'Haredi silence must be broken in abuse cases'

Children's rights activists say that family and community members who keep quiet are partners in the crime.

haredi girls 88 (photo credit: )
haredi girls 88
(photo credit: )
The code of silence that exists in ultra-Orthodox communities regarding physical and sexual abuse against children must be broken, and ordinary citizens as well as professionals should be prosecuted for not reporting such cases to the authorities, Welfare and Social Services Ministry officials and child activists told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. In light of at least two cases of extreme child abuse and incest exposed in the last two weeks - both of which took place in ultra-Orthodox families - those working with children told the Post that there must have been signs these atrocities were being committed, but neighbors, extended family, educational professionals and rabbis did nothing to alert the authorities. "I don't believe that no one knew what was going on in these families," Hannah Slutzky, national supervisor for child affairs in the Welfare and Social Services Ministry, said in an interview. "It is not only the perpetrators of the acts who need to be brought to justice, but also the people who fail to report such crimes." Children's rights activist Dr. Yitzhak Kadman, director of the National Council for the Child, commented: "Since the law [known as the Good Samaritan Law, obligating both professionals and citizens to report cases of suspected child abuse] was enacted 18 years ago, I think only about five people have been brought to justice for not speaking out." He continued, "It is not just that it is not nice to keep quiet - people are actually breaking the law." He added that one did not have to be certain that abuse was taking place in order to report it; even a slight suspicion should warrant the most basic call to action. The most recent case that came to light this week - that of a 54-year-old ultra-Orthodox Beit Shemesh woman accused of brutal physical abuse, including whippings with belts and electric cables, as well as allowing sexual activity to take place among her 12 children - is an extreme example, said Slutzky. "There is a lot of abuse in the haredi community, and the people there are not willing to cooperate with the authorities," she said, adding that a committee was established by the ministry within the past year to work together with community rabbis to encourage the population to be more open to the authorities. "It should be made clear to the people that protective services are there to help families and children in order to provide them with solutions to their problems," she said. Dina Hahn, chairwoman of women's organization World Emunah - which was selected Wednesday as a recipient of this year's Israel Prize for, among other things, its work with children at risk - pointed out that there was a "code of silence" within the haredi world. "People [in the haredi community] prefer to turn to their own professionals," she said. "But we are beginning to see that this is not enough." Hahn also noted that there was a clear lack of trust between the authorities and the haredi community. "We must call on the rabbis to tell their population to be more open about what is going on. It is not lashon hora [the sin of gossip and other harmful speech]," added Kadman. "People who keep quiet are partners in the abuse." Asked whether the case in Beit Shemesh and the one two weeks ago of a US immigrant family accused of severely abusing their six children indicated a rise in abuse within the haredi community, both Slutzky and Kadman concurred that it was more a case of increased awareness and reporting. "There has not been a rise," stated Slutzky. "People are just more willing to talk about it than in the past." Kadman noted that child abuse cases have gone up in recent years, but that this was the case in all of society, not particularly in the haredi community. "It is not fair to point the finger only at that community," he said. "There is a clear rise in violence against children in general. Sadly our society is more violent toward children than ever before."