Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Shlomo Greenwald )n Sexual Abuse In The Orthodox Community

The End Of Innocence
Confronting Sexual Abuse in the Orthodox Community
By Shlomo Greenwald
Click Here: to read the Jewish Press article
Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Vicki Polin says:
I want to start off by thanking Shlomo Greenwald who is the author of the Jewish Press's newest article --"The End Of Innocence", he's really done an excellent job on this well researched story about sexual abuse in the orthodox world. I also believe that the Jewish Press deserves a round of applause for having the courage to publish the story.

One of the major goals of The Awareness Center is to educate our communities on issues relating to sexual violence. For that reason I've gone through most of Shlomo Greenwald's article -- pointing out various issues that as a people we really need to be aware of and address.

We need to do our best to use correct terminology when we discuss those who offend. We need to be using the terms sex offenders, sexual predators, child molesters and pedophiles. We also have to be aware that we have men who beat their wives and also women who beat their husbands.

Other issues we can't over look is that we have parents who abuse their children, and children who beat abuse their parents. We even have a problem with Juvenile sex offenders, sexually reactive children and sibling incest. We are not unlike any other community when it comes to these sorts of issues and crimes.

Jewish communities (of all movements) have a major problem with mental health professionals who do not have the specialized training or experience in sexual trauma who are now calling themselves experts. The reason I keep pointing this out is because when survivors go to those who don't have the proper qualifications -- the survivors often end up being re-victimized. This makes their healing process that much more difficult.

Trust is already an issue for survivors of sex crimes. When a surviovr receives inappropriate treatment -- the survivor often has a difficult time reentering a counseling situation with someone new.

Another issue is the reality that Jewish newspapers keep quoting professionals who are not qualified to be answering the questions asked when relating to sexual victimization and or those who are sex offenders.

As stated in Shlomo's article -- in the orthodox world there are not many mental health professionals or rabbis with the proper training. Fortunately when it comes to issues of domestic violence the Torah observant world is catching up the secular world. Unfortunately this is not the case when it comes to sex crimes. The reality is that the orthodox world is still in it's infancy. For that reason I am asking that when information is needed, Jewish journalists go to those who are the true experts -- not just someone who is jumping on the bandwagon.

If any journalist is interested in a list of Jewish experts in the field of sexual victimization or those who treat offenders, The Awareness Center would be more then provide them the appropriate resources.

Another serious problem we are faced with is the issue of the treatment of sex offenders.

As we are all aware there was a failed attempt by Ohel to treat sex offenders. I'll be honest, I have also only heard complaints of their treatment program for survivors. For those of you who are not familiar with Ohel, they are an orthodox mental health center in Brooklyn, NY.

A few years ago Ohel jumped on the bandwagon and called themselves experts without the necessary education or training. Because they are a Torah observant agency, individuals automatically instilled trust in them to provide appropriate counseling and treatment. Unfortunately, many survivors ended up feeling re-victimized.

Those of us at The Awareness Center have heard too many rumors over the years of offenders getting off the hook because of the "treatment" Ohel provided them. Unfortunately, this is example of the charedi world trying to do the right thing, yet lacking the necessary experience or training.

I have to admit that it is great that the haredi world is attempting to do the right thing, yet it's so vitally important for rabbis and mental health professionals to be qualified to do the work they are attempting to do first.

Over the last several years various papers have quoted David Mandel as an expert in sexual trauma and offenders. Mandel is the chief executive officer at Ohel. The problem is that David Mandel's education, degree and experience is in business. Quoting Mandel on these issues would be very similar to the New York Times quoting Donald Trump as an expert in halacha.

One very important comment made by David Mandel in Greenwald's article is that
"very few people can treat it (sexual abuse/assault and offenders) because few therapists specialize in abuse."

The truth is outside the orthodox world there are many extremely qualified psychotherapist who have the necessary training and experience. Until orthodox professionals catch up to the secular world in their education in treating sexual trauma -- we need to utilize the best of what's out there. The goal is to help survivors heal and find ways that actually work in stopping sexual predators from re-offending.

One of the long term goals of The Awareness Center is to have a healing retreat center in which we can provide the necessary training to Jewish professionals and community leaders. The Awareness Center now offers a certification program to do just that -- what's lacking is the funding to get our program off the ground.

Over the years Rabbi Avraham Twerski has been an outspoken advocate in the areas of chemical addictions and domestic violence (women who have been battered by husbands). Unfortunately the fields of addictions and domestic violence are very different then working with survivors of sex crimes and those who commit them. A very sad reality is that when several survivors of childhood sexual abuse and also adults who have been sexual assaulted approached Rabbi Twerski for help, they reported feeling shunned and turned away. We all have our limitations in the areas we can be experts in. We need to be referring survivors to individuals who will not leave them feeling abandoned by someone they thought could help them.

I personally believe Rabbi Twerski is an extremely honorable man, someone who really understands the issues of domestic violence and addictions, yet when it comes to sex crimes he has his limitations. The same can be said about Rabbi Mark Dratch who is the founder of JSAFE.

One has to believe that the statistics of sex crimes in the orthodox world is the same as it is in any other population until it is proven differently. One out of every 3 - 5 women, and one out of ever 5 -7 men over the age of 18 are survivors of childhood sexual abuse. We need to be teaching our children about "good touch - bad touch" at a very early age. When we are teaching children the names of their body parts, it is vitally important we make sure our children knows the proper names of all of their body parts and not just their "head, shoulders, knees and toes".

Another thing that is helpful is to teach our children that the parts of their bodies that are covered by a bathing suit are very special and that no one has a right to touch them, except when changing diapers, when young children are being bathed or by a doctor for medical reasons, etc.

Over and over again when I mention the work of The Awareness Center many people start talking about domestic violence. They automatically ask if I'm connected to one of the local Jewish shelters. Organizations like the Shalom Task Force are excellent resources for battered women. The problem is that they are really not set up to handle survivors of sexual abuse/assault, parents of survivors, relatives or spouses of sex offenders or helping individuals making hotline reports. As stated in Greenwald's article they refer callers to frum therapist. Yet the article states there are not many orthodox therapists with the proper education, training or experience to be working with those who are facing the reality of sexual victimization.

Another issue is isn't really addressed is that sexual violence is
not a "woman's issue". It's a human issue that claims the innocence of survivors that are both male and female -- and that are adults and children.

Over the last several months since the case of Rabbi Yehuda Kolko broke, The Awareness Center has been inundated by male survivors calling for help. I'll be honest with you, at this time we have more orthodox male survivor contacting us then orthodox female survivors. A major obstacle has been trying to find them appropriate help from those with proper qualification.

Shlomo Greenwald's article is very long and touches on many different topics. Due to time restraints I can't address all of them. What I do want to encourage is that if you or someone you know is a victim of a sex crime, the first step you should make is to report the crime to your local police department. If you are afraid to do this alone, contact your local rape crisis center and they will have a legal advocate go with you. A benefit of doing this is that you will become eligible for compensation from the victim witness program in your state. This program will help cover the cost of rape victim counseling for you and your family.

If you need a rabbi to give you permission to go make either a hotline or police report, contact The Awareness Center and we will put you in touch with rabbis we feel have are educated and experience in dealing with sex crimes.

If you need help finding a rape crisis center or need other resources please contact The Awareness Center. We will do our best to help you find appropriate resources in your community. We can be reached at 443-857-5560 or by e-mail at

Once again I want to thank Shlomo Greenwald for doing his homework and writing such an important piece. I also want to thank the Jewish Press for having the courage to publish it.

Vicki Polin, MA, ATR, LCPC - Executive Director

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


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