An unsigned article in Yated Ne’eman (6/22/16), A Call to Action, claims fantastic things were initiated by the Novominsker Rebbe, Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, head of the Moetzet (Council of Torah Sages of Agudath Israel of America). The naïve can be forgiven for believing they live in Moshiach times. The article starts:
The Novominsker Rebbe, Rav Yaakov Perlow, issued a call for action in response to the festering scourge of child abuse and molestation. As a result of his seminal address at the recent Torah Umesorah convention, several groundbreaking initiatives have been launched to ensure that our children are safe at all times.
Unfortunately, they leave out most of the words spoken by R. Perlow at Torah Umesorah (5/26/16) and instead imply he has said all sorts of things which he did not .
I transcribed and posted his Torah Umesorah speech where he complained about bloggers on abuse, opposed extending the statute of limitations for child sex abuse, and insisted rabbis should decide whether to report abuse to the police. Most of all, he got all defensive and lashed out at bloggers as liars. He got in a lather about how much rabbonim care. But, as I pointed out, the real issue is not caring but tachlis, action.
Rabbi Perlow also said some good things but he also said them six years ago, that we need to feel sympathy for the victims, we need to recognize the problems, and we need programs of education to prevent abuse. When someone delivers the same promises of action six years later, one is entitled to ask, why the same speech and why the slow progress?.
The clever trick of the unnamed ploni who wrote the Yated article was to imply that Rav Perlow said all sorts of other things. For example, the article admits the truth, “one out of every five children in our community [is] likely to be victimized [sexually].” I wish R. Perlow would say that, but he didn’t.
The article claims “As a result of his…address… groundbreaking initiatives have been launched” and then speaks of programs to train staff, programs to educate children, and the ASAP program to fund therapy for adult survivors of childhood abuse. It was not as a result of the address. Nothing happens in a few weeks; nothing happens presto because of a speech. If it did, talking in shul during davening would have stopped decades ago, weddings would be less ostentatious, and nobody would be reading Vos Iz Neias on the internet, let alone through IPhones.
The ASAP program is a good start but it was several years in the works and is the initiative of Toronto’s Friedberg Foundation with additional funding by the Wolfson Foundation and Mr. Mendy Klein of Cleveland. Millions of dollars are being spent, but they cover only a fraction of the need for the twenty percent of the population affected by child abuse. Shamefully, I would estimate the community spends more each year on criminal defense lawyers for offenders and for their bail. To my knowledge, no Haredi sex offender was ever short of bail money or properly funded criminal defense attorneys, even when everyone involved was convinced of his guilt. And as Satmar showed in the Weberman case, there was plenty of money for Abraham Rubin to offer bribes to witnesses.
Child safety education is a good thing, but there is too much responsibility placed on children and parents. What happens when a child says “Rabbi x touched me?” Most of the time, even if Rabbi x is removed from work with children, he does not get sent to jail, he does not get publicly denounced, he does not lose his status in the community. He goes right on getting his aliyot and other honors. This is demoralizing for victims. Worse, it leaves offenders with the respectability which gives them easy access to additional victims.
At the end of the day, it is good that bloggers and others have raised awareness of the scope of the abuse problem. It is good that there is more education and some more support for therapy for victims. But the credit does not go to the Moetzes and we still have a long way to go to rid the community of identified sex offenders. I am sorry to say that progress will happen in spite of the leadership failures of Agudah’s Moetzes, not because of them.
UPDATE 7/4/16- Vivien Resofsky documents eerie parallels between the promises in the Yated article and similar promises several years earlier in Australia. As subsequently exposed by the Royal Commission, these initiatives had little real effect in getting a proper communal response to sex abuse. See her Web posting: http://users.tpg.com.au/rberger/10Vivien%27sPresentation10-2.7.16.pdf