Specialists and professionals this week highlighted a changing attitude within
the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community toward reporting suspected sexual abuse of
During a two-day conference on children’s well-being at Ben-Gurion University, which ended on Tuesday, experts and government officials in
the field spoke of the ongoing challenges of tackling the issue of sexual abuse
in the haredi sector, as well as recent progress that had been made.
conference also covered issues such as increased youth delinquency among
children from broken homes and children whose parents have criminal records;
high rates of physical violence at boarding schools; and other social concerns
relating to the well-being of children.
Discussing the issue of sexual
abuse in the ultra-Orthodox sector, National Council for the Child director
Dr. Yitzhak Kadman said that in recent years, the haredi public had
become much more inclined than before to report incidents of abuse.
and more people within the haredi sector are willing to say that there is a
problem,” Kadman told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. “Within the community, the
first thing someone does in many aspects of life is consult a rabbi. Today, many
rabbis are advising people to file complaints with the police or social workers,
which wasn’t the case in the past.”
According to Kadman, the number of
reports of minors suffering possible sexual abuse in that community is lower
than the national average, but he said this was likely due to cultural practices
and taboos surrounding the issue within the haredi sector.
presented during the session showed that the national rate of sexual abuse
victims up to age 14 was 1.7 per thousand in 2010. Figures for predominantly
ultra-Orthodox towns and neighborhoods vary. Modi’in Illit had a rate of 0.7 per
thousand in 2010, and Beitar Illit had a rate of 1.7, whereas Elad had a rate of
Kadman also emphasized that sexual abuse was not necessarily more
prevalent in the haredi sector, but that avoidance of the issue was more
widespread than in the broader public.
“A haredi child learns from birth
to obey without asking why,” said Bat Sheva Shaynin, director of the In Our
Hearts center for sexually abused youth, during Monday’s panel discussion.
“Children won’t talk about bad things that happened out of a fear of speaking
gossip [prohibited by Jewish law].”
But Yishai Shalif, director of
educational-psychological services in the ultra-Orthodox city of Modi’in Illit,
said there had been a sea change in communal leaders’ attitudes toward the issue
in recent years.
The approach to the issue has greatly improved, he told
the Post, thanks to the social services network’s cooperation and sensitive
handling of such matters, and the support and willing assistance of the
rabbinical and lay leadership.
This cooperation has led to the
establishment of workshops for adults, teaching them how to be more aware of
cases in which a child may have been abused, and similar classes for children to
strengthen their sense of caution around strangers and their readiness to report
any incidents of abuse.
Still, an ultra-Orthodox woman with personal
experience of sexual abuse, identifying herself only as “M,” spoke during the
conference about the difficulties of dealing with the problem within the
M called the sector’s attitude a “conspiracy of silence” and
said that it was extremely difficult to break down the “walls of silence” on
taboo issues. Even after a report or complaint is filed about suspected abuse,
she added, the police frequently close investigations without charges being
brought, due to a lack of evidence – often because children are reluctant or
unable to speak about the incident.
Kadman reported that in one incident
in a prominent haredi community, a teacher had been brought in for questioning
regarding a complaint filed against him alleging sexual abuse of a child. During
questioning, he admitted to having sexually abused 80 children.
to the National Council for the Child, children from the ultra-Orthodox sector
are more likely to be unsure if what they experienced was sexual abuse, and it
is harder for them to understand that they have been subjected to inappropriate
Despite these concerns, the Welfare and Social Services
Ministry’s chief social worker for youth, Hannah Slutzky, emphasized that
holding a debate on the issue would have been impossible just 10 years
“The ultra-Orthodox sector has come a long, long way in confronting
the problem, and the authorities themselves must now be open to addressing the
issue in a culturally sensitive manner,” she said.
in a Tuesday panel discussion on youth delinquency showed that in 2009, 32
percent of minors aged 12-18 with criminal records came from families in which
the parents had divorced, and 33% of youths in this age group had at least one
parent with a criminal record.