The ongoing revelations of child sex abuse cases in Orthodox* communities continue to send out shock waves, especially through the online world, challenge our attitudes and self-perception, and test our resolve.
As cases come before the justice system, we are forced to confront the evil within our own communities, come to grips with the impact their crimes have had on our own, and work out how the justice system and Jewish communities can work more effectively together. These cases change the way we look at both perpetrators and victims in our community, and therefore the way we look out ourselves.
And time and again, the question comes up: “are we protecting child sex abusers?”
For this bold question, there are actually four answers:
1. Victims, advocacy groups and whistleblowing web sites tell us time and again “YES!” as they bring example after example of actual cases where Rabbis and community leaders have either protected abusers, advised against reporting, or continued to allow access to children despite knowing of investigations and even court proceedings in progress. They produce a damning litany of our sins, exposed to all, and in doing so often point a very broad finger at a collective.
2. Rabbis, community leaders and roof bodies make formal statements from time to time declaring the official policy or halacha regarding reporting of sex abuse crimes. They want to set the record straight and say that “NO!” – they do not protect child sex abusers.
Should you believe either answer 1 or 2? Well, both answers come with an obvious bias and agenda, so perhaps a more correct answer is
3. It’s a stupid question, because implicit in the question is a generalisation – that these attitudes are consistent within the Orthodox community we speak of. The Jewish world is so fragmented that there is a distinct lack of representative voices. If anything, there is constant bickering over who really is representative (at all levels). Attitudes to issues like child sex abuse cases are not even consistent within cities, let alone entire affiliations of Jews. Which leads to perhaps the correct answer …
4. We don’t know. People who answer 1 or 2 purport to know the answer or seek to advance a particular view that is their own. Anyone who really wanted to know would not rely on biased views or those that pick out specific examples that support their own viewpoint. If anyone does want to know, then the thing to do is conduct some genuine research into opinions and attitudes. That would be a genuinely useful tool to determine what prevalent attitudes are within Orthodox communities. With time, the research can be repeated to determine if attitudes have changed as a result of education and advocacy.
I’m not aware of any research on this issue. It’s up to a special interest group (typically those who answer 1 or 2) to decide whether it’s worth doing, the scope, and how it can be funded. It would be a big risk for either group to conduct such research, as it may come up with answers they don’t want to hear. On the other hand, this may be exactly what we need to bring some common sense back to this important issue.
* substitute whatever you like – ultra-Orthodox, Haredi, etc