Ultra-Orthodox Jews dance with Torah scrolls during the celebrations of Simchat Torah in a synagogue in the Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
An initiative called Din Ve’Cheshbon, or “Settling the Score” in Hebrew, has been launched to encourage victims of sexual assault in the haredi community to come forward and demand compensation from sex offenders and persons who supported their attackers or helped keep their offenses quiet.
The project coordinator Nachman Rosenberg says it began with haredi businesspeople from abroad who have become increasingly outraged at the growing number of news reports regarding sexual abuse against women, children and youths in the community which are not appropriately dealt with.
In March, for example, the police apprehended almost two dozen suspected haredi sex offenders in Jerusalem and three haredi-majority cities, after having previously arrested the head of a so-called Modesty Guard committee in the haredi community who was found to be in the possession of numerous records of men who had committed sex offenses.
In the majority of cases, the head of the Modesty Guard would instruct the perpetrators to get some form of therapy within the haredi community but would not report their crimes to the police.
“The common denominators of incidents in the haredi community are that frequently the abuse went on for a long time, people knew about, it was suppressed and because of that hundreds of kids affected,” says Rosenberg. “This makes haredi children very vulnerable.”
The businessmen behind Din Ve’Cheshbon, who Rosenberg says wish to remain anonymous at this stage, have donated some NIS 500,000 to finance civil lawsuits against sex offenders or anyone who helped support a sex offender or hush up his crimes.
The money will be used to provide victims with the professional and legal assistance to conduct these suits, as well psychological help if necessary, and is provided for free.
Rosenberg says that following the launch of Din Ve’Cheshbon earlier this week, the project received dozens of calls and messages from people with a story to tell about sexual abuse within the community.
A website at www.dinvcheshbon.com
with an online form to submit a report about sexual abuse has been created, as has a Facebook page where reports can also be filed.
“Have sex offenders have harmed you? Did institutions and community wheeler-dealers silence you? Did the authorities abandon you? They should pay, dearly,” reads an advertisement for the organization.
Rosenberg said that the uniqueness of the initiative is its emphasis on tacking the culture of silencing complaints which creates “a fertile environment for sexual offenses.”
“Unlike what happens in criminal proceedings where only the offender pays a price, in civil proceedings those who did not act responsibly and morally and in accordance with the law regarding an incident which they became aware of [do],” he said.
“Teachers, educational advisers or school principals who violate the duty to report sexual assault; employees of welfare departments who gloss over cases and do not handle them according to the required procedures; or an institution that continues to employ an offender while aware that this offender may continue to inflict more harm every day – they should know that there’s a heavy price to pay for this.”