Thursday, August 11, 2011

Rabbis Investigating Allegations of Sexual Offenses

© (2005) By Vicki Polin
Originally published by The Awareness Center in 2005. Reprinted by The Examiner on August 11, 2011

As we all can imagine it is extremely difficult for someone to disclose they have been sexually violated, no matter if the the survivor is an adult or a child. Things get much more complicated when the survivor resides within an eruv (orthodox community). There’s been too many cases in which orthodox survivors and or their family members were shunned and or chased out of town after making police reports, against the wishes of their local rabbis. Including when allegations have been made within Jewish communities in the Chicagoland area.

It is important to remember that sex offenders can include: parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins, teachers, camp counselors, baby-sitters, community leaders and even rabbis. 

If the sexual predator has no real standing in the community, there’s usually not much fuss about reporting him or her to local law enforcement agencies, yet if the alleged offender is someone respected in the community and or is even a rabbi -- that is when things get crazy.

Usually if and when a survivor of a sex crime shares their experience with anyone, it will be with someone they believe they can trust. The standard in most insulated communities is that when a survivor makes a disclosure, they will be encouraged to go to their local orthodox rabbis for help.

Unfortunately, very few rabbis have the training, education and or knowledge in how to handle these types of situations -- and all too often, a survivor will walk away feeling blamed and shamed. There have also been too many occurrences an orthodox survivor (either male of female), sharing their stories and being encouraged by their rabbis NOT to do anything -- and then being told that the rabbi will handle the situation. 

On average, the typical sex offender will assault at least 117 before they are caught. The status quo from the majority of ultra-orthodox rabbis has been to do NOTHING -- meaning the alleged offender is given free rein to continue on with their molesting careers. 

Personally I have not met one single rabbi (orthodox, conservative, reform, traditional, etc.) who has been trained in collecting evidence in cases of possible sex crimes, nor conducting victim sensitive interviews. It is also extremely rare that a rabbi, synagogue or rabbinical organization will immediately refer victims to their local rape crisis center or to the police.

We all NEED to DEMAND that all rabbis and other members of the clergy, refer these types of cases immediately to the proper authorities. It should be up to law enforcement officials to determine if there is enough evidence for criminal charges to be pressed. It should also be up to legal authorities to determine if a case is valid or not. If the allegations of abuse/assault are too old, rabbis need to encourage survivors to contact their local rape crisis centers to learn about what other options they may have.

I want to encourage everyone to start asking the rabbis in their community about the current systems they have in place when allegations are made. Please make it a point to ask:

1. If the rabbi has personally conducted investigations of possible sex crimes themselves?

2. If they have, what process do they go through to make a determination if a case is valid or not?

3. If the rabbi determined the allegations are valid:
     a) What happens to the alleged offender?
     b) What happens to the alleged survivor?
4. If the rabbi determined the allegations were not valid:
     a) What happens to the alleged offender?
     b) What happens to the alleged survivor?

I've spoken to several different rabbis over the last few years. Many have stated they can look in the eyes of someone making the accusations, and can tell if they are telling the truth or not. Several of the rabbis I've spoken to, have determined most cases were not valid by utilizing this method.

I have also been told if a survivor has any sort of psychiatric history, they will usually determine the allegations NOT be valid. They automatically presume the allegations are most likely a "delusion of the woman" -- and brush off the claims.

There have also been a few occasions where the rabbi has told me "there was no need to conduct an investigation." The rabbi would explain that they "personally know the accused individual", and basically because the alleged offender is a friend, "the allegations are false."

As a community need to demand changes be made immediately. We need to demand that when an individual makes allegations of a sex crime, that the individual be referred immediately to a legitimate rape crisis center. These centers are networked with local police departments, and can also offer legal advocacy. 

The majority of legitimate rape crisis centers, that are associated with the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) are more then willing to work with and become sensitive to the needs of the orthodox community.
The only way thing will change is by each person reading this article to take action. Your voice is vitally important, without your willingness to speak out, nothing will ever change.

On April 13, 2007 rav Hopfer speaks about sexual abuse in Baltimore at an event sponsored by the Vaad HaRabbonim of Baltimore called: Abuse in our Community. What's shocking is that Hoper has been protecting several alleged sex offenders in the Baltimore community for years -- and shaming and blaming who have been sexually abused.

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