No, this is not about the United States Presidential elections or the upcoming Israeli elections, but it is about politics – politics with a small letter “p”. This is about the politics that occur in every situation where people interact: The politics of getting along, of making a point with others, of trying to move ideas into reality, of trying to develop a better understanding between people. This is about the politics that have led several prominent rabbis to finally admit that they “are late to the table” on the issue of childhood sexual abuse or even any form of interpersonal abuse, despite the fact that the data has been presented to them repeatedly for many years. This is also about the missing apologies to the victims, their advocates and their therapists who struggled with their patients and their patients’ many crises. This is about the vilification heaped on those who tried to create an environment for healing but were told that their efforts were misdirected. It is also about those who are just now coming to the table but still insist in an offhanded fashion of having the final say as to what may or may not be reported and to whom to report.
Let’s start with this last point. The law in all situations is clear – if you reasonably suspect that someone is being abused you are required to report that fact to the proper authorities. You do not have the right to “think about it”, do your own investigating or discuss it with another individual, no matter the brilliance of that other person or their training. Approximately one in four women are abused and one in eight to ten men are.The longer you wait to report the abuse the more time available to the abuser to continue his destruction. For those who doubt this fact just check out the Jerry Sandusky case. Excuses were made, he was not properly reported. We now know for a fact that this former football coach abused at least ten young boys, the ones who came forward to testify against him, but he likely abused many more. The argument that false reporting causes more harm is itself simply false. Sure there have been cases and situations where there is false reporting and of course there are occasions when a false report can result in harm to certain individuals, we may look at one or two of them in a few weeks, but this is significantly less likely when trained professionals who work in this area exclusively are notified immediately. It gives the abuser and his or her supporters less time to cover up their actions. It prevents abusers from coercing their community into protecting them as seems to be the situation in the Weberman case – you can easily look that case up as well.
For those who attempt the excuse that reporting to the police often results in no action being taken, as has been stated regarding Nachalot, and therefore, it is better to do nothing – this argument is specious. Police are charged with arresting those who commit a crime. Being a pedophile, someone who fantasizes about young children but does not touch, abuse or inappropriately communicate with children, has not committed a crime. Molesters, or those who use the Internet to attract children are criminals. The motivation of any authority to investigate allegations of abuse or molestation is triggered by reports. Of course, if an investigation is performed and there is no corroboration then no legal action may be taken. So it is important to make reports so that they are investigated and not ignored.
Excuses are easy to find and they are all in a sense political excuses. I have folders full of excuses that I have heard. “Children can’t be trusted to tell the truth” is one of the most common. When we do not listen to our children we are giving molesters the opportunity to abuse. Another oft used excuse: “The child seems just a bit off so I don’t think they are trustworthy” – Molesters target children who are just a little different and may have mild social skills deficiencies. They are the most vulnerable to abuse. Another excuse: “Uncle Joe is a really nice person he would never do such things.” Children are usually abused by people they know well, as often as 80% of cases of abuse involve relatives, neighbors or family friends. I have also heard “The family (of the abuser) donates a lot of money to the institution. I wouldn’t want to jeopardize that.” So money trumps safety.
I also have folders filled with E mails from Rabbis and other clerics who insist that abuse does not occur in their communities, at least not at the same rate as in the general population. But it does. In fact, it may be more likely to occur in sequestered communities as abusers know the reluctance of the community to report situations to people they consider outsiders. There is also the concern of the “forbidden fruit” phenomenon in societies that restrict appropriate gender socialization. In these files are accusations hurled at me for: not telling the truth, bringing attention to situations that should be kept within the community, that I am a fool for believing any of it, and misinterpreting the information. Such are the politics of blame, misdirected blame.
How much has actually changed? Only time will tell. And it may take a lot more time. When you tell me that you are late to the table but you now see that it is a real problem, but you still have the pressing need to continue to flaunt or deliberately not follow the law you are not yet being completely honest.