Michael J. Salamon

Will the Walder Fiasco Change Anything?

Larry Nassar, the former physician for the United States Gymnastic association, sexually abused several hundred adolescents and teens until he was exposed by one of his survivors. That opened the floodgates and many other gymnasts that he sexually molested came forward. Those survivors are all well-educated individuals from socially sophisticated and worldly homes and they all had a bond through the gymnastics they were engaged in. Still, it took decades before Nassar’s years of abusing was laid bare.

At one point the common knowledge was that an abuser might sexually abuse between five and ten individuals over the course of his or her active life. It is becoming increasingly clear that child sexual abusers can have many victims, many more than usually come forward. As many as several hundred. Twenty-two reports were logged against Chaim Walder. It is a reasonable assumption and an educated opinion that there were likely many more victims of his perversion.

I am personally aware of one individual who Walder molested that did not report what he did to them. In fact, when that person first told a therapist that they had been improperly touched by him they were told to speak with their rabbi regarding how to proceed. Put aside the fact that the therapist who said to consult a rabbi should lose their license because the therapist is a mandated reporter and as such was obligated to report what this individual told them, this behavior tells us all that is wrong with the system. It goes to the heart of my pessimism about the fact that even with the grassroots efforts to affect change it will be a tedious and painful process that is unlikely to change any time soon. By the time this Walder victim got to me there was no case to be made or added to against Walder. Walder had already died by suicide.

Let’s break this down. There is no doubt that Walder operated in an insular system, a system that even after all that we know supports the desire for rabbis to control the course of investigating and adjudicating reports of sexual abuse in their communities, closed, insular and non-worldly societies. Further, I said that the therapist should lose his license, but it turns out he may not even be a trained or licensed therapist. I could find no evidence that he was. This is very common in certain communities. Nechemya Weberman and Chaim Walder were held out to their communities as therapists without any evidence of training. Additionally, there are far too many therapists operating within insular communities who are trained and licensed but will not report cases of sexual abuse that occur in their communities for reasons as venal as not wanting to antagonize their referral sources which include the rabbis.

Many therapists work for and within organizations that put pressure on the therapists not to report directly to the authorities, as is usually required by law. If therapists operate within an organization they are required to report concerns of abuse to supervisors who in turn may refer to a rabbi or simply quash the possibility of direct reporting to the appropriate authorities. It is often the case that religious organizations that have programs on the topic of abuse turn to professionals employed by certain organizations, the organizations that toe the line on hesitant reporting.

There is also the perversion of thought that many youngsters have been groomed to believe. Many of these children expect to be abused. So pervasive is it that they see it as part of the hazing process in certain schools and community organizations. More than once I have heard from young boys that they were insulted having not been “taken out” by a certain rabbi. They are unlikely to report if they have not been educated about abuse.

In the last few weeks, I have had many discussions with advocates for children who were sexually abused, police specialists and individuals knowledgeable about the topic. All these sources have confirmed for me that they have awareness of close to two thousand abusers active presently in Israel. The police say that they cannot act because no reports are made to them and in those rare instances that reports are submitted the community makes it close to impossible to investigate.

When the rabbis beat their chest about Walder and present him to be outcast in their communities, when he was held as the specialist for all these decades and go on to offer solutions that include designing an internal court system they are only proposing to continue the current system. I am pessimistic about change but I am devoted to keep trying to effect change!

About the Author
Dr. Michael Salamon ,a fellow of the American Psychological Association, is an APA Presidential Citation Awardee for his 'transformative work in raising awareness of the prevention and treatment of childhood sexual abuse". He is the founder and director of ADC Psychological Services in New York and Netanya, the author of numerous articles, several psychological tests and books including "The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures" (Urim Publications), "Every Pot Has a Cover" (University Press of America) and "Abuse in the Jewish Community: Religious and Communal Factors that Undermine the Apprehension of Offenders and the Treatment of Victims."
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