One week ago, I had the privilege of participating in the First International Congress for Child Protection Organizations in Jewish Communities held at the Haruv Institute at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and sponsored by Haruv and David Morris’s Magen organization. Participants at the Conference came from all walks of life and from all over the world. I was a last minute addition to the conference because of my schedule and while I could only take one day to participate I was both honored and humbled at being selected as the keynote, kickoff speaker whose job was to set the tone by speaking about “What Makes Abuse in the Jewish Community Jewish?”
As I spoke, I noted the interest of the participants as I presented some of the research findings that I and many of my academic and clinical colleagues see as given. Current data strongly suggests that most abusers have true psychopathic tendencies, tend to know their victims and know how to blame the victims and try to exonerate themselves. The current data also supports the fact that virtually all reports of abuse by children are accurate and should be properly investigated. On occasion, those reports are suspect but usually only when the child is stuck in a domestic situation, such as the divorce of his or her parents. In those cases, there may be reason to believe that the child was tricked or groomed into siding with one parent against the other.
It was also noted that some victims are afraid to report their abuse for fear that they themselves will be labeled as being abusers or are in fact pedophiles. Research indicates that while virtually all abusers are themselves victims of abuse only about twenty percent of victims become abusers. The overwhelming numbers of victims do not themselves, become abusers. Moreover, the available data indicates that about one in four women and about one in five men are abused before the age of 18. These large percentages argue for the need to contain the known child abusers who may abuse as many as 50 or more children before being prosecuted.
We spoke a bit about how information, data, and basic research was sorely lacking in Jewish communities on the topic of abuse because of a combination of religious and cultural barriers that insulate the community. Most importantly, we also spoke about the fact that information that is being presented to front line professionals is often altered, watered down, or even withheld because of mistaken notions of what certain communities see as their own unique cultural needs. I took a hard line on this with the reasoning that universality of protocols is essential. Just as dosing for vaccines is fixed via protocol, vaccinating children so that they may protect themselves should be consistent and affixed via protocol. While it is true that there are some people who do not believe in vaccinating their children, in the end, they and their communities are the ones who suffer the most. I also pointed out that protecting children requires not simply educating them but containing known molesters and seeing that they get the right types of interventions.
I was not amazed by some of the responses I received, particularly from certain members of the group at the Conference who operate within their own guidelines. Some work within organizations that view their mandate as governed by the needs of the organization over the people they service. Some openly support the notion that they must first clear all cases through a rabbi before reporting. Some believe it best never to report child abusers but privately treat them psychologically and medically. Still most of these individuals have already contacted me privately to speak about the idea of a universal system to find and report child abusers and developing a worldwide network so that abusers can no longer travel from one community to another, from one country to another.
It was a heady day at that meeting where ideas, emotions, and data were exchanged in an environment that was mostly respectful and nurturing. My own positions were buoyed when I presented a more clinical program to front line mental health workers a bit later in the week. Discussing cases and how to deal with the fallout, both clinical and communal, are topics on the minds of those who operate in the community and are charged with caring for their clientele. There is much work to do but I am encouraged that there are people who want to do that work.