Opinion: Why wait for Agudah?


Parents must safeguard children's safety

By Asher Lipner

Issue of December 4, 2009/ 17 Kislev 5770

Many Jewish parents are pleasantly surprised that at the Agudah

convention last week, the Gedolim admitted that child sexual abuse is a big problem in our community. People hope that this crack in the legendary rabbinic denial is a step forward in actually doing something about the problem.

This comes on the heels of another recent admission in the New York Times by an Agudah spokesperson that the problem of abuse in our community "cannot be handled internally." In a public letter in 2007 Baltimore's Vaad HaRabonim ruled that an abuser is a "rodef" (a murderer), that "virtually all means may be used to stop him and bring him to justice," and that all "credible concerns of abuse must be reported to the authorities." In 2006, a memo to yeshiva principals from the Rabbinical Board of Torah Umesorah strongly advised schools to have safety protocols. It emphasized, "It is incumbent upon everyone to use every means to stop these violations of children, including... exposing the identities of the abusers and even their incarceration."

All that is now needed is for rabbis to simply fulfill what they have already promised: to encourage and support publicizing molesters and reporting them to the police. When victims see that they really have communal support, many more will come forward to tell us who the abusers are that our children need protection from. When molesters see strong action taken, instead of the historic bullying of victims to keep quiet, they will think twice before harming another child.

A good start would be to publicize the names of those already convicted of crimes against children, and those who are known by leaders to be guilty. For example, infamous molester Baruch Lanner recently disappeared from the government's registry of sex offenders. What if NCSY and the Orthodox Union, his former employers, took measures to warn the public of the danger he represents to young people everywhere?   What if instead of parents needing to look at blogs to find out about Jewish molesters, the leading organizations published a list of them the same way lists of men who refuse to give their wives a get are published? What if instead of allowing the community to shame and vilify victims of abuse who speak up, the rabbis publicly thanked and praised as heroes those courageous enough to warn the community about their molesters?

While we wait to see if the Agudah is just talking the talk or is going to finally walk the walk, parents should realize that they are ultimately responsible for their children's safety. Some are already independently searching for ways to protect children without waiting for their leaders to act.  Many have asked the Jewish Board of Advocacy for Children for guidance.

While the "experts" are telling the community that parents need to speak to their children about not "letting" anyone touch them inappropriately, and to inform their parents if anyone does, obviously children cannot be solely responsible for their own protection. As their caregivers, parents need to provide them with a safe environment.  Here is how:

1) Report any and all suspicions directly to the police.  Even though some will not want to press charges, such as when the molester is a spouse, sibling or parent, the only way to make sure that the molester is kept out of reach of children is to involve the authorities in some manner.

DO NOT report to rabbonim, "askanim" or frum community "liaisons," because each of these groups has a conflict of interest.

DO bring a "rape victims advocate," such as from the Coalition Against Sexual Assault or from the Jewish Board of Advocacy for Children, with you, to prevent the possibility that community pressure will impede the police from acting aggressively.

2) Demand that your children's camps and schools create safety and prevention plans to stop molestation and cover-ups.

To learn what schools must do, visit www.jewishadvocates.org and read the position paper that lobbies the State of New York to mandate private schools to have safety measures at least the equivalent of those in public schools.

3) Bring education and awareness to your community by holding forums where adult survivors tell their tragic stories. Rabbis, parents and even mental health professionals have all said that hearing first hand accounts of the process of how a molester wins the trust and gains access to children, as well as the devastating emotional effects that abuse can have, is one of the most effective ways to learn the whole ugly truth about the travesty. Recently, in a black-hat shul in Passaic, 300 people came out to hear five survivors, including a teenage girl, give testimony and teach parents about issues of safety and prevention.

In the Five Towns and around Nassau County, in communities known as progressive and leading in many aspects of Chinuch and Torah, parents will surely want to contact the JBAC to arrange educational events to learn more about child safety.

Dr. Asher Lipner, Ph.D. holds a doctorate in clinical psychology, and works as a psychotherapist in the Orthodox community specializing in providing clinical services for survivors of sexual abuse and their families.  He is vice president and co-founder of JBAC and can be reached at lipnera@gmail.com.