaints in a sensitive and thorough manner, reach conclusions and act on them.

We are in the process of bringing together various women's organizations in the hope of getting a broad spectrum of leaders to support the plan. We then have to find rabbis who will agree to serve at the head of such a committee, to give it the religious stamp of approval. So far the rabbis we have approached are reluctant to be actively involved, but they recognize the need for such a committee.

Though there are signs that the community and its leadership are beginning to face the severity and widespread nature of the problem, clearly there is much work yet to be done. 

Judy Klitsner is an instructor of Bible at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.

Few local safeguards to prevent indiscretions: Many here deny or ...
By NINA LIGHT Supplements Editor
Cleveland Jewish News -11-01-1996
Reading Level: 12.

Few local safeguards to prevent indiscretions: Many here deny or minimize. the existence of rabbinical sexual improprieties; hence, no formal policies exist.

Although it is fairly common knowledge among Jewish Clevelanders that sexual indiscretions have occurred in the local rabbinate over the years, it is not a topic that many people in the organized Jewish community here want to discuss publicly. Like their counterparts nationwide, many local clergy persons and lay leaders choose to ignore, deny or minimaze the existence of sexual misconduct in the rabbinate.
The CJN contacted several clergy and lay leaders who represent Reform, Conservative and Orthodox congregations here to find out what, if any, safe-guards or disciplinary mechanisms are in place locally to deal with allegations or confirmed instances of rabbinical sexual impropriety. More than one rabbi declined comment or referred the CJN to another source. One rabbi indicated that he "didn't see anything to be gained" by publicizing this sensitive issue.

Rabbi Benjamin A. Kamin, spiritual leader of The Temple-Tifereth Israel (Reform), acknowledges that sexual misconduct in the rabbinate "can occur whenever and wherever a misguided or emotionally unhealthy rabbi is mixing with interesting, appealing or perhaps seductive people."

All the rabbis and congregation board presidents here who consented to an interview, agree that their national organizations -- such as the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR-Reform), Rabbinical Assembly (RA-Conservative) and Rabbinical Council of America (RCA- Orthodox) -- have general policies for dealing with rabbinical misconduct of any nature -- whether it is financial, contractual, sexual or otherwise. On a local level, however, the clergy and lay leaders admit that there are few, if any, formal systems of checks and balances that specifically concern sexual misconduct.

Rabbi Kamin says that because there is no mechanism in the local Reform community for dealing with allegations or confirmed instances of a rabbi's sexual impropriety, it is up to the board of each congregation to set its own policy and to determine how that policy will be enforced.

"I think it's regrettable and lamentable," he adds, that rabbis "aren' t beholden to a local and national set of real and true guidelines to monitor their ethical behavior. The rabbinate, like Judaism, is rather decentralized; we have no papal figure or ethical ombudsman."

As a result, "The greatest responsibility lies with the individual himself or herself who, after all, is in service to God and the Jewish community."

Acording to Anshe Chesed-Fairmount Temple president Joyce S. Zabell, her congregation (Reform) does "not have a written policy on this subject. We do have a very generalized policy on sexual harassment in our Personnel Practices Handbook."

In part, that policy "prohibits the use in the workplace of racial, sexual or ethnic epithets and stereotypes ..." It also "specifically prohibits sexual harassment which is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature" when it affects a person's work performance, work environment or employment status.

The constitution of Park Synagogue (Conservative) also does not specifically address rabbinical sexual misconduct, reports congregation president Stuart Garson. However, should such a problem arise, the board would "ensure maximum due process to all parties involved."

He would suggest that "the executive committee handle it quietly and quickly to ascertain the facts so that everyone, including the charged party, would have a chance to be represented."

Whether or not the rabbi would be suspended during the investigation would depend on the severity of the charges and how much proof there was to the charge, Garson explains.

Rabbi Michael Hecht, spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Am (Conservative), says his synagogue's constitution does not specifically address the issue of sexual impropriety in the clergy.

"You don't write into a synagogue's constitution, `The rabbi shall not engage in sexual misconduct.' It's just not elegant to do that, " he explains.

According to Orry Jacobs, president of the newly formed Beachwood Kehilla (Orthodox), the topic of rabbinical sexual misconduct didn' t come up when the congregation's constitution was being drafted.
"If the issue arose, we would contact the Rabbinical Council of America to see what guidelines they have developed," he reports.

If the offending rabbi "was truly an observant person, he wouldn't get himself involved" in sexually questionable behavior, notes Rabbi Daniel Schur, spiritual leader of Beth Hamidrosh Hagodol-Heights Jewish Center (Orthodox) and chairman of the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of Cleveland.

Many times, he continues, the accused rabbi will either leave town or not "show himself in public."
Within the Orthodox community, "if we feel that a (clergy) person ... went wild and (later) he was truly repentant, we would publicize that he went off the right track and we should reinstate him," says Rabbi Schur.

Before reinstatment, however, other Orthodox rabbis would "have to see a definite change of character ... somehow (the rabbi who went astray) has to show remorse: He's sorry for what he did, he's changed, he sees what he did is disruptive."

Defining what is or is not improper sexual behavior can be problematic because many people's values -- even among congregants of the same synagogue -- differ.

Seemingly, the only area on which most leaders and congregants say they agree is that it is unacceptable for a rabbi to be involved in an adulterous situation.

But one local rabbi, who asked not to be named, says that's true only up to a point. For example, although it's not illegal for the rabbi to sleep with the married president of the temple's Sisterhood, he points out, it is immoral according to Jewish values. When something of that nature occurs, it's not uncommon for the rabbi to be fired and then hired by another congregation in another city.

Congregants seem to like a rabbi who has transgressed somewhere else, he says; they just don't want their rabbi to transgress while leading their congregation.

However, when the rabbi is single and he or she is dating a single congregant, the line between what congregants consider to be acceptable and unacceptable behavior may be blurred. One of the most sensitive areas is in determining when, if ever, a personal relationship between a rabbi and a congregant is appropriate in a counseling situation.

"It is perhaps acceptable, but certainly not prudent, for a rabbi to date a congregant he or she is counseling," says Rabbi Kamin. " However, after the fact, if both parties are free and single, such a circumstance may not have a negative bearing, and may even offer some enrichment to a genuine relationship."

Even if a relationship between a rabbi and a congregant is legitimate, it's imperative for a rabbi to avoid the appearance of impropriety, explains Park's Garson. He likens the situation to a trial lawyer whose case is being heard by a judge who happens to be a friend. During the trial, the attorney and judge shouldn't have lunch together "even if they're just talking about baseball."

The same, he says, holds true of a rabbi. "Counseling is one thing in the rabbi's office. It might be another matter if it's over a candlelit dinner."

Nina Light, Few local safeguards to prevent indiscretions: Many here deny or. , Cleveland Jewish News, 11-01-1996, pp PG.

Sexual abuse of children
The Jerusalem Post - January 25, 1993

ISRAEL prides itself on its excellent day centers for pre-schoolers, special health care for children, and a general concern for children's welfare and safety. When a psychopath kidnapped and murdered a child a few years ago - a very rare incident - the whole country blamed itself for "letting it happen," and went into shock and mourning.

Yet if recent court decisions are any indication, this concern is limited to "normal" situations. It does not extend to abused children. In a recent case, for example, an 18-year-old who sexually abused a five year-old girl got off virtually scot-free. The judge, obviously more concerned with the youth's psyche, reputation and future career than with the trauma suffered by the girl, sentenced him to six months of community service.

Most disturbing was the judge's reasoning, which betrayedcommon judicial obtuseness and ignorance. The accused, said the judge, is not violent, nor a man of uncontrollable urges. "There is no fear that he will repeat his deed. Public safety does not therefore require his incarceration. His punishment should not be used as an example and a deterrent."

In characterizing the young man as non-violent the judge was parroting a prevalent misconception. Sexual abuse and rape are crimes of violence; they are not a result of strictly sexual impulses but of emotional imbalance. To describe an abuser of a five year-old as no danger to the community is either to consider children not part of the community or to display abysmal misunderstanding of the compulsive nature of the crime and the lifelong psychic injury it can cause.

Nor is this judge unique. Israel's courts seem particularly lenient with criminals when the victims are women or children. The testimony of children, in particular, is treated with entrenched skepticism. They are perceived to be "fantasizers" and unreliable witnesses (in fact, the opposite is true), and the adult version of events is virtually always preferred.

There is even a prevalent belief in the possibility of inborn evil. A Supreme Court judge once justified corporal punishment "to exorcise evil from the child's soul." And another judge, displaying ignorance one cannot expect to find today, exonerated a sexual abuser because "his infant daughter testified she loved her father."

Hair-raising examples of travesties of justice are all too abundant. Over and over again, judges seem more concerned about the harm to the culprit than to the victim. It is as if children are not quite human yet: if they remember the abuse at all, the judges seem to believe, they will get over it.

The laws of evidence also make the court's task difficult. The victimized children are not usually brought to court. They are interviewed by experts who then testify on their behalf. But for conviction their testimony must be corroborated by supportive evidence.

In a case of a father who habitually raped his three daughters the judge was impressed by the experts' testimony while seriously doubting the father's. Yet the absence of supportive evidence forced him to rule in the father's favor. Even a diary kept by one of the girls was insufficient, for it was not testimony provided by a third party. But the chances of getting such "impartial" testimony for crimes usually committed behind closed doors, in the secrecy of the family abode, are slim indeed.

Plea bargaining in cases of child abuse is all too common. Rape and severe abuse are mostly reduced to "indecent contact." And judges are particularly prone to go easy on the culprit if the abused are his or her own children. The medieval concept of family members as chattel, so insidiously prevalent in wife-abuse cases, is applied even more frequently in cases involving children.

But perhaps the most unfortunate misconception is that child abuse is restricted to what the Victorians used to call "the criminal class:" drug addicts, violent alcoholics, pimps and prostitutes. The fact is, of course, that crimes against children, from incestuous rape to physical and psychic torture are prevalent in all socio-economic strata.

Effective remedies are not easy to come by. MK Ephraim Sneh (Labor) has suggested mandating minimum sentences for convicted child abusers. Others believe that this would make judges exonerate such criminals to avoid imprisoning them. The National Council for the Child believes that all judges should attend courses in psychology, to make them understand the ramifications of these crimes and the horrible scars they leave. The consequences are self-perpetuating: Most abusers, after all, were themselves abused as children.

But while it may be necessary to deter abusers with harsher sentences, long prison terms alone are obviously not the solution. If abusers are not to revert to their compulsive behavior on leaving prison, they must be sent to mandatory psychiatric treatment. And if the victims are to overcome, at least partially, the trauma they have suffered, they should be entitled to treatment for which the abuser must be forced to pay.

If nothing else, the press and the organizations dedicated to child protection have encouraged the reporting of abuse. The Israel Association for Child Protection said yesterday that in 1992 the number of child-abuse reports increased dramatically. Yet even now only 15 percent of cases are reported.
Now that the magnitude of the problem has become known, it is time the Knesset addressed this issue with all the seriousness it deserves. What is at stake is indeed nothing less than the future of Israel's children.

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