Sunday, March 29, 2009

Similarities between the women's movement and addressing sexual violence in Jewish communities.

© (2009) By Vicki Polin - Founder/CEO
The Awareness Center, Inc.

Addressing sexual violence in Jewish communities internationally has not been an easy task. It's often very lonely and frustrating.  Many of those  connected to The Awareness Center (professionals and survivors) have been harassed, spit at, and shunned by community members, etc.

Unfortunately, too many "authority" in the orthodox world have been spreading all sorts of rumors regarding myself and those connected to our organization.  It appears that the goal of these "authorities" has  been to divide and separate Jewish survivors of sex crimes who come from insulated communities, from getting appropriate help from those who REALLY have the education, training and experience to help them heal and also from having cases prosecuted using the criminal justice system.

At first one would think it makes sense that the cultural differences in the orthodox world would need to address sex crimes differently then anyone else. What the religious leaders neglect to tell survivors is that The Awareness Center is made up of many survivors and professionals who are from orthodox backgrounds. It's true, I did not grow up in an orthodox home and that I am no longer observant -- yet what many of those who attack The Awareness Center fail to mention is that I did spend just under 10 years of my life living in the orthodox world.

It saddens me a great deal that a group of people would act in such a way to divide and separate Jewish survivors. One of the first things I was taught when I went to Neve (a women's seminary in Jerusalem) is that "A Jew is a Jew is a Jew".  If we go back to the time of Nazi Germany, we all would have been sent to the ovens together. The Nazi's would not care if someone was orthodox, conservative, traditional, Reform, Jewish Renewal or unaffiliated.

If a house was on fire in orthodox community, the owner of the home and their neighbors wouldn't think twice of what to do. They would call 911 immediately. I don't know of one person who would consult with their local orthodox rabbi to get permission. When one suspects that a child is at risk of harm or suspect a child is being neglected we should all consider ourselves to be mandated reporters. One should call either the state child protection hot-line or your local police.

I have to admit that I have become cynical over the last ten years of running The Awareness Center.  No matter how long one works with a given community I don't think I will ever be able to understand is why so many "orthodox survivors" continue to buy in to the illusion that is being created by the same individuals who are covering up sex crimes and hide sexual predators. Orthodox survivors (adults and children) deserve the same civil rights and protections as the rest of society.  It is so frustrating to watch them blindly trust individuals who care more about their assets or that of the organizations they are connected to -- then they do about their children and or adults who have been assaulted. Thinking about this send chills up and down my spine.

As one survivor stated "most of the Orthodox Jewish community sees Vicki Polin as a pariah, because they prefer to deny the problem and keep their heads in the sand."

While consulting with the executive director of another organization regarding the harassment and extortion attempts those of us connected to The Awareness Center experience -- she referred to the treatment as being similar to the early days of the women's movement. She reminded me of the suffering that heroic women as "the Susan B. Anthony, endured. She even referred to me as being "The Susan B. Anthony for Jewish survivors of sexual violence". I have to admit I was extremely flattered, yet I know that I'm far from accomplishing as much as Susan, nor have I ever come close to the hardship that Susan or the other suffragist experienced.

The reality is that Susan B. Anthony died before she was able to take part in the first election in which women were allowed to vote in the United States. I also realize that most likely I will not live long enough to see my goals for survivors in Jewish communities. All one can do is the best they can within ones lifetime. All we can all do is to make the lives of as many Jewish survivors better as possible and hope that one day children will no longer become victims of sex crimes.

For those of you who are not familiar with Susan B. Anthony, she was a prominent civil rights leader who played a pivotal role in the the women's rights movement. You can read more about her here

This is the story of our Grandmothers and Great-grandmothers; they lived only 90 years ago.

Remember, it was not until 1920 that women were granted the right to go to the polls and vote.

The women were innocent and defenseless, but they were jailed nonetheless for picketing the White House, carrying signs asking for the vote.
And by the end of the night, they were barely alive. Forty prison guards wielding clubs and their warden's blessing went on a rampage against the 33 women wrongly convicted of 'obstructing sidewalk traffic.'

(Lucy Burns) They beat Lucy Burns, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head and left her hanging for the night, bleeding and gasping for air.

(Dora Lewis) They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her head against an iron bed and knocked her out cold. Her cellmate, Alice Cosu, thought Lewis was dead and suffered a heart attack. Additional affidavits describe the guards grabbing, dragging, beating, choking, slamming, pinching, twisting and kicking the women.
Thus unfolded the 'Night of Terror' on Nov. 15, 1917, when the warden at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia ordered his guards to teach a lesson to the suffragists imprisoned there because they dared to picket Woodrow Wilson's White House for the right to vote. For weeks, the women's only water came from an open pail. Their food--all of it colorless slop--was infested with worms.

(Alice Paul) When one of the leaders, Alice Paul, embarked on a hunger strike, they tied her to a chair, forced a tube down her throat and poured liquid into her until she vomited. She was tortured like this for weeks until word was smuggled out to the press.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Let's talk about Incest - By Vicki Polin

Let's talk about Incest
© (2009) By Vicki Polin, MA, LCPC, NCC
Founder/CEO - The Awareness Center

Forty-six percent of all sex crimes committed against children occur in the home. The remaining fifty-four perecent is made up of babysitters, teachers, doctors, therapists, scout leaders, camp counselors, neighbors, etc. It is only two percent of all cases involve a member of the clergy. Why is it that the Jewish news media seems to only want to bring attention to clergy abuse cases or those that involve a religious institution, when statistically these sorts of cases are only the tip of the iceberg? As a community we need to be addressing all forms of sex crimes, especially those committed against our children. We need to be reaching out to all survivors and not just those who were violated by clergy and or those connected to religious institutions.

Below is a case that involves incest in Italy. It is not uncommon for an incest survivor to continue to be abused by their offender(s) into adulthood. Many survivors don't know how to get the abuse to stop. Many incest survivors may love their offender(s) as a parent, sibling, grandparent, aunt, uncle, etc. It's not so straight forward as when a case occurs outside the home.

Can you imagine the embarrassment and shame that an incest survivor faces, especially when the abuse never stops? Incest is not a crime that is always violent. The offender(s) can be very caring, loving and nurturing. Incest survivors may think that having sexual relations with a parent is normal. It's something they grew up with. Like in all cases involving sex crimes, sometimes there's confusion because the act of sex can feel good. Survivors sometimes feel that their bodies betrayed them because they can not control the fact that they had an erection or orgasm. The survivor may have grown up feeling that they were special because their offender "made love to them". If they told anyone, they would no longer be "special".

When an incest survivor grows up in a home in which there is also emotional, psychological and physical abuse it may complicate things even more -- especially when gentle glove incest is also mixed up in the equation.

When a child is being terrorized at home, they often feel that there is no one they can turn to for help. They often blame themselves for what is or has happened. It's highly unlikely that an incest survivor will turn to the non-offending parent for help, especially when the abuse involves another parent. If an incest survivor discloses their abuse to anyone, they risk so much more then the survivors who are abused outside the home. Incest survivors risk loosing their families, their home, friends, schools and any sense of stability they might feel they have.

When your an incest survivor there may not be any other victims created by your perpetrator. I've spoken to so many incest survivors over the years who wanted their story to be published in a Jewish paper, yet were told that they need to find two other victims of the same offender for the paper to publish the stories. This is a very scary policy considering the majority of those who are sexually abused occur in the home and there's a stronger likelihood that they may be the only victim by a particular perpetrator.

Italy rape case compared to Fritzl
Sky News - Saturday March 28, 2009

Sunday, March 22, 2009

URGENT: Help Adult Survivors and Children Living in the state of New York!!!

The Awareness Center, Inc.
(the international Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Abuse/Assault)

Survivors and Advocates of all faiths advocating for the Child Victims Act of New York (March, 2009)


March 22, 2009

Dear Friends,

According to statistics, one out of every 4 children will be abused by the time they reach the age of 18. Considering there is just under 20,000,000 people living in the state of New York, means there is roughly 500,000 survivors of child sexual abuse living in the state.

Both adult survivors and children who have not yet been abused -- living in the state of New York need your immediate help to insure the passage of The Child Victims Act of New York.

Attached are 2 links the first with all NY state Assembly e-mail address the other is a listing of the NY Senate. Please make as many phone calls as you can to the New York senators and Assembly members.

If you don't have the time to call, it's important to send each of them e-mails, letting them know how important it is they support the bill.

  1. When you call tell them you want the Senator or Assembly member to support the 2009 - Child Victims Act, WITHOUT ANY CHANGES!!!
  2. The Legislative Aide will ask for your name and address. If you do not live in New York -- yet were abused there make sure to state that fact.

Support the Child Victims Act
NYS Assembly Bill # A2596
Senate Bill # S2568

  • PLEASE Make the phone calls first them Monday morning.
  • If you can call start sending the e-mails NOW!!!!
The groups that opposing the bill are also making calls, which includes those associated with the New York Catholic Conference/Church, Small group of Sephardic rabbis, the insurance industry and the ACLU. Your voice one voice can and will make. This is why it's vitally important for everyone to call (or e-mail) so that your support of the bill will be recorded.

For more information on these bills go to: NY Coalition to Protect Children

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Case of Amy Neustein and Michael Lesher

Amy Neustein Accused of harassing and cyber stalking her adult biological daughter.
(Edgewater, NJ)

This is a case of alleged stalking, emotional/psychological child abuse and neglect. As of May 27, 2005 there have never been any allegations of a sex crime.  

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

Table of Contents:
  1. Silent No Longer  (05/27/2005)
  2. Munchausen syndrome by proxy (03/24/2009)
  3. A threatening letter  (10/26/2008)
  4. Subj: Amy Neustein - From Michael Lesher (10/24/2008)
  5. My Brother the Slumlord:  Going public is something Amy Neustein never could resist  (01/06/2009)
  6. Today, Sherry Eve Orbach
  7. Amy Neustein and Michael Lesher
  8. Amy Neustein, Michael Lesher and Susan Rosenbluth

Silent No Longer
By Sherry Orbach
The Jewish Press - 27 May 2005, Page 4

Editor's Note: In recent months The Jewish Press published two articles by Amy Neustein the first a, feature piece in the Family Matters section, the second an op ed column in which she recounted her longstanding allegations that her ex husband abused their daughter. Ms. Neustein's daughter, Sherry , requested this opportunity to respond.

Although I have not seen my mother, Amy Neustein, in sixteen years, I remember her clearly. She claims the reason she repeatedly accused my father in the media of sexually abusing me was to gain custody rather than fame. Yet when she did have custody of me long before the legal battles began I remember her voluntarily sending me off to live with my grandmother in upstate New York, after which I rarely saw her.

I remember, on one of my rare visits to my mother's house in Brooklyn, watching her softly stroking her hair with an antique silver brush as she gazed at herself in her bedroom mirror and wondered out loud whether she was pretty enough to be famous.

I remember my mother sitting with me on the plastic covered couch in my grandmother's country home at age five as if it were yesterday. We had been rehearsing for hours. She would begin by telling me a sordid and false story about my father, such as a detailed account about how he had molested me or about how he had thrown me violently against a wall. She then instructed me to repeat the story word for word until she was satisfied with my rendition. At the time, my father had indicated he would be filing for custody. My mother warned that if I did not tell these lies to the judge, I would be taken from my grandmother.

After my mother lost legal custody, I visited her once a week. During these visits, my mother used to tape record me and pose me for pictures in order to gain material for her next media performance. I fought back in the only way I could. Once, I chased her around a table in an attempt to snatch her tape recorder.

For eighteen years (I am now 24), I was silent as my mother spun lie upon lie about my father and me. According to her story, she is the victim of a conspiracy involving my father, Brooklyn Family Court, federal and state appellate courts, the Legal Aid Society, the Brooklyn Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Ohel family services, and several leaders of the Jewish community. These co-conspirators, my mother insists, punished her for revealing that my father had sexually abused me by taking me away from her.

The truth, however, is that my father never sexually abused me, and that reporters and alleged victims' advocates who supported my mother chose to retell her lies without adequately checking the facts.

The reason my family and I did not seek media attention to counter my mother's allegations is that we wished to maintain our privacy. My family believed that my mother's publicity would fizzle out, and that it was best to avoid the media spotlight as much as possible so that I could live a normal life. But my mother has been relentless in her exploitation of me. Recently she embarked on another media tirade, and has published her false allegations in this paper and others.

The worst article I have yet to see this year contains my full name as well as photos of me as a child and as an adult, along with sickening and absurd lies about my father and me. Even if the allegations were true (which they are not), it is a widely accepted principle of journalistic responsibility and of everyday morality that it is wrong to invade the privacy of victims (alleged or actual) by publishing their full names and photographs. Kalu 'chomer (how much more so) when the allegations are false. Such deceptive reporting is so damaging and hurtful that I feel I no longer have any choice but to break my silence.

I do not hate my mother.  I see her as troubled. Nor do I seek revenge. I am only speaking out to stop her, and her supporters who profess to care about me, from continuing to exploit and torment me. With no other recourse, my mother has tried to counter my denial of her allegations by claiming that I am being brainwashed and used by my father and other alleged members of the so called conspiracy who "desperately fear public scrutiny and government inquiry."

Anyone who knows me well will vouch that I am independent minded and not the weak character my mother makes me out to be. The only parent who tried to brainwash me is my mother. The only people who are using me to advance their own careers are my mother and her allies. I vividly remember my mother sitting me on the couch at age five and coaching me to lie about my father. These are my memories and not anyone else's.

I do not profess to know how typical my story is. I hope it is the exception and not the rule.

However, the research involving allegations of child sexual abuse in court custody cases indicates that false allegations can occur in anywhere from 2 percent to 60 percent of such cases, and so it is far from an exact science. In these instances the accuser can often be the most vocal, the most sympathetic, and thus the most believable; but sometimes the real victim is the accused.

And the one who pays the biggest price of all is the child. What I have learned from my case is that you can find "experts" to say anything, and that journalists are sometimes more interested in a good story and don't want to be confused by the facts.

The damage caused by the irresponsible reporting and advocacy of my mother and her

supporters extends beyond my family. Not only have they stained the credibility of the victims' rights movement they claim to speak for, but they have diverted attention from the true needs of children in the family court and child welfare systems by misrepresenting what I, and similar children, required. What I did not require, contrary to my mother's claim, was for the family court to be opened to the media.

I, for one, owe my existence as a normal young adult to the family judges, Ohel foster care, and the Legal Aid Society attorney who helped me reunite with my father in the face of considerable opposition in the media.

Most of all, I am grateful to my father for the sacrifices he has made for me over the years.


Munchausen syndrome by proxy
National Institute of Health - 3/14/2009

Munchausen syndrome by proxy is a form of child abuse in which a parent induces real or apparent symptoms of a disease in a child.


This syndrome almost always involves a mother abusing her child by seeking unneeded medical attention for the child. It is rare and poorly understood. The cause is unknown.

The mother may fake symptoms of illness in her child by adding blood to the child's urine or stool, withholding food, falsifying fevers, secretly giving the child drugs to make the child throw up or have diarrhea, or using other tricks, such as infecting intravenous (given through a vein) lines to make the child appear or become ill.

These children are often hospitalized with groups of symptoms that don't quite fit any known disease. Frequently, the children are made to suffer through unnecessary tests, surgeries, or other uncomfortable procedures.

The parent is usually very helpful in the hospital setting and is often appreciated by the nursing staff for the care she gives her child. She is often seen as devoted and self-sacrificing, which can make medical professionals unlikely to suspect the diagnosis of Munchausen syndrome.

Her frequent visits unfortunately also make the child accessible to her so that she can induce further symptoms. Changes in the child's condition are almost never witnessed by hospital staff and almost always occur only in the mother's presence.

Munchausen syndrome occurs because of psychological problems in the adult, and is generally an attention-seeking behavior. The syndrome can be life-threatening for the child involved.


  • The child's symptoms do not fit a classical picture of illness or do not fit together well.
  • The child's symptoms improve at the hospital but reappear at home.
  • The parent is overattentive or "too helpful."
  • The parent is often involved in a health-care field, such as nursing.

Exams and Tests

  • Blood samples used for lab work do not match the patient's blood type.
  • The presence of drugs or chemicals in blood, stool, or urine samples cannot be accounted for.


Once the syndrome is recognized, the child needs to be protected and removed from direct care of the parent. The affected parent should not be accused directly, but offered help.

Because this is a form of child abuse, the syndrome must be reported to the authorities. Psychiatric counseling will be recommended for the parent involved, but since the disorder is rare, very little is known about effective treatment.

Outlook (Prognosis)

This is a difficult disorder to treat in parents. There is little information available about the best types of treatment or what the outcome will be. It usually requires years of psychiatric support.

Children may require medical care to treat injuries the parent inflicted, as well as psychiatric care to deal with depression, anxiety, and other conditions that can be provoked by child abuse. Some children may die from infections or other injuries inflicted by parents with Munchausen syndrome by proxy.

Possible Complications

The child can have complications from injuries, infections, medications, surgeries, or tests. Risk for psychological complications like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and others is increased in survivors of child abuse.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

This condition is diagnosed by the health care provider when the child is treated for various symptoms. If you find that you have urges to harm your child, seek psychiatric care immediately.


Recognition of Munchausen syndrome in the child-parent relationship can prevent continued abuse and unnecessary, expensive, and possibly dangerous medical testing.


Johnson CF. Abuse and neglect of children. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 18th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 36.

Update Date: 3/14/2009   Updated by: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.


A threatening letter
The Awareness Center - October 26, 2008

Attorney - Michael Lesher 
There's been plenty of general talk about the threatening letters people write under the guise of supporting survivors while actually supporting continued secrecy or intimidation. Maybe it will be helpful if I share one of them. On Friday, October 24, 2008 I received a bullying letter from a person who claims to be a survivor advocate--Michael Lesher. The tone and venom of the letter speaks for itself. I will let each one of you decide for yourself what you think of the use of bullying and intimidation tactics.

As an FYI, let me just clarify that the whole premise of the letter stands on the supposed claim that Amy's daughter's privacy was deceptively compromised by me. That is a bogus premise--Amy daughter's letter (Silent No Longer - The Other Side Of Abuse Allegations) was published in a public venue (Jewish Press). Her daughter was quite deliberate about wanting to use her name to let her side of the story be known, under HER terms, in HER words, in HER name. Anyone claiming otherwise shows their ignorance of the whole story and their bias toward one side of it (i.e. Amy Neustein).

Vicki Polin

Founder - The Awareness Center, Inc.


Subj: Amy Neustein

Date: Friday, October 24, 2008 3:33:19 PM

Micheal Lesher, Attorney
It has come to my attention that you are circulating a slanderous column written several years ago about Amy Neustein. As is obvious from the facts about her case that used to be contained on The Awareness Center's own web site, the column -- titled "Silent No Longer" -- contains manifest inaccuracies and defamatory attacks. It also omits any reference to substantial evidence that Amy's daughter was sexually abused -- evidence you yourself circulated for years via your site.

I know you have since decided not to publicize the case, on the putative grounds that silence is the best course for Sherry's welfare. Yet your current course simply makes a liar and hypocrite out of you. Obviously, circulating a column about Sherry is no way to avoid publicity. Even more important, knowingly circulating slanderous personal attacks cannot be justified by any argument. It's a vile and self-defeating way of dividing people who ought to be working together.

You've had plenty of support from Amy Neustein over the years -- and from me. Despite your mean-spirited attacks on both of us, we have not pressed the issue of your own history of bizarre and unsubstantiated allegations. Quite the contrary. Please understand that if you persist in spreading falsehoods about someone whose goodwill you ought to value, my forebearance, at least, will be at an end. I regard your conduct as completely unacceptable -- particularly in the forum you have chose for it. Accordingly, I strongly suggest you circulate an apology to the recipients to whom you addressed "Silent No Longer," explaining that you cannot vouch for its accuracy and would prefer not to be involved in divisive personal quarrels among supporters of sex abuse victims.

You know I mean what I say. You've been warned.

Michael Lesher, Esq.
22 Leitch Place
Passaic NJ 07055
(973) 470-0212


My Brother the Slumlord:  Going public is something Amy Neustein never could resist
By Elizabeth Dwoskin
Village Voice - Tuesday, January 6th 2009

Amy Neustein breaks into tears when she sees the blight at one of her brother's buildings.
In early November, Amy Neustein called the Voice with a message about her brother, an Orthodox Jew who owns a number of buildings in Inwood and Washington Heights.

"My brother," she said, "is a slumlord."

Neustein said she was overcome with worry: The tenants in her brother's building were living with rodents, lead paint, and no heat or hot water. The situation there had become so dire, she explained, that local politicians had declared their support for the tenants, who are largely Spanish-speaking, and her brother, Joshua Neustein, had become a notorious figure in the local Spanish-language press.

Neustein also explained that she has long disliked her brother; a few years ago, she changed her last name so that it would be pronounced Neu-stine instead of Neu-steen to distance herself from him. Vouching for her credibility, Neustein also pointed out that she's an author and an activist—at 51, she's a veteran of many crusades.

She first came to prominence some 20 years ago over a lengthy custody battle for her young daughter, who she claimed had been sexually abused by her ex-husband. After the court disagreed and awarded the father custody, Neustein became a public figure and a symbol for other women who felt they were harmed by the family court system. She went on to co-write From Madness to Mutiny: Why Mothers Are Running From the Family Courts—and What Can Be Done About It, which was published in 2005 by the Northeastern University Press, and is now editingTempest in the Temple: Jewish Communities and Child Sex Scandals, due out in March by Brandeis University Press.

Amy Neustein - accused of harassing her daughter
Despite the time that has passed since her custody case was in court, Neustein's experience is still cited by women's groups as a prime example of bias against women in the family courts. One of her biggest supporters was Governor David Paterson, then a state senator, who became known as an advocate for women and held several hearings on Neustein's behalf. Neustein has built a career in part on talking about her experiences and advocating for other cases involving women fighting for custody of their children after accusations of child sex abuse.

"My schedule is crazy," Neustein wrote in an e-mail, explaining that she was in the final stages of editing Tempest. But she wanted to talk about her brother.

She said she had compelling information about what Josh Neustein was putting his tenants through. And, yes, she acknowledged that it was unusual for a sister to accuse her own brother of something so damaging—and especially to do so by going to the press.

But Amy Neustein has long had a complicated relationship with the media. That became plain as we learned about her brother's buildings—and plenty more about Amy Neustein herself.

The part about her brother wasn't hard to check out. Josh Neustein is a notorious landlord, particularly among working-class Dominicans.

In May, the Spanish-language newspaper El Diario published a front-page story titled "Hispano Contra Goliat" ("Hispanic Versus Goliath"), reporting that a contractor said he was owed thousands of dollars and six years of back pay by Neustein. Another news story referred to a lawsuit filed by tenants, which pointed out that the city had been forced to make 11 emergency repairs to 78 Post Avenue, a Section 8 building owned by Neustein, over the past two and a half years.

When we arrived at 78 Post Avenue in early November, the locks on the doors were broken, so that any visitor could stroll in (at the time, Neustein was under court order to replace the doors).

Manuela Ceballos, 44, has lived in the building for 20 years, calls everyone mi amor, and speaks with a thick Dominican accent. She works for the Board of Education, where she spends her days fielding parental complaints.

Ceballos swung open the door to her first-floor apartment, where she lives with her three teenage children. The apartment was a small oasis in the grim surroundings: Full curtains hung over the windows, hiding metal bars; in the living room, plush armchairs surrounded a large flat-screen TV. Ceballos's daughter, Perla, was filling out boarding-school applications in the bedroom she shares with two teenage brothers. Perla wants to go to boarding school because she's sick of the sound of gunshots in the courtyard behind her window.

"This place is clean because I live here," Ceballos said, explaining that she'd replaced every tile, light fixture, cabinet, and sink by hand when she moved from an upstairs apartment a few years ago. "Before, there were drug dealers here."

Tenants at 78 Post Avenue describe the security of the building as precarious and say the maintenance is terrible. Many say that as recently as a few months ago, drug dealers would come from the Bronx to conduct business in the building—and when the courtyard got too cold, they simply moved in to the central lobby. In some apartments, pipes and bathroom walls are leaking water. A couple of days a month, tenants resort to taking showers with water boiled on the kitchen stove. A year before, tenants got together and painted the faded façade of the building at their own expense.

Josh Neustein is not well-liked in the Dominican community.

Amy Neustein Demonstrating in DC
during the custody battle
In addition to the lawsuit by Ceballos and 39 other tenants, and the case outlined in the El Diario story, Neustein has been involved in numerous personal injury lawsuits: He had to pay $750,000 to a worker who fractured his knee when he slipped on dog urine on the stairs, and another $527,000 to a tenant who slipped on construction equipment. Eleven years ago, Neustein settled a lead poisoning case involving two children in the building who suffered developmental problems after inhaling paint flakes.

When he was contacted by the Voice, Neustein said, "There are some buildings that are newsworthy to write about. But this one is not," referring to 78 Post Avenue. He attributed the negative news stories there to one disgruntled tenant, presumably Ceballos.

Margarita Adames, whom everyone knows as La Vieja—"the Old Lady," even though she is only 60—is a home-health aide who lives on the fourth floor. She, too, is a party to the current lawsuit. She says her teenage son and two other children in the building continue to suffer from learning disabilities from lead poisoning that was the subject of the lawsuit 11 years ago. Adames demonstrated that the moldy pipes and the exposed bathroom wall leaked every time she turned on the faucet.

Sitting on her couch in a nightgown, Adames pointed to a plastic bucket that she keeps near a window. "When the dealers start making noise out front," she said in Spanish, "I boil the water and pour it over their heads!" She and Ceballos slapped each other high fives and laughed.

Ceballos said that Amy Neustein had reached out to her and had shown a great deal of concern for the situation at 78 Post Avenue, even though at that time, she had never actually been there.

"I want to meet Amy Neustein," Ceballos said. She paused and then said with emphasis, "She really doesn't like her brother."

Amy Neustein lives in an upscale condominium near Fort Lee, New Jersey, where she moved after she was forced out of her previous residence, another high-end condo in Edgewater, New Jersey, for starting a tenants' rights lawsuit against the co-op board.

A meticulous researcher, she was very prepared for the meeting. On her desk, she had stacks of court documents with information about her brother. Her co-author, an attorney named Michael Lesher, had come by to help provide explanations of legal matters.

Neustein possesses a doctorate from Boston University in sociolinguistics, and when she isn't writing books, she is editing a trade journal called the International Journal of Speech Technology, which focuses on things like voice-recognition software. She is also on the editorial board of another publication, theJournal of Child Sexual Abuse. She has wispy reddish hair and calls herself a "bleeding-heart liberal." She speaks very quickly and can become overwhelmed with feeling at just a moment's notice.

"When I learned about the lead poisoning, I started to shake," she says, visibly trembling. "Devastated is an understatement. The ground just came up beneath my feet. I just said, 'I am my brother's keeper.' "

She and her brother grew up in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, in a house a few blocks from the shore. Their father was an Orthodox rabbi who taught contract law at City University and, she says, was too busy in the community to spend much time at home.

Neustein paints her brother as a malicious person, saying that his cruelty toward her began at age two, when he pushed her off a tricycle. But some family members say the two weren't always at odds, pointing out that Josh offered to help during her custody battle—something she denies.

Their current falling-out, Neustein says, occurred when their father died in 2002. She says her brother changed the locks at the Brighton Beach house and has barred her access to it ever since (she's suing him for access to a large collection of her papers that she says are still in the house). She claims that her brother forged their father's signature to keep her out of the house, and an NYPD expert she hired agrees with her that the signature is a forgery. Josh Neustein denies that the signature is fake.

Neustein insists that she doesn't have a personal vendetta against her brother. She's simply motivated by a desire to protect the tenants from a landlord who possesses what she calls a "sadistic" streak.

Josh Neustein, for his part, tells the Voice: "Go into any family, and there are problems. People do things for whatever reasons."

Her desire to help others, Amy says, comes from her own experience of oppression when she lost custody of her daughter and had to fight a losing battle to get her back. "I've been an activist all my life," she says. "I know what oppression tastes like firsthand. I know what it's like to be disenfranchised."

We were learning quickly that Amy Neustein was rarely far from the center of a dramatic fight.

In her opening remarks at a tenants' forum at Rutgers University in May 2007, she introduced the condominium case that had resulted in her being forced from her previous place of residence by saying: "I'm living under a cloud of tyranny that is so dark and forbidding that I'm kind of restrained as to what I can say today."

She was referring to a battle with the co-op board, in part over their inaction in fixing leaky roofs.

Amy Neustein lost custody of her daughter, Sherry Orbach, in October 1986, just months after she accused her husband, Ozzie Orbach, of sexually abusing the girl. Orbach had filed a custody suit for Sherry a few weeks prior to Amy's allegations.

Between August 1987 and 1992, the case was featured in more than 30 television and radio programs and in more than 60 editorials and news articles. In 1988, Amy appeared on the shows of Geraldo Rivera and Sally Jessy Raphael, and on CNN. The year before, Time featured her in an article about women who had lost custody of their children. Congressman Jerry Nadler, who held a hearing on her behalf, called it a cover-up, saying, "No case is more galling." A senior aide to David Paterson, then a state senator from Harlem, said she had never witnessed a greater travesty of justice. Major Owens, the chairman of the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Select Education, said he was concerned that the Neustein case represented "a massive, tragic failure of the institutions which are charged with protecting innocent children."

At the center of the case was something Neustein's mother claimed to have seen: Orbach moving in a way that suggested he was rubbing his daughter inappropriately. The girl, then six, was sent to the Ohel Children's Home, a Jewish foster care agency in Brooklyn, for two years. But after hearing testimonies from multiple experts, the court determined that the grandmother's testimony was faulty and that Sherry had been coached to make her own false allegations of abuse. (Psychologists pointed to evidence of coaching in statements by Sherry that were simply impossible for her to witness, such as how her father, a doctor, mistreated patients in the hospital, or beat her mother while Sherry was still in the womb. Only one of at least six psychologists who interviewed Sherry thought she might actually have been abused.)

In 1988, custody was given to Orbach. Around that time, Sherry became anorexic. She weighed 44 pounds, which was severely underweight for an eight-year-old girl. Neustein continues to claim that Sherry's anorexia was a result of the abuse she was suffering in her father's home. (Her father had been concerned enough about Sherry's weight loss to seek his own medical advice.)

One day, in 1989, Neustein broke visitation regulations and whisked Sherry to the pediatrics center at Kings County Hospital. It was a last-ditch attempt, she says, to save Sherry's life. (While doctors agreed that Sherry was emaciated and malnourished, and some said she was in danger of dying, a Kings County pediatrician concluded that Orbach hadn't been neglectful of Sherry by keeping her at home. Orbach also tells the Voice that he had been advised against hospitalizing Sherry: Her weight wasn't low enough to require it, and many anorexics resist treatment if hospitalized against their will.) Because Neustein had violated custody regulations when she took Sherry to the hospital, the court suspended visitation permanently. Neustein hasn't seen her daughter since.

When Neustein hospitalized Sherry, a columnist at USA Today wrote, "Little Sherry Neustein is crying out for help by starving herself to death." The New York Post contributed a number of "Save Sherry" columns as well.

Following the hospitalization, Neustein continued to publicize her case, and many women's rights groups championed her cause. She claimed she was not allowed to bring experts to testify in court and that the judge was hostile to any allegations of sex abuse (Orbach was never prosecuted for abuse). To prove her point, she gave the Voice some photographs of Sherry in poses that she called "child erotica." (To an untrained eye, however, the poses don't look out of the ordinary for a girl of that age.)

Three years after she lost custody, Neustein says she learned that Sherry had recently lost 11 pounds. She called on Paterson and Nadler to hold a press conference, and they agreed. Paterson also wrote a letter to the Justice Department, asking the agency to look into the case.

"Every doctor I spoke to said, 'Kidnap her,' " says Neustein. "I said, 'I can't do that.' So the next best thing was a press conference." She adds that if that press conference hadn't happened, Sherry would not be alive today.

At the conference, advocates for Neustein showed four-year-old pictures of Sherry suffering from anorexia, but a relative of the Orbachs showed more recent photos of the girl dancing and looking happy at her recent bat mitzvah.

Veteran NPR reporter Margot Adler attended the Paterson press conference and later produced a piece about the case for All Things Considered. Adler recalls the entire experience as being disorienting, especially considering the different ways Sherry was being portrayed: "The kid was totally mute. She was described on the one hand as a kid who was emaciated and anorexic, and on the other, she was having a bat mitzvah, dancing." She added, "The more I found out, the more I said, 'Whoa, this is a little weird.' "

Many observers expressed frustration that no one could access information about the case beyond what was provided by either side—and for years, no official with direct involvement was permitted to speak on the record (except for a Legal Aid worker who testified that her superiors showed open dislike for Amy). Ozzie Orbach himself refused to speak to the media about the case. He did, however, send thousands of pages of court documents to Paterson and many journalists. (As did Amy.) His sister, Fran, who has remained close to Sherry over the years, and [Amy's brother-in-law] Martin Berger, often spoke in Orbach's stead.

The courts, meanwhile, repeatedly ruled in Orbach's favor. But Neustein was just as repeatedly the victor in the court of public opinion. The Voice itself published a piece supporting her, which was co-written by Lesher, who would go on to co-authorFrom Madness to Mutiny with Neustein.

"Amy came to me—as she came to everybody—and her story was pretty compelling. And I think I wanted to believe her. .. . . I was a feminist . . . and here was a woman whose daughter was taken from her and . . . thrown into foster care," says NPR's Adler, who recalls combing through mountains of information in order to report the piece. "I did this story 15 years ago. And at the end, all I could say was, 'I don't know who is right in this.' By the end of the story, I really didn't have a clue. But, boy, did they mess up their lives."

The case continues to be seen as a landmark of injustice by some women's rights groups. On May 12, 2006, the New York Chapter of the National Organization for Women, which has long supported the Neustein cause, sent out a press release in commemoration of Childless Mother's Day, which opened with the line, "As in the case of Dr. Amy Neustein, women are charged with 'child neglect' on the sole ground that they believe their child has been abused." In the same year, Neustein was presented with a Woman of Valor: Lifetime Achievement Award from the Battered Mothers Custody Conference held in upstate New York.

Taking into account the long time that has passed since the case first made headlines, however, the Voice asked Neustein about the current location of her daughter, whom she has not seen in many years.

"All attempts at reconciliation have failed thus far," she replied in an e-mail. "I don't know Sherry's whereabouts other than a Google search which has her last (and possibly current) position in Philadelphia. . . ."

Today, Sherry Eve Orbach is 28 years old. After graduating with joint degrees from Harvard's Kennedy School of Public Policy and Columbia Law School in 2007, she now works as an attorney at the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia.

Four years ago, when Neustein and Lesher began to receive publicity for their book, From Madness to Mutiny, Orbach suspected that a new series of stories would be written about her childhood and the allegations that she'd been sexually abused by her father.

So she finally decided to speak out about the case on her own. In an article published by theJewish Press, Orbach denied that she was ever abused by her father.

"Although I have not seen my mother, Amy Neustein, in 16 years, I remember her clearly," she wrote. "I remember, on one of my rare visits to my mother's house in Brooklyn, watching her softly stroking her hair with an antique silver brush as she gazed at herself in her bedroom mirror and wondered out loud whether she was pretty enough to be famous. I remember my mother sitting with me on the plastic-covered couch in my grandmother's country home at age five as if it were yesterday. We had been rehearsing for hours. She would begin by telling me a sordid and false story about my father, such as a detailed account about how he had molested me or about how he had thrown me violently against a wall. She then instructed me to repeat the story word for word until she was satisfied with my rendition. At the time, my father had indicated he would be filing for custody. My mother warned that if I did not tell these lies to the judge, I would be taken from my grandmother. After my mother lost legal custody, I visited her once a week. During these visits, my mother used to tape record me and pose me for pictures in order to gain material for her next media performance. I fought back in the only way I could. Once, I chased her around a table in an attempt to snatch her tape recorder."

The piece was immediately questioned by other Jewish publications. The Jewish Voice and Opinion openly doubted that Orbach had actually written the piece. Lesher also publicly claimed that the "Sherry Orbach" who had written the piece was an imposter. (Privately, however, he wrote Orbach an e-mail asking her to reconcile with her mother.)

The mainstream media that had followed every development in the case years earlier, however, didn't take notice. Neustein's book was published to favorable reviews, and she has continued to advance her career.

The question lingered: Was it Orbach who had written the Jewish Press piece claiming that she had been coached as a young girl?

The Voice arranged to meet Orbach recently at a vegetarian restaurant in the East Village. Soft-spoken and slender, she was accompanied by her fiancé, Jon Lachman, whom she met while completing her master's degree at Harvard two years ago. Almost immediately, she handed over her driver's license.

"A lot of people have told you that I'm not who I say I am," she said.

Why, we asked, had she finally gone to such an obscure local journal with information that, at one time, was a prime-time television case? She said that she'd spent her adult life avoiding publicity, and it was still humiliating to speak publicly about her experiences.

"I hoped that the story would fizzle out and that, if I had a difficult childhood, I could have a normal adulthood," she says. "The way [my mother] has been able to resuscitate the story is by putting herself as a leader for other victims. I don't think she cares about the people she claims to represent."

Orbach says that her mother had confronted her with very disturbing, sexually explicit information as a child, and that had led her to be afraid of her father and, at one point, to corroborate the sexual abuse—a reaction that was described in legal testimony. But when she moved in with her father after foster care, she began to realize "that he was a decent guy," and the longer she was away from her mother's home, the more she felt what she'd been told by her mother was irresponsible.

Sherry remembers visitations from her mother as very painful experiences. Around the time when Orbach developed anorexia, she would do anything to not be in her mother's presence, including scratching herself and screaming. "Throughout my life, my mother was always filming and taping me and taking pictures of me and telling lies. It was profoundly embarrassing. I felt victimized during each visit. She wanted to use me to get the media's attention," Orbach says.

Orbach was asked if her father's strategy of never talking to the press (until he recently spoke to the Voice) had made the situation worse. "My mother has dominated the airtime. She has sought a lot of media attention," Sherry responded. "My dad's tactic is a 'No comment' tactic. He didn't want to engage. He knew it was profoundly humiliating to me."

Two years ago, when Neustein was invited to be on Nightline to comment on the case of a prominent Orthodox rabbi who was accused of sex abuse, Sherry called the program and complained, explaining that her mother's supposed expertise on sex abuse was based on a false case—namely, her own. Roxanna Sherwood, a producer at Nightline, tells the Voice that Orbach's objection did lead to a discussion among the show's producers, but ultimately, Sherwood found Neustein's research to be credible, and because she was not going to speak about her personal story, there was no reason to not have her on the program. "Her research was solid and vetted thoroughly. For us to take her research and not give her a nod wouldn't have been fair," says Sherwood.

In 2006, Orbach also reached out to the National Organization for Women, which has been a staunch supporter of Neustein's version of events. She asked a friend who worked with NOW to send the organization's president, Kim Gandy, an e-mail discussing Orbach's side of things. She hasn't heard back.

"The court saw the truth. But in the court of public opinion, it's quite the opposite," Orbach says. "I've been skeptical of the media for a long time, especially when, as an adult, I tried to intervene. I would try to tell people that I wasn't victimized the way my mother said I was. And I expected that what I said would give reason to pause and investigate." Orbach also complained to the lead counsel for the University Press that published Neustein's book, but was told the book was "not a memoir"—even though references to the custody case are sprinkled throughout it.

Neustein, for her part, says she hopes that she can reconcile with her daughter by attending therapy sessions together. But Orbach says that as long as Neustein continues the allegations of abuse, she does not trust her mother: "Of course I would have liked to have a real mother, but I would prefer to have no mother than to have a mother who exploits and victimized me."

After dinner with Orbach, the Voice asked Amy Neustein about her daughter's complaint that she seeks publicity for its own sake. Neustein responded that she actually wants to put the story of her own custody battle behind her so she can focus on her expertise in speech technology. She insisted that she isn't a "media hound," but that, on multiple occasions, she has little choice but to seek the spotlight.

That was true in this case, she pointed out, in regards to her brother, the landlord, who is locked in a battle with Dominican tenants of modest means who just want a decent place to live.

"You need media," she said, "when you are suffocated and oppressed and no one will listen to you. The only way out is freedom of speech."


Amy Neustein


Amy Neustein and Michael Lesher

Amy Neustein and attorney, Michael Lesher


 Amy Neustein, Michael Lesher and Susan Rosenbluth

Amy Neustein, Michael Lesher and Susan Rosenbluth

Friday, March 13, 2009

It takes a small group of people - 2009 Child Victims Act of New York

The photograph below is part of the group of adult survivors of child sexual abuse (and those who care about them) who went Albany, NY in hopes of helping to pass the 2009 Child Victims Act of New York. The group was made up of Jewish, Catholic and Buddhist Survivors. Groups represented include: The Awareness Center (the international Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Assault/Abuse), New York Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NYCASA), New York Coalition to Protect Children, SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priest) and Survivors For Justice.

Pictured above includes Joel Engelman, Mark Weiss, Joe Diangelo, Peggy Cashman, Tim Echausse, Vicki Polin, and Rabbi Nochem Rosenberg. Several others left prior to the photograph being taken.

For more information on the Child Victims Act of New York go to the New York Coalition to Protect Children

Friday, March 06, 2009

I have a dream . . . Lincoln Memorial (March 4, 2009)

© (2009) Photographs by Vicki Polin

I was in hopes of finding others who might share a dream with me.

Last month marked my twenty-fifth anniversary of advocating for survivors of child sexual abuse. For years I envisioned being a part of national rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC for Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse. A rally that brought national attention to the fact that as children we had no civil rights and as adults our needs are often ignored as adults.

One person alone has no voice, yet together we make up one forth of the population of the United States (one out of every 4 child have been molested by the time they reach the age of 18).

Can you imagine the power we would have if all adult survivors of child sexual abuse of all faiths and backgrounds united and formed a "Survivors Union". A group of survivors doing what it takes to make our country safer for children.

If you are interested in helping to make this dream a reality please contact me immediately.

Vicki Polin