The new government must address rampant child sexual abuse -opinion

For Israel to deal with CSA cases, it must first acknowledge and accept the blight in its midst, in all its forms. This issue must be given A1 priority status by the incoming government.

 FLYERS ARE distributed in mailboxes in the Nahlaot neighborhood of Jerusalem, as part of an awareness campaign in the ultra-Orthodox community (photo credit: ALTEA STEINHERZ)
FLYERS ARE distributed in mailboxes in the Nahlaot neighborhood of Jerusalem, as part of an awareness campaign in the ultra-Orthodox community
(photo credit: ALTEA STEINHERZ)

In recent years, Israel has been caught in a maelstrom of child sexual abuse (CSA) cases, involving all sectors of society. This is hardly a sectarian issue. The psycho-social harm to victims and society is enormous and inter-generational, as abused children are at high risk of becoming abusers themselves if left untreated.

As a trauma-informed therapist and forensic private investigator specializing in crimes against children, I was asked to participate in high-level policy meetings on the issue. I prefer to share my ideas on this publicly. Child safety is too important to be used as a political tool, and child sex crimes cannot remain a closed-door affair.

The convergence of government coalition negotiations with the sexual abuse allegations against Rabbi Zvi Thau currently dominating the news cycle is unnerving. And I am of the belief that serious crises should be put to use.

For Israel to deal with CSA cases, it must first acknowledge and accept the blight in its midst, in all its forms. This issue must be given A1 priority status by the incoming government.

Critically, policy on child sex crimes cannot be determined by what has been the policy until now. Current policy is so faulty that trying to make it work is like nailing a jellyfish to the wall. The incoming government could demonstrate its seriousness on the issue by adopting the following policy recommendations.

Pedophile paradise

Israel has become a paradise for pedophiles eluding justice in their countries. The immediate banning of credibly accused abusers from making aliyah would be an important step.

In 2022, CSA is not about the stochastic crime of a creepy uncle at a family party. There must be an acceptance that organized CSA does happen, often, and in all countries. Child pornography is currently the crime with likely the highest profit margin internationally, feeding a market of billions.

Israel has been burying its head in the sand, with the State Attorney’s Office and police consistently throwing out reports (hundreds of them) on the grounds that they are “illogical.” The sophisticated criminal network entrenched in this is a most serious threat to the structural integrity of the country.

International experts from countries with experience prosecuting and treating such crimes must be brought in to advise on policies related to organized abuse.

Child sex crimes are a national security issue. According to a recent news report by Israel’s Channel 12, pedophiles allegedly hold sensitive government positions. These politicians are extremely vulnerable to blackmail by foreign interests.

Reporting and ungagging

Child sex crimes happen in private, so there are few opportunities to witness them. It takes, on average, 26 years for victims to disclose their abuse; prompt disclosures from children will continue to be extremely rare.

Therefore, the new government must immediately enact an emergency plan including well-designed mandated laws on reporting alleged offenses which would apply to all citizens aware of all such crimes. At present, mandated reporting is limited to teachers and therapists, and restricted to crimes against children and the helpless.

Witnessed and disclosed abuse cannot be the exclusive subjects of this mandate, as is currently the case. Failure to report other clear grounds for suspicion must also be subject to criminal sanctions. Otherwise, there will be no change in the behavior of those who suspect abuse, know that they should report it and know how to report it, but choose not to report it.

Rabbis and other spiritual leaders must be held legally accountable for not taking action when they were informed about abuse. I know of hundreds of cases that were silenced by rabbis and others in such circles. This institutional betrayal must stop, and this is the only way to stop it. The same applies to anyone in positions of authority in all government agencies.

The current practice of blanket gag orders in sex crime cases serves criminals, not victims. Every victim must be guaranteed the right to tell their story.

There are currently victims whose abusers are serving long sentences for violent sex crimes, while their victims are legally prevented from speaking about what happened to them. Many of these victims become suicidal as a result of being gagged by the courts.

Investigation and evidence

Orphanages and dormitories are fertile ground for CSA. The welfare system needs to completely overhaul its safeguarding practices and child protection policy.

Child investigations must be recorded, and properly safeguarded. Too many cases of “lost” evidence keep destroying the ability to prosecute horrendous crimes, even where multiple children have made similar claims about the same perpetrators. This must be legally enforced, with penalties for “mistakes.”

Children undergoing investigation must be accompanied by a trusted figure. Investigators must be held accountable for the truth. Child investigators must meet profile requirements that respect the specific needs of traumatized children, taking into account sectarian and religious issues.

Moreover, investigations must happen immediately upon disclosure, preventing “contamination of evidence.” The long delays are a primary reason for systemic failures.

This will require a serious increase in the number of investigators of sex offenses against children. I am aware of cases of gang rape where the investigations did not happen for months after disclosure and police reports were filed.

Extend time, publicize crime

The statute of limitations in sex crimes should be lifted. At the very least, a “look-back window,” such as that established in New York, should be enacted, in order to allow victims of historic abuse cases an opportunity to seek justice.

An Israeli parallel to “Megan’s Law” should be drafted, once a careful study is carried out to determine how such a law could be most effective. Citizens have a right to know from whom they need to protect their children, yet reformed criminals deserve a chance at life. 

Israel’s vast technological capabilities must be put to use in tracking these crimes. It is absurd that cyber investigations are not the standard practice. A country-wide help-signal system for children should be developed and implemented.

Sex criminals must never be offered “state witness” deals, nor granted immunity in exchange for service as government intelligence or police sources. There is nothing that could ever justify this immoral, unethical practice.

Research into how past cases were mishandled because of negligence or corruption is vital. Those in government who covered up abuse must be held accountable.

Data collection and sharing in all related matters will improve collaboration and safeguarding. Until that happens, the arduous efforts to access information will continue, and the public will remain in the dark about the scale of abuse. All players spanning every aspect of child care must be trained to become trauma-informed.

Parents abusing kids

Divorcing partners sometimes, but rarely, use false claims of sexual abuse to attempt to gain leverage in custody matters. Most parents would not harm their children this way. It has become a tactic employed by ruthless divorce lawyers; this can be stopped by requiring offending spouses and lawyers to be subject to significant financial penalties.

More often, a child victim disclosing sexual abuse by a parent to the other, non-offending parent will likely and naturally lead to divorce filing. We are terribly endangering our children by automatically labeling such cases as ones of “parental alienation.” All cases must be investigated.

The need for a second victim in sexual abuse cases is designed to protect abusers. It has no parallel with any other crime and should be eliminated.

Obviously, enforcement mechanisms for all of the above are imperative. Many well-intentioned current laws (such as the one requiring police to investigate all claims) are grossly ignored by the authorities entrusted with pursuing justice, law enforcement and child welfare. Those, too, require enforcement.

Institutional courage to address CSA is the demand of the hour. The moral arc of the universe doesn’t bend itself.

The writer is a DBT skills training therapist and trauma-informed forensic private investigator licensed by the Justice Ministry.