Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Rabbi Avi Shafran Not Understanding Sexual Abuse

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Sexual Abuse
by Rabbi Avi Shafran
New York Jewish Week
November 7, 2007

The headline of your article on a recent study about sexual abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community (“No Religious Haven From Abuse: New study finds Orthodox women are sexually victimized as much as other American women are,” Oct. 26) is grossly misleading.

A little Statistics 101: A “self-selecting” sample — like the women who responded to flyers providing questionnaires about their sexual lives and attitudes — is simply not comparable to another sample whose members were selected at random. For this reason, the study itself, which appears in the American Journal of Psychiatry, emphasizes that “those who chose to participate may not be representative of the [Orthodox] population,” and that the unfeasibility of obtaining a representative sample constitutes a “major limitation of this study.”

The study also notes that “there was a high proportion of subjects receiving mental health treatment in this group [the sample recruited for the study].”

And so the article’s unequivocal claim that “Orthodox Jewish women suffer as much [abuse] as other American women,” based as it is on comparing, in effect, apples and tractors, is not supported by the study cited.

If a self-selecting Orthodox sample — including “a high proportion of subjects receiving mental health treatment” — yields about the same percentage of abuse victims as a “larger world” representational one, it would seem to indicate, if anything at all, that the problem is considerably less common in the Orthodox community.

Abuse is a serious problem and, tragically, it exists and must be addressed in every community. Misrepresenting its extent in any subset of society does no service to that goal.

Rabbi Avi Shafran
Director of Public Affairs
Agudath Israel of America
Missing The Point On Sexual Abuse
by Yaakov Blau
New York Jewish Week
November 14, 2007

In a Nov. 9 letter to the editor, Rabbi Avi Shafran questioned the validity of the study about sexual abuse in the Orthodox community. One point that he stressed more than once was that the sample had “a high proportion of subjects receiving mental health treatment.” Somehow in Rabbi Shafran’s mind, this undermines the legitimacy of what those subjects had to say.

Well, I think he missed a fairly obvious point. The reason so many receive mental health treatment is most likely because they suffered sexual abuse. I suppose that Rabbi Shafran thinks that all the abuse victims in the non-Orthodox world (he is willing to admit that abuse goes on in some parts of the world) live well-balanced lives with no aftereffects caused by the abuse they suffered.

In general, Rabbi Shafran seems to feel that his job is to always explain why the Agudah world does not share any of the problems that plague the rest of America, and his columns and letters are constantly exonerating that community of any problems. I think that the Agudah community would be much better served by facing up to its problems and dealing with them, rather than persisting to keep its head in the sand.

Rabbi Yaakov Blau
Teaneck, N.J.
Letter to the Editor
Sexual Abuse Statistics
by Michael J. Salamon
New York Jewish Week
November 14, 2007

Rabbi Avi Shafran (Nov. 9) responded to your article “No Religious Haven From Abuse: New study finds Orthodox women are sexually victimized as much as other American women are” (Oct. 26) in a most disingenuous fashion. While his statement that the headline is grossly misleading may be accurate, his interpretation of the research is in fact more misleading.

It is true, as Rabbi Shafran states, that a self-selecting sample is not comparable to a sample selected at random. But to suggest that this implies that rates are lower is to display a deep misunderstanding of statistics. Comparability is affected by selection. However, to understand the true meaning of it in this case requires a knowledge of survey research and statistical design referred to as non-parametric

statistics. Someone with knowledge of these scientific techniques would in fact know that it is just as likely that this is an under-representation. In other words, based on this one study one might just as easily conclude that there may be a higher rate of abuse in the Orthodox community than in the general population.

Further, to imply that because many of these women are receiving mental health services somehow makes the study less reliable shows a complete lack of understanding of the trauma caused by sexual abuse. It is a fact, supported by an abundance of research over many years, that sexual trauma causes significant psychological problems for many people. Indeed, in randomly selected groups, those reporting a history of sexual abuse are also more likely to be receiving mental health services.

I suggest that Rabbi Shafran, or other doubters, speak with mental health providers in the Orthodox community. He will find that the problem is quite real and very much present. To dismiss this critical survey in so offhanded a fashion is to deny the community the help it needs.

by Michael J. Salamon
Senior Psychologist/Director
Adult Developmental Center
Hewlett, L.I.

Dr. Salamon is also on the Executive Board of Directors of The Awareness Center, Inc.

Letter To The Editor
by Yosef Blau
New York Jewish Week
November 12, 2007

Rabbi Rabbi Avi Shafran's letter (Nov 9) questioning the accuracy of the study described in the article "No Religious Haven From Abuse" (Oct. 26) reflects both the strength and weakness of a professional defender of a community. Self esteem is protected but problems are denied rather than addressed. The study is about the effect going to Mikvah regularly hason marital happiness. Questions about health, both mental and physical, and history of sexual abuse were included to separate out other factors that might influence marital happiness. The results are limited to women who are neither too young nor to old to go to mikvah and who were willing to fill out a lengthy questionaire. It is difficult to claim that these limitations should bias the resulting percentage of women who reported incidents of sexual abuse in either direction. The Orthodox Jewish community is begining to create mechanisms to protect our children and women. The assertion, which is not based on any study, that only a tiny percentage have suffered from abuse is not helpful.



Anonymous Failed Messiah said...

Rabbi Avi Shafran, Agudath Israel of America and Rabbi-on-Child Sexual Abuse
By Failed Messiah

Agudath Israel of America employs a spokesman, Rabbi Avi Shafran, who is eager to defend his community from perceived attack. Rabbi Shafran seems to believe haredim do wrong at a lower rate than non-haredim and non-Jews. Why? Because, Rabbi Shafran writes, the Torah is "transformative;" it "elevate[s] [haredim], and empowers them to live exemplary lives." When haredim do commit crimes, Rabbi Shafran says, those criminals cannot be said to be representative of haredim as a whole.

For example, when a hasidic businessman is arrested for fraud, we cannot say fraud is endemic in the hasidic world – even if there are many other examples of fraud perpetrated by hasidim for us to call on. Why? Because, Rabbi Shafran says, the evidence is all anecdotal – there are no statistics to back up the claim.

What Rabbi Shafran does not tell you is those statistics do not exist largely because haredi leaders refuse to cooperate with such information gathering.

He also does not tell you that anecdotal evidence gathered from professionals who work with a population sample on a professional level carries far more weight than raw speculation, and there is much anecdotal evidence drawn from professionals to support the claim that child sexual abuse and other ills are widespread in haredi communities.

So, for example, social workers, welfare agents, doctors, and other professionals anecdotally report high levels of welfare and other social service fraud among their haredi clients. Rabbi Shafran wants us to disregard this information.

Those same professionals speak of sky high levels of child sex abuse among their haredi clients. Again, Rabbi Shafran wants us to disregard this.

According to Rabbi Shafran, when haredi victims of child sexual abuse speak out, they are tragic, individual cases. They certainly are not representative, Rabbi Shafran says, and he knows this with some certainty because – drum roll, please – there are no studies to prove it and the anecdotal evidence is not to be relied on.

[Here, where there is a study, Rabbi Shafran lists his problems with its methodology and seeks to rebut its conclusions. What he does not do is call for any substantive measures to correct the actual problem – sexual abuse of women and girls in haredi communities.]

Rabbi Shafran is also quick to point out that when there has been no trial and therefore no conviction, the rabbi is to be presumed innocent. To Rabbi Shafran, this apparently holds true even when there are dozens of victims and years of "anecdotal" evidence, and even in cases where police were unable to make headway because the haredi victims, acting on orders from their religious leadership, refused to testify against the rabbis who abused them

Rabbi Shafran makes no mention of meetings held by haredi leadership to "deal with" particular rabbi-abusers, meetings that instead ended with implementation of coverups.

Further, rabbis – including some of those Shafran represents – are alleged to have told victims and their families not to go to the police or media, and then shamed and intimidated these victims into compliance.

Jewish and non-Jewish children alike were abused by rabbis who walked freely on the streets of Brooklyn because haredi leadership, intentionally or not, made it so.

Is there more child sexual abuse in the haredi community than elsewhere? I think there is, based on anecdotal evidence I've seen and heard, including anecdotal evidence from professionals. But this is almost beside the point.

Children are being hurt by predator rabbis. One way to weed out these abusers is to have mandatory criminal background checks for all teachers in religious schools. In New York State, this is the law – but only for public schools.

Religious schools are exempt because two powerful religious groups oppose mandatory background checks in their schools – the Catholic Church and Agudath Israel of America.

The number of abused children in the haredi community could be reduced dramatically if mandatory background checks were law.

So, Rabbi Shafran, for the sake of argument, let's say you are right. We will disregard all anecdotal evidence, and we will say these types of deviant abuses are less common in haredi communities than elsewhere. Still, even one incident of preventable rabbi-on-child sexual abuse is too much, don't you think, Rabbi Shafran?

In an ideal world, which we all want and we all should work for, there would be no incidents – our children would be safe, our children would not be abused.

The haredi community can come closer to that goal by supporting mandatory background checks for all teachers and employees of religious schools. And it can come closer faster by unilaterally implementing those background checks now, without waiting for the law to change.

Let Agudath Israel of America's Council of Torah Sages rule that these background checks are mandatory for all schools in the haredi community. The ruling can be enforced by issuing bans against those schools and their leaders who fail to adopt this much needed standard.

Our children need protection now. It is time to act, swiftly and decisively, to protect them.

Anything less, Rabbi Shafran, is just so much hot air.

November 26, 2007 8:14 AM  

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