(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
In the past four months the Crown Heights Jewish Community has seen as many
sexual abuse-related arrests and reports as there have been in the past 20
years. A Crown Heights victims’ advocacy group called CH Watch has documented at
least four arrests in the past four months. What has lead to this drastic
upsurge in reporting child sexual abuse? What was the game changer that turned
the tide, leaving the offenders running for cover and the victims openly
speaking to the police? In a courageous move on July 11, 2011, the Crown Heights
Rabbinical Court (Beit Din) issued a public letter requiring its members to
report credible claims of sexual abuse to the police.
authorities have also encouraged their members to go the police, but what was
unique here is the fact that the Crown Heights Beit Din made the matter public
and not only allowed its members to report directly to the police, but required
The Beit Din’s letter stated that Jewish law requires reporting
credible claims of sexual abuse to the authorities. It went on to reiterate that
Jewish laws written to stop Jewish individuals from informing to the police and
taking other Jews to secular court do not apply in the context of sexual abuse.
This is because the potential offender is classified as a threat that is
endangering the lives of the innocent.
Since the Beit Din’s letter was
released there have been at least four arrests of Crown Heights residents and
rabbis accused of child sexual abuse. That number is staggering considering that
in the last 20 years the Crown Heights Jewish community has seen few if any
arrests related to child sexual abuse. And it’s not because sexual abuse did not
exist - national surveys estimate that 25 percent of children in the US are
victims of sexual abuse. It’s because child sexual abuse previously went
SOME SELECT Orthodox organizations advise members to seek a
rabbi’s permission before reporting abuse to the authorities. Needing a rabbi’s
permission before reporting abuse to the authorities leads to countless victims
suffering in silence and zero accountability and deterrence for perpetrators.
Social workers, child-care providers, teachers, counselors and others are
legally bound to report abuse. Encouraging them not to may also constitute
obstruction of justice and witness tampering.
When rabbis serve as
gatekeepers to the police, they may also discourage victims from reporting
sexual abuse in an effort to avoid chilul hashem (desecration of God’s name),
that is, giving a bad name to the community. The Crown Heights Beit Din’s letter
is an unequivocal statement that sexual abuse victims should not need a rabbi’s
permission to report abuse to the authorities and that the value of human life
supersedes claims of chilul hashem.
The impact of the Crown Heights Beit
Din’s letter is monumental. As a result, the culture of silence has changed
dramatically over the last few months. A Rabbinical Court requiring victims to
report sexual abuse to the secular authorities is a heartening sign of progress
in an otherwise seemingly insular community. This step forward should be
highlighted in an effort to pressure other rabbinical courts to follow suit.
Victims should not have to suffer in silence. As a closely connected community,
we must also be aware that a sexual abuse accusation from one community member
against another should not lead to cyberspace lynch-mobs, vigilantism, or
“guilty until proven innocent” group-think mentality. Let the system play it
The bottom line is that the recent arrests and exposure of several
alleged predators in Crown Heights would have never occurred without the Beit
Din’s letter encouraging victims to report abuse. We are seeing a major sign of
progress – with the Crown Heights Beit Din at the vanguard.
The hope is
that communities elsewhere can replicate this example.The writer is a
graduate of the City University of New York School of Law, where he served as an
executive editor of the law review. He has advocated for gender equality in
voting rights, sexual abuse awareness and better police-community relations in
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