Friday, June 17, 2011

Have We Learned Nothing?!

When I happened to see this particular headline on the Baltimore Jewish Times web site, I was stunned. Maybe I shouldn't have been, but I guess I believed that, at least publicly, we were already getting beyond this kind of nonsense. Guess again!

Here's the headline, and the link, and frankly, you should go read this piece before coming back to mine. I'll wait: Agudah Rabbis: Talk To Rabbi, Not Police About Molesters

As I sit here now, my mind is absolutely racing! I've got too many things going through my head at once, but ALL of them have an underlying theme: Are they out of their minds?!?!

Haven't we learned anything yet?! Haven't we yet learned that we can't just keep pushing these things under the carpet?! That they won't just go away?! That we have to expose them to the light, if we want them to die, instead of allowing them to hide away and fester?!

I'm sickened by this, to the point that I don't really think I'm writing coherently. If you haven't already read my last blog post, The Carpet, read it. Everything I said there, applies just the same here. We should be ashamed of the Agudah for this, because they don't seem to have enough sense to be ashamed of themselves.


BubbyT said...

I just read both posts. Very good David. You are right.

Wanna Saab said...

I am not taking a position because frankly, I don't know what the right thing is to do. But it's not so simple to say go straight to the police and it has nothing to do with sweeping abuse under the carpet. It has to do with preventing slander against someone who is falsely accused.

It's great that there is much more awareness about abuse. It's important to teach kids they did nothing wrong and they should not feel embarrassed to report abuse. But to whom?

This is such a hot issue, and we are all out for blood - to catch a perp and make a public example out of him. We want to demonstrate that the Jewish community is not weak, and that he won't get away with this anymore. The police are equally as eager to catch him. They want to demonstrate that they take the issue seriously, and that they are working with the Jewish community. I believe they are sincere in their desire to help.

But because everyone is so eager to catch someone and show tough justice, is it possible that any accusation will be fast-tracked without a thorough investigation, even a false one? A kid can say something about a teacher he doesn't like, or a parent can make an incorrect inference from a child’s comments. The police are salivating for their first catch, almost whether it's true or not.

And make no mistake, innocent or not, once a person is accused, it's over for him. Parents will rightfully demand he be dismissed because, what if...and they wouldn't want to risk it with their child in his class. Once the suspicion is there, it's almost impossible to clear your name. The teacher will lose his job, never work again in his field of training, he and his family will suffer the hardship of his lost income with not many prospects of other forms of employment. He will forever be viewed with suspicion by his entire community and his own wife and family, his children will be ostracized at school, and you can forget about shidduchim. He could get run out of town for something he never did, and no one will stand by him with 100% certainty. So you better be careful before you run to the police.

There is some very strong language in halacha about unnecessarily taking another Jew to secular courts. They don't have the same values of justice and tzedek tzedek tirdof and a man's life can be ruined. Yes, you say, but what about the child's life being ruined? You are worrying about the adult monster that did this, instead of a poor innocent child? Certainly not. You have to worry about both.

Maybe it used to be true, but today I cannot accept that the rabbis are trying to sweep the issue under the carpet – there is too much awareness for that to work. Nor are they trying to protect the perp at the peril of a child. They are suggesting bringing it to leaders in the community, let them evaluate it quietly before a public spectacle is made Then decide if the police should be contacted. And in some cases, they will.

The obvious next question is valid. What, just because a rabbi knows gemara means he's now Magnum PI? Of course not. There must be training. There are those that hold degrees other than their semicha degree, such as in psychology and counselling. A Jewish community needs a board of rabbis and lay-leaders to deal with this competently and appropriately. Whether such a thing exists in any community, I do not know.

It appears I am taking the opposite position, but I am not. I just wanted to point out that it's not so simple to say run straight to the police. You are dealing with a sensitive matter and the solution is not simple, on either side of the argument.

Meanwhile, our schools must have a written policy on how to deal with this issue, and take precautions such as windows in every classroom door, and train their teachers how to avoid becoming entangled in this. May G d protect all our children from harm, and may the truth always be clear.

DavidS said...

What you're describing is a problem that is not really any different for us than for the general society in which we live. And yes, there are terrible abuses, often by kids, who may not even realize the terrible things they are doing. I know that. These need to be fixed for EVERYONE, not just Orthodox Jews, but yes, it is still a problem. I don't know the answer to that question.

But I do know that we have demonstrated time and again that the "rabbonim" today simply can't be trusted to do this right.

Again, go back and read my previous post. Talk to women and children who have been abused. Even the ones that did come forward to speak with Rabbinical Authorities often came away with nothing at all useful. In fact, sometimes they were given BAD ADVICE. So while I do feel for those wrongly accused, I think it's the wrong message for our rabbonim to be giving to people. You go to the Police, and let them deal with the rest of it.

And that's just for the victims, or friends/family of victims. But the people to whom R. Gottesman was speaking were apparently teachers, and health professionals. We're talking about people who have a legal obligation to bring their suspicions to the police. If they don't, they can lose their licenses; possibly face jail time. Is that worth the risk for them?

Bottom line is: I feel for the wrongly accused, and hope that we can find a better way to deal with that side of the equation. But people's lives are at stake here. I just can't agree with you.

Wanna Saab said...

I agree with your last line. People's lives are at stake here - on both sides. And I agree that in the past, rabbis have demonstrated that they have not dealt with this properly.

Is it possible to make it so they WILL deal with it properly? Training, further degrees of study? Not every shul rabbi needs to be able to handle this, as long as a given community can, maybe a Board of Orthodox psychology professionals along with rabbincal and legal adivce. I don't know what it should be, I just wanted to point out that the police is not a panacea, and the intent of the rabbis is no longer for the purpose of sweeping it under the carpet. There are rabbis and there are rabbis. I think it depends who you go to.

It's a tough topic and I wouldn't know what to do.

DavidS said...

I don't know the answer either, but my sense is that the cases of false accusation are far and away the minority of cases.

We're both trying to "err on the side of caution." But you're being cautious about the adults involved; I'm more concerned about being cautious with the kids.

Wanna Saab said...

Protecting the lives of innocent children - who can argue with that? That's why anyone who argues the other side is branded as NOT caring about children, or worse, maybe protecting the perp. I've heard people say that about the ones who recommend speaking to rabbis first.

I agree with all this. There are more instances of real abuse than falsely accused cases. For sure true. In the past, the rabbis have demonstrated incompetence in dealing with this issue. Also true. But if you read what I wrote before, the other side is not just the accused adult. It's his wife, his children, his home. It's more than just him.

How will the police treat an accusation? They'll accuse everyone in the room that breathes, then do their investigations and come to a conclusion. Those that they find are not involved are let go. But you see, by then it's too late. His character is already assassinated. It doesn't matter if in the end someone was found not guilty or no longer suspect. Even being accused is enough to have him forever viewed differently by everyone in his community.

I'm just not sure the law will take these things into account and that's why I wish there could be a way to provide proper training and / or a communal board of trained people so it can be dealt with competently, and protect both sides until it becomes clear.

DavidS said...

Forgive my misstatement: You are erring on the side of the accused and his/her family. I am erring on the side of the victim and his/her family.

Both sides of the argument have merit. And it stinks, either way. But I still think that if you have to err on one side over the other, it's better to protect the victim. If you don't, you'll soon find that no victims will ever come forward, and the real abusers will have free-reign to abuse more and more people.

That's why the laws are written the way that they are. That's why there are more cases of abuse coming to light.

And by the way, we're not just talking about children. Spousal abuse (both ways) and senior abuse, are also both serious issues that are increasingly coming to light.

Again, the rabbis are, at best, ill-prepared to handle these things properly. The police are the proper venue.

Oh, and what do you think about the required reporters, i.e. the doctors, teachers, etc. who are required by law to report suspicions to the police. If they don't, but go to the rabbis instead, they could lose their licenses; their jobs. They could go to prison. What of their familes?