NBC recently ran an important story on Judy Brown’s heroic efforts fighting the culture of silence in her insular Hasidic community. The segment highlights her award winning book ‘Hush,’ which exposes sexual abuse in the insular Orthodox community of Williamsburg.
Here is what NBC misreported in the story.
Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz says people are now acknowledging sexual abuse is happening.
“These type of crimes have to be eradicated,” He says. He insists, though, that the community can handle the problem internally. “We have to do it within the way the community knows how to solve its problems. Cause sometimes when you come banging with drums from the outside, the community becomes more insular.”
The implication of this parsed quote is that Rabbi Berkowitz is advocating reporting abuse to rabbis not the authorities.
Considering how uncharacteristic this approach is in Chabad and knowing Berkowitz personally, I decided to ask him exactly what he said.
It turns out Berkowitz was referring to educational initiatives on prevention not reporting of abuse.
In fact Berkowitz made it abundantly clear to the producer that he advocates reporting abuse to law enforcement; but NBC edited the interview to imply that he was referring to handling reporting internally.
In Berkowtiz’s words as stated on his Facebook page:
Myths and Facts: NBC explosively misused my words on dealing with Child Sex Abuse: They aired one line out of the five minutes we discussed Child Sex abuse in the over one and half hour interview. What I said regarding eradicating the crimes by dealing with it internally, I was speaking about prevention, that in order for it to be taught in the community schools it must be done with the Chassidic communities sensitivities in mind. Otherwise if it comes from the drums beating from the outside, “they can become more insular”. Before that line was said, I spoke in the interview that criminals must be punished by law enforcement and never be hidden or pushed under the rug.
Berkowitz’s view is of course consistent with the 2011 Crown Heights Rabbinical Court ruling, which requires that suspected abuse be reported directly to the police.
The media misreporting on Orthodox Jews in the context of sexual abuse reflects a lack of nuance when discussing different Hasidic groups, and perpetuates the false assumption that if they all have black beards and fedoras they must all have the same views on gender and sexual abuse prevention.
Another example of this was ABC conflating a Crown Heights’ seminar combating sexual abuse with the Webberman fundraiser. Despite the fact that the seminar had zero connection to the case of 1,000 Haredi men in Williamsburg rallying behind the accused pedophile Nechemya Weberman, media outlets chose to make that connection.
UPDATE: June 24, 2013
Since reporting this issue, NBC removed the story and segment which grossly mis-portrayed Rabbi Avremi Berkowitz’s views on reporting sexual abuse and inserted an editors note to help clear up any misunderstanding.