Jewish group calls for safeguards against child abuse at ritual baths

Group's founder decries the lack of media coverage of a recent mikve rape victim and the victim’s advocate drug overdose.

jewish ritual bath (mikve) (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
jewish ritual bath (mikve)
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Stricter oversight is required at ritual baths, known in Hebrew as mikvaot, in order to prevent child molestation, according to one Australian Jewish organization. Tzedek, which advocates for members of the Jewish community who have been sexually abused, issued a set of recommended guidelines on Tuesday which it hopes will find widespread acceptance and which would overhaul the manner in which such religious facilities are managed.
Tzedek and its founder Manny Waks, himself a former victim, have been embroiled in a number of high profile disputes with orthodox educational institutions accused of covering up past abuses and protecting the guilty parties.
In a PDF document available in both English and Hebrew, Tzedek recommended that youths attending the mikve should be accompanied by their fathers or a designated supervisor, that “alleged or convicted perpetrators” not be allowed within the facility while children are present and defining procedures for the admittance of children so that “their whereabouts are always known.”
At least two adult monitors should be present and within line of sight of children during their visit, there should be no “unrestricted hours” of operation and no “opportunity for concealment,” the document further recommended.
The boundaries of tolerance for youth/adult interactions must be clearly delineated and such policies should be “clearly communicated in writing to all mikve users” and a “zero tolerance” approach to abuse must be adopted, the organization declared.
In a recent op-ed, Waks decried the lack of media coverage of a mikve rape victim and the victim’s advocate Joey Diangello, who recently died of a drug overdose while revelations that Rabbi Barry Freundel had videotaped women at the mikve adjacent to his Washington DC synagogue. While the Freundel case, which has been covered widely in both the Jewish and mainstream media, was deserving of such reportage, the lack of commensurate coverage for other kinds of abuse rankled, Waks wrote.
Tzedek’s initiative should be “commended and when being implemented of course needs to take into account the realities and practicalities of each individual mikve ensuring full protection for our children,” Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant, the President of the Organization of Rabbis of Australasia, told the Jerusalem Post.
“I think it is indeed important that there be protocols to ensure our children are safe under all circumstances, including of course during the time-honored ritual of immersion in a mikve.”
Dr. Danny Lamm, the President of the Zionist Federation of Australia, likewise supported the “very important work” of Tzedek, stating that it “should be disseminated as widely as possible.”
“We've needed to face the reality of child sexual abuse for a long time and anything that can be done in this arena should be considered as pikuach nefesh,” he said, using the Hebrew term for saving a life.
According to David Morris, the founder of the Beit Shemesh based advocacy organizations Magen, “the problem of child sexual abuse in male mikvaot definitely exists” despite denials by some elements within the orthodox community, and said that he had received five reports of such incidents occurring.
“Had these mikvaot implemented child sexual abuse prevention measures, such as proposed by Tzedek, then we believe some or even all of these cases would have been prevented,” he asserted.
Attendance at locations in which men walk around unclothed may give children “confusing messages about boundaries, privacy and safety from sexual abuse,” Morris warned. “While not in itself dangerous, it undermines the safety messages we try to impress upon our children. Those parents who chose to take or permit their children to go to a mikve should use this as an opportunity to sit down with their child beforehand to explain about their bodies, privacy and safety, and address the dilemma of going to the mikve.”