Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Letter to the Editor - Great Courage

Great Courage
Baltimore Jewish Times - October 12, 2005

I thank Shani Dinovitz for writing last week's cover story "Looking Up." I thank all of the individuals interviewed. It takes great courage to make such personal aspects of one's life public.

It's vitally important that our community know more about chemical dependency. According to a study done at the Menninger Clinic (1996), 69 percent of the patients admitted to chemical dependency programs have histories of physical and/or sexual abuse. We have to remember that childhood sexual abuse occurs frequently in chemically dependent families. ACOA's (Adult Children of Alcoholics) are several times more likely to become addicted or involved with an addict. Many survivors of childhood abuse develop addictions or compulsive behaviors to anesthetize feelings they have been unable to cope with. Another important issue is that about one-half of all sexual assaults are committed by those who have been drinking alcohol.

Vicki Polin
Executive Director, The Awareness Center Inc.
Baltimore, MD

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Letters to the Editor - Sexual Assault

Baltimore Jewish Times - September 24, 2005 
The Awareness Center wants to thank both "Sharon" and the Baltimore Jewish Times for having the courage to tell about and publish the Sept. 16 article "Teens Talk About Life After Rape"

"Sharon" deserves a round of applause, for surviving not only the assault, but misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatment, which unfortunately is way too common. It's great to hear that finally both Sharon and her family have been given the opportunity to heal.

It's so important for the Jewish community to accept that one out of every three to five women, and one out of every five to seven men have been sexually abused or assaulted by the time they reach age 18.

Sexual abuse and assault are often crimes of secrecy and silence. The problem is compounded as only 32 percent of sexual assaults against people 12 or older are reported. Reasons include fears that reporting could lead to further victimization by the offender; fears of other forms of retribution by the offender or by his or her friends or family; concerns about the arrest, prosecution and incarceration of an offender who may be a family member or friend and on whom the victim or others may depend; concerns about others finding out about the sexual assault or about not being believed; and concerns about being traumatized by the response of the criminal justice system.

The Awareness Center Inc. is the international Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Abuse and Assault, based in Baltimore. We are a victim advocacy organization.

Vicki Polin

Executive Director, The Awareness Center Inc.

Friday, September 16, 2005

How Safe are the Jewish On-Line Dating Services?

© (2005) By Vicki Polin
The Awareness Center's Daily Newsletter - September 16, 2005

Unfortunately, Jewish dating online is not any safer then using any other dating service.

Below is an sample of The Jewish Online Dating Services. Prior to using any of them, youmay want to ask each company what their guidelines are when accusations of sexual assault, attempted sexual assault, or other forms of sexual misconduct are made against one of their members.  At this time The Awareness Center has found both alleged and convicted sex offenders on all of these sites.  The organization was not happy with the response we got from any of them when we brought this information to their attention.

Remember offenders can be both male and female.

Marital Rape

Approximately 10-14% of married women are raped by their husbands in the United States. Historically, most rape statutes read that rape was forced sexual intercourse with a woman not your wife, thus granting husbands a license to rape. On July 5, 1993, marital rape became a crime in all 50 states, under at least one section of the sexual offense codes. In 17 states and the District of Columbia, there are no exemptions from rape prosecution granted to husbands. However, in 33 states, there are still some exemptions given to husbands from rape prosecution. When his wife is most vulnerable (e.g., she is mentally or physically impaired, unconscious, asleep, etc.) and is unable to consent, a husband is exempt from prosecution in many of these 33 states (Bergen, 1996; Russell, 1990).

Women who are raped by their husbands are likely to be raped many times. They experience not only vaginal rape, but also oral and anal rape. Researchers generally categorize marital rape into three types:

  • Force-only rape: The husband uses only the amount of force necessary to coerce their wives.
  • Battering rape: Husbands rape and batter their wives. The battering may happen concurrently or before or after the sexual assault.
  • Sadistic /obsessive rape:Husbands use torture or perverse sexual acts. Pornography is often involved.

Women are at particularly high risk for being raped by their partners under the following circumstances:
  • Women married to domineering men who view them as "property"
  • Women who are in physically violent relationships
  • Women who are pregnant
  • Women who are ill or recovering from surgery
  • Women who are separated or divorced

It is a myth that marital rape is less serious than other forms of sexual violence. There are many physical and emotional consequences that may accompany marital rape.
  • Physical effects include injuries to the vaginal and anal areas, lacerations, soreness, bruising, torn muscles, fatigue, and vomiting.
  • Women who are battered and raped frequently suffer from broken bones, black eyes, bloody noses and knife wounds.
  • Gynecological effects include vaginal stretching, miscarriages, stillbirths, bladder infections, sexually transmitted diseases, and infertility.
  • Short-term psychological effects include PTSD, anxiety, shock, intense fear, depression and suicidal ideation.
  • Long-term psychological effects include disordered sleeping, disordered eating, depression, intimacy problems, negative self-images, and sexual dysfunction.

Research indicates a lack of responsiveness to marital rape survivors on behalf of service providers - particularly police officers, religious leaders, rape crisis counselors, and battered women's advocates. There is a need for those who come into contact with marital rape survivors to comprehensively address this problem and provide resources, information and support to survivors.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Trust and Teshuvah

© (2005) Carrie Devorah 
Goldberg Memorial - August 29, 2005 

Vicki Polin, MA, LCPC, NCC and Rabbi Yosef Blau
Jewish Women International Magazine published an excerpt from David Berger's last letter written, 1941, before he was murdered by the Nazis. It stands to consider that David, like many other victims of Nazi degradation, was stripped of his sexual identity, head shaved, dressed in shapeless clothing, then dehumanized with verbal, physical and sexual abuse. When dead, Nazis left their victims, forgotten. David was committed to living eternally. He wrote, "I should like someone to remember that there once lived a person named David Berger." 

Victims of other abuses wish to be seen and heard, while still living. Some speak up. Social pressure and religious beliefs step in the way of their allegations being paid credence, so the abuse continues, a tradition, so to speak, passed down within families, even Jewish families, along with recipes for Passover's French toast, gefilte fish or chicken soup. Victims are reproached with, "he's a Rabbi," "you must be lying," "God forbid people should find out," "what would they think," and "it is your fault, he/she wouldn't have done it without you starting it." Plausible, except sometimes victims are toddlers, or younger. 

Abuse is no longer a Jewish myth. Trusted people- grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, teachers, rabbis, baby sitters, friends, and youth coordinators- are being reported as encouraging sexually inappropriate behaviours. The abused struggle to shed their shame. The abuser moves forward public in their life, their secret kept too often, allowing them to abuse again. Sometimes, the victim becomes an abuser themselves, even toddlers. On a recent airing of the TV show, "yes, dear," a pre-schooler mooned his kindergarten classmates. He told the teacher, he watched his Dad mooned a picnic. So, he thought it was ok to moon his classmates. Mooning may be a mild example. What does one say when a toddler performs fellatio on classmates, that children live what they learn? 

Cycling non-sectarian behaviours of violence, neglect, emotional and sexual abuse within the community, is a recipe for Jewish disaster. Crossing economic, ethnic and religious boundaries including Judaism-Orthodoxy, Reform, Conservative, Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Mizrachi, interfaith balabustahs and homemakers, "abuse" is now part of the contemporary Jewish vocabulary, with victimizations being reported from Jewish spouses, elderly parents and children. 

There is a finger to be pointed but not at the victims often shunned after making public allegations.
Two such people holding molesters and communities that harbor them accountable are The Awareness Center's Rabbi Yosef Blau and his colleague, Vicki Polin. Rabbi Blau is a member of the RCA, a graduate of Yeshiva University's Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. Polin, establishing a network of Jewish practitioners experienced with sexual victimization issues and Judaism, is familiar with special needs of Jewish sexual abuse survivors. She advocated empathetic support for victims prior to starting her own Center. 

Rabbi Blau stood at the lectern, front of the Capitol Hilton meeting room, up the street from the White House in Washington, DC. Co-hosting a session with Polin, at the Jewish Women's International Conference on Domestic Abuse, "Lost In The Shuffle: Jewish Survivors of Sexual Victimization," Rabbi Blau focused his audience on the challenge the Center faces educating Jewish community leaders and others, lacking training, to recognize signs of abusive relationships and to understand victims' needs of religious and physical healing. Blau and Polin addressed victims' spiritual struggle to maintain faith in traditional teachings, such as Sanhedrin's "one who teaches another's child torah, is regarded by the tradition as one who gave birth to the child," in light of their abuser being an outwardly religious individual. 

Rabbi Blau's and Polin's eclectic audience was filled with people wanting to make a difference. Men, women, old, young, North American, Middle Eastern, were "called to action" at Jewish Women International's conference to pursue, within the framework of the Jewish Community, justice and righteousness from abuse. A representative from "Shalom Bayit," a Northern California domestic abuse shelter for women and children was present. "Shalom Bayit" advocates to victims they do not have to suffer alone, they are not to blame as often they are accused by congregants, family and community members. "Shalom Bayit," "Peace In The House," advocacy that no one deserves to be abused, recalls a hand drawn poster, probably long forgotten, victims need to reminded. A young boy is pictured. Under him the words, "God don't make no junk..." 

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Review Board requested New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice examine Catholic clergical abuse against under 18 year olds. The report investigated 10,667 abuse claims lodged against 4, 392 priests in 52 years. Some clergy reported they were abused as children. 50% plus of their victims were children aged 11 to 14 years old. 81% of their victims were male. The surveyors were asked to profile alleged abusers characteristics. They studied diocese and church records of the accuser, the accused, and the lay leader. The surveyors concluded sexual abuse is under reported. And the surveyors requested corresponding data from Muslim, Buddhist, Protestant, Jewish and other denominations and movements. 

Non-denominational statistics that bear heeding are; 95% of the abusers are men; one of every three to five women, one of every five to seven men have been sexually abused by their 18th birthday; 2.78 million men have been victim to attempted or completed rape; one out of every eight reported rape victims was male. By the time they are high schoolers, 28% of students, have experienced abuse. 48% of the abused are in grades 5 through 12. Women teachers sexually molest children too; Seattle teacher Mary Kay Letourneau, married mother of four, Florida teacher Debra LaFave, 23; Oklahoma basketball coach Elisa Nielson, 29; Tennessee physical-education teacher Pamela Turner, 27; and California teacher trainee Margaret De Barraicua, 30. Each of the four was charged with sexual assault of a male student aged between 12 and 16. A Jewish statistic- 20 to 30% of Jewish families in Israel and the United States suffer domestic violence 

Victimization practitioners are encouraging women to come forward and get help. Often, victims are unaware they are being abused. They think the behaviour is 'normal' or 'acceptable,' a sign the abuser 'likes them,' rather than danger signals. Industry practitioners release information outlining abusive behaviours. Signs of abusive behaviour include "approval withheld as punishment, locked into or out of the house, held against ones will or pushed around, punched, shoved, slapped bit, kicked, burned, choked or hit, personal items destroyed, abandoned in strange places, ridiculed or insulted, abandoned in strange locations, harassed about fictitious affairs, publicly or privately humiliated, criticized, or shamed with names called, isolating victim from family and friends, makes them feel bad, demands to know whereabouts, does not want victim to share time with others, threatens to hurt or kill sell if victim leaves," 

Rabbi Blau said, the Jewish commandment against "lashon harah," gossiping, in the matter of suspected abuse, is waived, overridden by the teaching of Lev. 19:16, "Thou shalt not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor." Abusers must be reported. It is a "hilul hashem," a moral desecration, of God's name and of the Ten Commandments, for a Jewish individual not to report suspicions of abuse. Abuse is a matter the "law of the land," "dina demalkhuta dina," can adjudicate in secular courts and must pursue. Enforcement has raised its own concerns for responding to claims of abuse within Jewish communities. Officers have reported being charged with anti-semitism in the course of their doing their job, responding to a citizen's call for help. 

As Rabbi Blau waited for his ride to the airport, I told him, a few blocks away in Lafayette Park, there stands a monument titled "Military Instruction." A sculpted older man is seated, a naked young man at his side. Then I pointed kitty corner to the hotel, a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic. September 4, 2004, I told him, a pregnant twelve year old was escorted by her mother past right-to-life advocates. Blocks away from the hotel, on Constitution Avenue, I described a display at the National Gallery of Art. Mythological statues. Mercury, in all his glory, stood above a crowd of NE DC junior high schoolers. Down the corridor, on a marble pedestal, stood Bauccus, with a pan, half-boy, half goat. The pan's eye is level with Bauccus' erection. I noticed that in the photo I took of the junior high schooler's walking by, giggling. In a media week, when ober-icon Michael Jackson was accused of feeding Jesus-Juice in a can to a kid alleging sexual abuse, it was no wonder, some kids grabbed their crotches emulating the one-glove wonder's Moon Walk as they passed by. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. 

Rabbi Blau shook his head. In a world of mixed signals children are expected to sort better than adults can, distinctions between good touch bad touch, appropriate behaviour versus inappropriate, being told not to talk to strangers but answer the "nice man" talking to grandma since "convicted sex offender" isn't stamped on his forehead, get lost. 

The night before, details of the confirmed murder of 9 year old Jessica Lunsford, by a man who lived across their street, were being released. I told the Rabbi, one interview from the Couey killing stands out as textbook to facilitating citizen's understanding why abusers remain at large until a murder trips them up. A restaurant owner in Jessica's town told reporters he employed Couey, until he fired him. The restaurant owner aware of Couey's colorful background, felt badly for "the loser." So, he hired him, firing the 30' old only after Couey wrote a love letter to a 14 year old co-worker. No one complained to authorities about the incident. Until, Jessica was kidnapped, raped and sexually abused over days, before being murdered. Her community failed her. Not just the community in which she died but the global community in which other children still live. 

Heading towards the Metro, I leafed through the Jewish newspaper in my hands, filled with holiday activities for children, puppet making, noisemaker activities followed by megillah readings for kids. Growing up I heard about a rabbi, sent packing, for abusing bochers at a Yeshiva, north of our house. Eventually, news filtered north the rabbi had been accused of molesting bochers at the American yeshiva that sent him north. His resume listed many attributes Sexual offender and deviant were not amongst them. Nor did it contain those warning when he was sent packing, again. 

I looked inside the information packet for conference attendees. Amongst letters from various Democratic Congressmen was Gary Ackerman's. He wrote "If we are serious about tikkun olam, repairing the world, we need to begin in the home, the place where our values are most strongly rooted," "one home at a time." 

As I walked, I wondered if parents would ever take as much time to vett their children's caretakers- teachers, babysitters, friends parents, the kids friends themselves, families they marry into- as they take in selecting holiday outfits they wear. An ad caught my attention. A Rabbi offering Jews "may the Lord bless and protect you," if they prayed in the language of their forefathers. I thought about the young girl attacked by three classmates in the basement bathroom of her yeshiva. An older boy came to her rescue. Her parents refused to take action, after all, it had to be her fault. I stepped off the curb, asking myself who protects victims from those who prey in the language of their forefathers. Trust must be earned; granting of tikkun, repentance, sought by some abusers, remains in control of the abused.. 

BIO: Carrie Devorah is a DC based investigative photojournalist. Trained as a PI, mediator, crime analyst and profiler, she writes on themes related to faith, homeland security and terrorism. I dedicate this piece to the memory of Yechezkel Chezi Scotty Goldberg, He will never be replaced.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Letters to the Editor - Convicted abusers just tip of the iceberg

Letters to the Editor
Convicted abusers just tip of the iceberg
Baltimore Sun - August 28, 2005

It's important for there to be stricter laws regulating convicted sex offenders. But the proposed laws are only a Band-Aid to a much larger problem ("Governor promotes sex-crime measures," Aug. 21).

These proposed laws pertain only to convicted sex offenders. And it's important for residents of Maryland to be aware of the fact that the majority of sex offenders have not been convicted of their crimes.

As we all know, childhood sexual abuse and rape of adults are often crimes of secrecy and silence. The problem is compounded by the fact that only 32 percent of sexual assaults against people 12 or older are reported to law enforcement.

According to another study, 84 percent of respondents who identified themselves as rape victims did not report the crime to authorities.

And according to the U.S. Department of Justice, the majority of survivors of sexual violence are afraid to report sexual assault to the police.

Reasons include fears that reporting could lead to further victimization by the offender; fears of other forms of retribution by the offender or by his or her friends or family; concerns about the arrest, prosecution and incarceration of an offender who may be a family member or friend and on whom the victim or others may depend; concerns about others finding out about the sexual assault or about not being believed; and concerns about being traumatized by the response of the criminal justice system.

Vicki Polin

The writer is executive director of The Awareness Center Inc., the Jewish coalition against sexual abuse and assault.

Thursday, August 4, 2005

Letters to the Editor - It's imperative that parole officers visit offenders in their homes

Letters to the Editor - It's imperative that parole officers visit offenders in their homes
Baltimore Sun - August 4, 2005
I believe it is imperative that parole officers visit offenders in their homes at least once every six months, as a way to verify the offender's residence. I also believe that a sex offender should automatically be placed on a registry and that this should not be left up to a judge.

Let's remember that the goal is to protect unsuspecting individuals (adults and children) from becoming the next victim of sexual violence.

Vicki Polin

The writer is executive director of the Awareness Center Inc., a Jewish coalition against sexual abuse and assault.

Letters to the Editor - A friendly state for sex offenders?

Baltimore Sun - August 4, 2005

As I was reading "Registry for sex offenders has gaps" (July 28), I couldn't help but ask myself if Maryland is a "sex offender-friendly" state?

It's really pretty scary to think that out of the 4,300 registered sexual offenders in the state database, 3,000 are no longer supervised.

I believe that sex offenders need to be monitored for life.

According to a 1997 study, the recidivism rate for child sex offenders over a 25-year period is 52 percent. Given such statistics, how can it be that Maryland only requires sex offenders to be on the state registry for 10 years?

I agree with Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. that we need specialized training for parole officers who work with sex offenders and better treatment for sex offenders while they are incarcerated.

The problem is that as of today there is no known treatment for sex offenders that is really effective. Research in treating offenders is still very much in its infancy.

I believe it is imperative that parole officers visit offenders in their homes at least once every six months, as a way to verify the offender's residence. I also believe that a sex offender should automatically be placed on a registry and that this should not be left up to a judge.

Let's remember that the goal is to protect unsuspecting individuals (adults and children) from becoming the next victim of sexual violence.

Vicki Polin

The writer is executive director of The Awareness Center Inc., a Jewish coalition against sexual abuse and assault

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Letters to the Editor - Combat sex offenders

USA Today - July 27, 2005
After 20 years of advocating for those who are survivors of sexual violence, it's hard to believe there is finally a national registry of sex offenders (National online registry of sex offenders launched, News, July 21). 

Now, I think it's time for federal laws on the books that would stimulate a uniform approach to sexual offenses. The reality is that too many states are considered to be "sex-offender friendly." 

I also believe it's imperative that we have not only a national sex offender registry, but also an international one. We know that both alleged and convicted sex offenders move from one state to the next to avoid prosecution, but they also move from one country to another. We need to protect potential victims not only in the United States, but also in the world.

There also needs to be a federal law that abolishes the idea of statutes of limitations on civil and criminal charges when the crime is related to sexual violence. Canada, for example, has no such statutes on these sorts of crimes. We need to make our country safe for everyone.

Vicki Polin, executive director
The Awareness Center: Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Abuse/Assault

Friday, July 22, 2005

Letters to the Editor - Cycle of abuse

Cycle of abuse
Haaretz - July 22, 2005

Regarding "5 youths from W. Bank settlement suspected of raping 9-year-old girl," July 14

It is both sad and painful each and every time I read about another case where preteens or teenagers are suspected of sexually assaulting another child. Most people are not aware of the fact that at least 90 percent of sex offenders were sexually abused as children. Reading this article, one has to stop and wonder if all five of the alleged offenders were sexually abused, and if so, who were the offenders. I also wonder if there were signs that these boys needed help. If there were, why wasn't anything done?

We as a community need to do whatever it takes to protect our children from being sexually abused and assaulted. We need to do whatever it takes to make sure that those who commit these offenses are in treatment, and are monitored to protect others from becoming the next victims.

Vicki Polin,

Exec. director,

The Awareness Center: the Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Abuse/Assault

Baltimore, MD

Thursday, July 7, 2005

Letters to the Editor - Sex offender registries

Letters to the Editor
Sex offender registries
Kansas City Star - July 7, 2005
It amazes me, knowing what we know about sex offenders, that anyone would question the constitutionality of a state sex offender registry in Missouri (6/30, Metro, "Court to consider sex offender law").
According to a 1997 study (Prentky, Lee, Knight and Cerce), 52 percent of sex offenders re-offend over a 25-year period. Not only is it critical that there be a sex offender registry in Missouri, but there should be a national sex offender registry as well.
Offenders tend to move around, as in the case of William Webb. He was on the registry in the state of Washington because of a child molestation conviction in 1992. Recently, he was able to get a license to teach driver's education to high school students in Wisconsin because officials were unaware of his criminal background.
We need to start demanding criminal background checks of anyone to be licensed or employed to work with children. We also need to start lobbying our lawmakers to subsidize the cost of these expensive background checks.
It's true this is not foolproof, as not all sex offenders have been convicted or placed on a registry. But it is a step in the right direction.

Tuesday, July 5, 2005

Letters to the Editor - Rape victims must be honored

Letters to the Editor 
Rape victims must be honored
Christian Science Monitor - July 5, 2005

In response to the June 27 article, "A rape victim defies traditional code": Thank you for writing such an important article. I'm sure rape victims from many different cultures and religions could relate to it.
It's sad to say that even today in many cultures, it is believed that if it became known that a woman was sexually assaulted, her reputation would be tarnished, as would that of her family. We need to start sending messages to our children and our neighbors that the offender is the criminal, and that the rape victim should be honored and respected.
Vicki Polin
Executive Director, The Awareness Center: The Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Abuse/Assault

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Letters to the Editor - Let survivors speak

Letters to the Editor
Let survivors speak

Chicago Herald News - June 22, 2005

I wanted to thank you for writing such an important article as you did with the story of sexual abuse survivor Bobby Drish, ("Abuse allegations go online," June 16). The Awareness Center is the international Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Abuse/Assault. We also have many stories similar to that of Bobby Drish. It saddens me a great deal every time I hear of another case where the survivor was blamed and not believed. I was so happy that you gave Bobby the opportunity to empower himself enough to bear witness and tell his story.
It is vitally important for newspapers like yours to allow survivors to have a voice. Not only does it help survivors heal, it also offers an opportunity for others to know they are not alone and gives our communities the chance to understand the ramification sexual violence has on our lives.
Vicki Polin, Executive Eirector
The Awareness Center
Baltimore, MD.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Letters to the Editor - Fleeing the scene

Letters to the Editor
Fleeing the scene
Jerusalem Post - June 16, 2005

Sir, – Re "Missing Arizona rabbi faces child abuse charges" (June 9): I wanted to thank Sam Ser and The Jerusalem Post for writing this article. As I'm sure you are aware, it's not uncommon for individuals accused of sexual crimes to flee the community where the accusations have been made. 

Unfortunately, many from Jewish communities tend to flee to Israel to avoid prosecution. We have also seen a trend in which those who end up in Israel change their names to avoid detection.

My hope is that Rabbi David E. Lipman will soon be found alive and well and able to face the charges being brought against him.
Vicki Polin, Executive Director
The Awareness Center (Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Abuse/Assault)
Baltimore, MD

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Letters to the Editor - Kudos For Courage

Letters to the Editor
Kudos For Courage
Baltimore Jewish Times - May 25, 2005
I thank Editor Phil Jacobs and the Baltimore Jewish Times for the courage it took to publish the recent articles regarding Judge Robert I. Hammerman.
My heart goes out to "Barry" and the others who had the experience of feeling sexually victimized by a man who had so much power and control. It saddens me a great deal to see how badly our community needs to be educated on the symptoms and ramifications sexual violence plays on both children and adults.
My hope is that our community will be more open to offering support to those who have been violated, and do what it can to help those who offend to stop.
It's important to realize that even if an alleged offender has passed away, the violence he caused others will live on. To discredit someone who has been violated is a shameful thing.
Vicki Polin
The Awareness Center, Inc.
Baltimore, MD

Wednesday, May 4, 2005

Letter to the Editor - Errors regarding the case of Rabbi Mordecai Tendler

Letter to the Editor - Errors regarding the case of Rabbi Mordecai Tendler
Jewish Press - May 4, 2005
Dear Editor,
I wanted to start off by informing you of the many errors I've found in your recent articles relating to the allegations of rabbinical sexual misconduct by Rabbi Mordecai Tendler. In this letter I am only going to address the many errors that I found that are directly related to The Awareness Center. Please feel free to call me to discuss these issues. I can be reached at 443-857-5560.

1. The Awareness Center is more then just a "website". We are a (Sexual Violence) Victims Rights Advocacy organization. Our organization offers a clearinghouse of information on various issues pertaining to the topic of sexual violence. As of today, The Awareness Center is the only Jewish organization that focuses purely on helping survivors of incest, sexual abuse, sexual assault, sexual harassment and rabbinical sexual misconduct.

Only a small part of our time and web page focuses on listing the names of alleged and convicted sex offenders. I think it's important to mention that for years there has been an ongoing trend for alleged and convicted offenders to move from one community to the next, leaving a trail of survivors behind. There have been several incidents where the alleged and also convicted offenders will move from city, state or even country to another, to avoid prosecution and or because they were chased out of town. There has also been a trend that they will change their names from their English names to Hebrew names. The Awareness Center tracks these occurrences the best we can as a way to prevent any future victims. The Awareness Center also offers resources for those who do offend and are seeking help, and also for family members of alleged and convicted sex offenders. For more information go to: and

2. Rabbi Mark Dratch resigned from the Advisory Board of The Awareness Center quite awhile ago. Rabbi Dratch has never been a member of our Board of Directors. He never had a decision making role in our organization. In your article "An Inappropriate Process (Part IV) dated April 28, 2005, you stated Rabbi Mark Dratch is currently on our board of directors. He is not. You can easily verify this information by going to our web page:

3. The Awareness Center is NOT an investigator organization. We are a clearinghouse of information. We have policies in place of what goes up on our list of alleged and convicted offenders. To view our policies go to:

4. The Awareness Center had nothing to do with the way the Vaad Hakavod operated. I personally wish we had been able to, yet that has never been the role of our organization. Please remember we are an educational and advocacy organization. The role our organization usually plays in any case has been to provide information and resources to those who have stated they had been sexual victimized. We have also supplied information and resources to those in supportive roles to survivors, to family members of alleged and convicted offenders, and also to alleged and convicted offenders.

Considering all of the information provided above that is readily available to anyone on our web page, I find it amazing that there have been so many errors in your articles. I am also surprised that no one from your paper has ever contacted The Awareness Center.

On another note, I felt that it was important to thank you for calling The Awareness Center "notorious." I had no idea that an organization that is supported purely by volunteers and which has very little funding could have such an impact in the orthodox world. I'm amazed that it would be considered "notorious."

It makes one have to stop and wonder, why you feel it is so threatening for an organization to advocate to those who have felt they have been sexually violated.

Vicki Polin, Executive Director
The Awareness Center

Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Rabbis, confidentiality and other ethical issues

(This article was co-authored by Michael J. Salamon, PhD., and originally published by The Awareness Center back in 2005 and republished by The Times of Israel on March 3, 2015)

Growing up in the United States means you most likely know something about the Christian faith and their concept of confession. The most commonly known format is the one used within the Catholic church where an individual goes to a priest and confesses their sins. It is understood that what they tell a priest would be kept confidential. This is a hallmark of the Catholic faith. 

Often many individuals seek out spiritual guidance, which is considered a form of counseling, from their clergy. The problem is that in the US, there is a separation between Church and State and there are no laws on the books stating that clergy are required to keep what is said confidential. Talking to a spiritual advisor is the same as talking to a friend. Prior to communicating personal information with someone, it is always suggested that you establish a degree of trust between that person and yourself. 

If you should tell a friend secrets about yourself you have no way of being assured that what you tell them would be kept confidential. If your friend were to share personal information about you, you would have no legal recourse — except if what they said is untrue. The same could be said about any member of the clergy that you would communicate with.

One remedy to this situation is to have some sort of signed document between yourself and the clergy member (a written contract). If there would be a breach in the contract then you would have some legal standing in a law suit.

There is a difference when you speak to a licensed mental health provider and a rabbi, priest, or other spiritual advisor. A licensed mental health provider is bound by the ethics of their degree, and is required to follow the state and federal laws, pertaining to confidentiality. A rabbi, priest or other members of the clergy are not regulated and there is no legal remedies to situations relating to the violation of confidentiality.

It is also important to note that mental health providers are mandated reporters. What this means is that if you are a danger to yourself, or someone else — they are obligated by law to report it to the proper authorities. If a child is at risk of harm, they can NOT keep that information confidential. Many advocates for children believes the same should be true with clergy.

One suggestion is that prior to disclosing personal information about yourself or a loved one, you might want to consider writing up a document and have your clergy member and a witness sign and date it.

Another suggestion is that all synagogues and or other organizations that employ a rabbi or other clergy member have a written blanket statement regarding confidentiality, and make the statement legally binding.

Below are some suggestions and points that you may want to include in such a document.
  1. Your name
  2. The clergy members name and or the name of the organization/synagogue they are employed.
  3. The date the confidentiality agreement is signed.
  4. A statement stating the types of information that you request to be kept confidential.
  5. A statement acknowledging the concept of mandated reporting.

Thursday, February 3, 2005

Letters to the Editor - Burden of Incest

Letters to the Editor - Burden of Incest
Jewish Journal - Feb. 3, 2005
I want to thank The Jewish Journal for publishing the article "Shouldering the Burden of Incest" (Jan. 28). It is an extremely important article, and one that I know will help other incest survivors who have to deal with the same issues as the journalist who wrote the article. 

Please let the author know how much The Awareness Center honors, respects and thanks him/her for giving the courage for being open and honest about her experiences.
This article allows other survivors out there to know they are not alone, and that there are people out there who have had similar experiences, care and want to do something to help.

Vicki Polin
Executive Director
The Awareness Center (The Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Abuse/Assault)