The Hebrew word ohel means tent. When a social service agency chooses to call itself Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services you expect it to protect children and help remove molesters in our midst. When it has a forty million dollar a year budget you expect a lot of protection. Yet in 2002 they knew about a molester and did not report him. Ohel was not legally required to report him. But they would have been fully protected from lawsuits if they had. Reporting him might have prevented him from sodomizing two thirteen-year-old yeshiva boys. Ohel did not protect those two boys.
Instead, the New York Jewish Week’s Hella Winston wrote:
Asked multiple times over a period of more than a month for an explanation of its reporting policies, Ohel said in a statement provided just before the paper’s deadline that the agency “fully complies with New York State laws, including those related to mandated reporting.” The statement did not address the group’s policies and practices when a non-court-mandated offender drops out of treatment.
Indeed, the agency’s CEO, David Mandel, has made public statements . . .that it is not always appropriate — even when legally permissible — to report sexual abuse to the police.
The disturbing fact about Ohel it that it continues to be touted as a safe harbor, as the go -to refuge for survivors of sex abuse. Their staff are brought in by other communities and organizations as consultants. Their record does not match their reputation. In 2009 there were only 32 arrests of orthodox jews for sex abuse crimes in Brooklyn. I refuse to believe the number would be that low if Ohel was doing its best to facilitate the prosecution of sex offenders. There is clearly a disconnect between the things they know and the things that get acted on by the District Attorney.
Organizations accepted in the ultra orthodox Jewish world usually have halachic advisors. Rabbi Dovid Cohen fills that role at Ohel. Officially, Rabbi Cohen supports reporting to the police. He has even been accused of handing out such dispensations too readily without inquiring into the facts. Yet I keep wondering about the discrepancy between that reputation and Ohel’s very limited exertions to effect arrests of molesters. Rabbi Cohen has also justified cheating on taxes. Perhaps he just views tax evasion very differently from molesting. Perhaps he has no trouble taking one public position on reporting but taking a different private one, especially when it could hurt influential individuals and institutions in the community. I know many survivor advocates are suspicious of Dovid Cohen’s role at Ohel even though they acknowledge that he does frequently endorse police reporting. The truth is hard to know because there is no transparency at Ohel. To the best of my knowledge they do not publish their protocols and practices. They do not reveal the number of cases they have reported to the authorities or the number of cases where they exploited legal options to avoid reporting. It would be nice to give them the benefit of the doubt. But their history is troubling, and their evasiveness justifies suspicion.
Maybe I am wrong. But right now I believe that Ohel is a leaky tent and David Mandel and Rabbi Dovid Cohen have brandished the seam rippers that make it leaky.
Update (February 23, 2011) Hella Winston documents another case where Ohel covered up sex abuse.