Sunday, February 12, 2006

Rabbis Investigating Allegations of Sexual Offenses (© 2006) By Vicki Polin

(© 2006) By Vicki Polin

I feel the need to share something that is pretty scary. The only way anything will change is by each person reading this article taking action. Your voice is vitally important, without it nothing will ever be different. I'm also asking you forward the following information to everyone you know.

Over the last several years, I've been hearing story after story in frum communities of allegations being made of sexual abuse and assault, and also clergy abuse (rabbinical sexual misconduct).

As we all know, it's extremely difficult for someone to tell another that they have been sexually violated (alleged offenders include parents, grandparents, teachers, camp counselors, baby-sitters, etc.). It becomes even more difficult for a survivor to come forward when the alleged offender is someone respected in the community and or is even a rabbi.

Usually if a survivor of sexual violence shares their experience with someone, it will be someone they believe they can trust. What happens in the more insulated communities is that when a survivor makes his or her disclosures, 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. All too often, a survivor will walk away feeling blamed and shamed.

There have been too many occurrences of someone in the orthodox community sharing their stories and being encouraged by their rabbis NOT to do anything, being told that the rabbi will handle the situation. There is a serious problem when this happens. Alleged offenders often go on and abuse or assault someone else.

I personally have not met one single rabbi (orthodox, conservative, reform, traditional, etc.) who has been trained to conduct forensic and or victim sensitive interviews. I have also not met a single rabbi who is trained in collecting evidence in cases of possible sex crimes. It is also extremely rare that a rabbi, synagogue or rabbinical organization will refer victims to the police or hire private agencies trained to conduct forensic investigations sorts of claims.

We NEED to DEMAND that all rabbis should refer these cases to the proper authorities immediately. 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."

We as a people and 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 local rape crisis center. These centers are networked with local police departments, and can also offer legal advocacy. The majority of rape crisis centers are more then willing to work with and become sensitive to the needs of the orthodox community. If you or your community need help building a bridge with your local rape crisis center, please contact The Awareness Center, and we will be more then willing to help.

The Awareness Center, Inc.
(theJewish Coalition Against Sexual Abuse/Assault)
P.O. Box 65273
Baltimore, MD 21209


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you Vicki for writing this extremely important article. Next shabbos when I see my rabbi I'm going to ask him the questions you suggested.

February 12, 2006 10:07 AM  
Anonymous Trimelda C. McDaniels said...

Dear Brothers and Sisters

I am not Jewish. I am the bishop of a small house church that is Recovery Christian. That means we use the Christian 12 Steps to help people recover from patterns of hurt and abuse in their lives.

I saw your post and I wanted to respond because our church is very open about its stance against abuse. We will excommunicate anyone who rapes or abuses a child. We will also excommunicate you if you beat your spouse. Our people from the adults to the kids in Sunday School are trained to spot sexual abuse or domestic violence and to report it to the police or defend themselves against it.

I run an investigative agency that is non-profit for the purposes of dealing with abuse. So far, between this group, our church and our victim's support group we have helped to put two rapists in jail-one of whom was connected to a member of our church.

May I make a suggestion? If you want your leaders to deal with this issue and they don't know how, ask them to start in the pulpit. If they teach or give sermons at all, have they give talks on how the Scriptures deal with rape and abuse. Just this last sermon we talked about lust as a sin and how it messed up David's family. David's guilt over Bathsheba led to his inability to deal effectively with the rape of Tamar, his daughter. That could be the start of talking about how leadership often fails to deal with sexual abuse.

There are many ways to get this ball rolling in your religious community. Maybe the use of the Scriptures might be one of them. I can say one thing, if you openly preach and talk about this subject, you will get open disclosures and people trying to report and get healing. So, they should be prepared to deal with what is revealed. But, perhaps this could be a first step.

Let me know if we can help. I know we don't believe the same tenets, but we do love the same G-d and our hearts go out to anyone dealing with religious sexual abuse.

In G-d's Name, be blessed.

T C McDaniels
Episcopal Pastor
CCL Church

February 12, 2006 10:08 AM  
Blogger said...

hello everyone. i read the article and i think it is pretty much on target. i also think that difficulties are not limited to rabbis. lots of times people aren't believed when they say stuff happened to them when they were little or not so little. it is like--oh, if you didn't tell until now than probably it didn't really happen. also, lots of times there is nothing to really investigate because it is one person's word against another person (that is, the surivors saying it did happen and the perpetrator saying 'no way jose') and then nothing really can be proved. so it is stressful to go through and may be all for nothnig. i think it is important that people realize that, so they don't have like, false hope, that now that they finally spoke up, they'll be believed. sometimes when no one believes you it ends up feeling like maybe i should've kept quiet, at least then i wouldn't be humiliated.

anyway, i'm not saying to to tell--i think it is really important to talk about what happened and to do what you can to stop more kids or teenagers or whatever from being hurt. and i agree about rabbis not being trained. when they get a device that reads minds, maybe they can decided who is telling the truth and who isn't. until then, they should stick to doing spiritual guidence, not police work.

sorry for all the wordiness.

February 12, 2006 12:30 PM  
Blogger Bob Schwiderski said...

Dear Friends,

Thank you Vicki for an excellent article.

We must all stand together to prevent sexual abuse. I am shaken by the refusal of faith,education, and child care institutions to stand with victims and their supports to educate society about the damage of sexual abuse.

Sexual abuse is the primary social illness in this country and is listed as "epidemic" by the US Dept. of Health.

Let's work together to insure the future children are safe.

I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse by a faith leader,(Catholic Priest).

Bob Schwiderski

February 12, 2006 1:48 PM  

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