I was reading the text of the court ruling* awarding more than a million dollars damages to the woman sexually assaulted by her Adass Israel School principal, Malka Leifer. This jumped out at me:
[In 2007] the plaintiff consulted Ms Chana Rabinowitz, a counsellor/social worker, concerning her symptoms. The plaintiff saw Ms Rabinowitz on five or six occasions and then ceased seeing her. The plaintiff said she stopped seeing Ms Rabinowitz because she did not appear to believe that she was sexually abused by Leifer. Eventually, the plaintiff resumed sessions with Ms Rabinowitz after she confirmed the plaintiff’s allegations with the plaintiff’s sister and a person at the School. (page 57, section 155)
It shocked me for several reasons.
It was proof that the Adass Israel School knew Malka Leifer molested her students and yet kept her on as principal until 2008 at which time they knew of a total of 8 victims.
Mrs. Chana Rabinowitz is a staff social worker at Darchei Binah Seminary (according to a blurb for Mrs. Debbie Fox’s book, Seminary Savvy, 2015). It raises the possibility that we are dealing with a therapist unwilling to believe a victim of sexual abuse without corroboration from other sources. This pattern makes it less likely victims get necessary support and contributes to the underestimation and under-reporting of sexual abuse.
Unfortunately, this is not a rare problem. Over and over, allegations of abuse are dismissed for want of a second, third or fourth victim. This delays the detection of some abusers and shields others indefinitely. Sometimes, the victim is expected to find their corroborating case.
Any victim willing to come forward with allegations is a potential Nachshon, a brave person who can part, not the sea, but the curtain of silence that shields abuse. Midrash celebrates Nachshon, one man who stepped forward in the water right up to his nostrils. If we had needed two Nachshons, would we have had them?
Can we successfully fight abuse if we keep demanding two, three, four and more Nachshons? I think, not, or at least, not very successfully.
Zero tolerance means one case is one too many. Otherwise truth in labeling demands that orthodox institutions announce a policy of one tolerance, two tolerance, etc. For Adass Israel School it seems their policy was seven tolerance, since the 8th broke the bank and got Malka Leifer fired. I could be wrong and the reason they fired her was that the police were hot on her trail and they needed her out of the country, pronto.
Mrs. Rabinowitz’s skepticism may have extended the period in which Malka Leifer was free to sexually assault underage teens in the Adass Israel School. Our children and our survivors deserve better.
*I am not posting the ruling because my version is unredacted and I wish to protect the privacy of the plaintiff who was a victim of abuse by Malka Leifer.