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NGO decries ‘cover-up culture’ in sex abuse cases
By SAM SOKOL
01/28/2013
Head of Beit Shemesh group: Case of UK rabbi recorded discouraging reporting on molestation not uncommon.
 
High-profile cover-ups of sexual abuse and molestation by communal rabbis and activists have not been limited to England and the US, but take place frequently in Israel, alleged David Morris, director of Magen, a Beit Shemesh-based community child protection organization.

Magen, which works to encourage parents of sexually abused children to file reports with social services and the police, has been banned in some synagogues due to what Morris believes to be “a deepset culture of non-reporting and cover-up.”

The way that many Israeli religious communities prefer to handle such issues, he claims, is instead “dealing with child abuse within the community,” via “parents, professionals and community leaders.”

Morris’s comments come on the heels of an announcement by England’s Channel 4 that the station will be airing an investigative special entitled “Britain’s Hidden Child Abuse” on Wednesday, featuring an audio recording of prominent local Rabbi Ephraim Padwa telling a community member wearing a wire that he should not report being abused to law enforcement.

Padwa, the rabbinic chief of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations, told the man that reporting abuse to the police is mesira, a Talmudic term for passing information on to authorities that has extremely negative connotations amongst the Orthodox.

Despite admitting that the issue under discussion was serious, the rabbi told the questioner that “people mustn’t tell tales” and that “the police is not the solution.”

A spokesman for Channel 4 noted that their investigation uncovered “19 different alleged cases of child sex abuse across the UK. Yet not one was reported to the police because alleged victims feared reprisals from within the community.”

In a statement, Padwa noted that “the union has a special committee to deal with cases of abuse amongst our children.”

While there are “certain times when it is correct and necessary to call the social services and police,” Padwa wrote, the proper course of action in each case is to be decided in consultation with rabbis.

This, explains Morris, is a trend that exists in Israel as well and has been observed by members of his staff operating in Beit Shemesh.

“Some community leaders implicitly discouraged victims and their families from reporting child abuse allegations to the police and social services.

In some cases, this was enforced by harassment of victims who did report, extending to physical threats and violence.

One victim was offered a large cash bribe by a community organization to withdraw their complaints against a rapist,” he claimed.

Referring to the intimidation of the victim in the recent trial of Rabbi Nechemya Weberman by members of the local Satmar community, Morris asserted that “the national-level scandals in the USA and England...

most recently in the Jewish communities of Williamsburg, New York, and Stamford Hill, London, are exposing similar patterns of communal response to child sexual abuse allegations – where mandated reporters and others knowing of the abuse ignore it or conceal it.”

Weberman, an unlicensed therapist, was sentenced to 103 years in jail by a Brooklyn court last week for sexually abusing a 12-year-old girl under his care, throwing the New York Satmar hassidic community, of which he is a member, into turmoil.

Several community members were charged with attempting to both bribe and intimidate the victim into withdrawing her testimony.

The tendency among members of the ultra-Orthodox community to go to rabbis first, he believes, can lead to further abuses of victims.

“If victims are disbelieved or intimidated by their community, this creates a secondary trauma, which can be even worse for the victim than the direct effects of the abuse itself,” said Morris.

The policy in some communities of actively dissuading victims of sex crimes from bringing their allegations to the state authorities is “often expressed and promoted using the vocabulary and concepts of Jewish religious law and jurisprudence,” he said. Among the concepts used to suppress reports of abuse are the biblical prohibitions against lashon Hara or gossiping, and chillul Hashem or causing a desecration of God’s name.

In Beit Shemesh alone, Morris said that an increase in reports from the haredi sector to social services is now up an astonishing 125 percent in just two years due to the efforts of organizations like Magen.

“These cases must be presented in the context of the rampant abuse of children and cover-up by officials in the secular community as well,” said Dr. Harold Goldmeier, former executive director of the Massachusetts Committee for Children and Youth and a member of Magen’s board.

While stating that there is a problem within the Orthodox community, Goldmeier explained that “without placing child abuse in the context of the other cases, the press appears anti-Semitic, picking on and singling out the Jewish community. Just reporting on child abuse in the Jewish community will add credence to their fears, and will further encourage victims not to report the crimes to authorities. But it is not a crime unique to the Jewish community.”
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