Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Abuse & Its Defenders

Thanks to Town Crier and others for sending material used in putting this together.

This whole story is somewhat saddening, but perhaps the way it went down will inspire some change within our communities. Make sure to read the whole thing, including R' Horowitz's piece at the end.

A few days ago, Dov Hikind had put together a Sexual Abuse Task Force with Dr. Benzion Twerski. Unfortunately, R' Twerski decided to resign from the task force today due to the immediate response he received from people. In his words:
For several days, I was approached by individuals, some stating that they would cross the street if they were to meet me while walking with their children. Others told me that they would not accept my child into their class if assigned. Others used euphemisms that I refuse to repeat. Family members were likewise confronted by all sorts of comments and phone calls. My married children had been told to fear ever getting shidduchim for their children. Basically, I was left to choose between abandoning my family for this mission, or to take the painful step that I did.
Unfortunately, Dr. Twerski felt that he could not do anything but resign. However, the job is still so important:
The intent of the Task Force was to devise systems that would be implemented by the yeshivos themselves to accept complaints, evaluate them, and move the cases onto the next level, whatever was determined by a body of individuals that would include poskim. No fox guarding the henhouse either, as the system would comprise individuals from outside the yeshiva as well to prevent denial and bias from interfering with the process. Part of this process would help filter out complaints that are baseless, either by exaggeration, inaccuracy, or pure fabrication. To consider this project a new "abuse clinic", or a molestation police brigade is completely groundless.

So I spent several days watching these gross misperceptions feed the mouths of "holchei rochil". Not one person called me to inquire about the mission, and there was never a chance to explain any of this to anyone before the hatchet began swinging. ...

I am not personally offended. I have learned to tolerate being called names. I've been around a little. I grieve for the work that could have been done, and my tefiloh is that someone capable is found who can see this mission through to success. I grieve for the pain and anger that this whole situation caused for myself, my family, for Dov Hikind, and for all others who recognize the seriousness of the mission. I grieve for the pain and suffering that innocent neshamos will experience in the absence of a system that could stop it. The flak will eventually fade, but the damage has been done. If nothing else, it is a really serious lesson in hilchos lashon horah.
Hikind is understandably furious - not at Twerski but at the disgusting threats he received and the entire attitude toward the issue. He has threatened to "name names", though this seems unlikely given that there's no reason to not have done so already.
Speaking after a rash of highly publicized sexual molestation cases in the Orthodox community, Hikind said, “I have been learning that a lot of people out there know who the bad guys are. Where have I been? How come no one talked to me, how come no one came to me?”

Now, Hikind says, he is more determined than ever to establish a community task force to address the issue. Though vague on the panel’s broader makeup and specific plans, Hikind ultimately seeks to develop a list of sexual molesters in Orthodox schools to keep them away from children.
While some people criticized Hikind's approach for being too internally reliant, what's sad and sickening is that people seem to have been attacking Dr. Twerski for trying to do anything at all about it. This is a situation of responsible, skilled members of the community trying to establish a way to deal with cases of sexual abuse of children and it is being stopped by members of our own communities! This is disgusting in so many ways. Of course caution must be exercised to avoid false accusations, but to stop those who are trying to responsibly put an end to much of the abuse that goes on in our communities is so twisted it's almost indescribable. A friend put it well when he said:
Ever feel like life in the Jewish Community et. al. is a big game of Chutes & Ladders and as a people we keep hitting the slides?
R' Horowitz is calling it a Topsy Turvy World Gone Mad and noted the following:

[bold from the prior week's piece]

I must admit that I advised [Dr. Twerski] to resign from the position he had assumed due to the very real harassment that he and his family members were undergoing. I felt that he almost had no choice due to the circumstances. ...

“Is there any more sacred obligation than protecting the children entrusted to our care? Shame on us, for failing to treat it as such. Shame on us, for allowing ourselves to repeatedly get distracted with meaningless and often silly non-issues raised by self-appointed “askanim” that purport to pose spiritual risk to our children while our paramount communal responsibility to keep evil people from destroying the physical and spiritual lives of our children keeps getting bumped to the back burner.”

Well, to this I add: Shame on those who harassed a wonderful member of our community like Dr. Twerski. You have the blood of future abuse victims on your hands – kids who could have been saved by the initiatives that Dr. Twerski would have implemented.

And shame on all of us for allowing such an olam hafuch to be perpetuated.

I am not sure I'll ever understand how kannoim and people similar to them are able to hold so much sway. Perhaps I'm naive, but surely they can't be so great in numbers and power to hold threats over so many aspects of our (community. The only other explanation I can think of is a reliance on spreading rumors via the all-too-willing members of our society. Either way, this hold needs to be broken, and that must start with individuals. Somehow, someway, people need to be willing to come forward when something happens to someone they know, or when they know someone is intimidating others within the community. People can't be scared of false claims about their children getting into schools, getting shidduchim, and the like. It hasn't been true to those who have spoken up in the past and it won't be for those who speak up in the future - and while this is a difficult point, if it is true in some circles the question must be asked: Why would one want to marry off their child to a member of a family that will believe lies and rumors? It is merely a scare tactic. As these people are removed from their positions of power it will become increasingly easier to remove the rest.

Abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community is too serious to shove under the rug.