When Anti-Abuse Activists Are Wrong

Being wrong is lousy; being publicly wrong is lousier. I have had some real bloopers in my 1,200+ posts over almost seven years. In every one of those five instances, I swallowed hard and issued unambiguous public apologies. I did not bury my corrections in my comments and I did not equivocate. It is good for the soul and one’s character to do such things. After every such apology I thought long and hard about how I made the mistake and I developed a visceral alert system that spared me from repeating it. While some of my enemies tried very hard to rag on me about my mistakes, most of my readers respected me for it. It made them more trusting of other things I write.

I am painfully aware that I am a solo blogger, my own editor, fact checker, and ethical cop. I do my best and I consult with others when in doubt. I also pay attention to comments on my posts and make smaller corrections as warranted. Yet ultimately, my public is dependent on my integrity without full supervision, transparency or accountability.

This isn’t just my problem. It shows up in many areas of anti-abuse activism in the orthodox Jewish world for a simple reason. Most activism is undertaken without pay or support and therefore without controls. I do not see that changing in the foreseeable future, especially for those of us who are determined not to lavish praise on the existing system or to play by its rules that regularly yield cover-ups.

The orthodox world’s activism against abuse is a loose network of survivors, friends and relatives who support them,bloggers, other sorts of organizations, and a larger hidden world of secret supporters. My success depends on working well with others. I try hard to avoid needless fights. I despise some fights that are really just turf wars disguised as principled battles.

Nevertheless some disagreements are necessary as a matter of establishing the truth about a case or clarifying the problems with a particular policy or even an individual or an organization. In 2010 I forcefully attacked one activist, Kal Holczler, who was exploiting survivors. It was painful because some of my supporters had been helped by Kal and were angry at me. But just as we try to collaborate well, we also have to accept the price of telling the truth, even when the anger comes from survivors and other supporters of our efforts.

A controversy has now erupted about Yehuda Pogrow. He deserves credit for how he responded when his brother, Meir Pogrow, was publicly denounced as an abuser of females. Yehuda, who is in no way implicated in his brother’s conduct, went public to join in the condemnation and to reveal the ways in which his brother also abused him. Yehuda has also shared ways in which he was sexually abused by his mother and physically abused at school. That is courage which few show, let alone on short notice.

Yehuda also wants to be a leader in the effort to overcome the abuse cover-ups of the frum world. I have advised him not to undertake that role, and I am now urging survivors not to seek him out. Unlike Kal, I am not accusing Yehuda of assaults or anything like that. But based on my impressions of his writing and actions, I find him too inexperienced, impulsive, and short on knowledge and sensitivity to others. His intentions are for the good, but his judgment and temperament do not match his intentions. I believe that he is likely to hurt the best interests of some survivors who depend on him.

When victims/survivors approach activists they are entitled to a response sensitive to their needs and situation. While I will always support someone bringing a criminal or civil case against an abuser, I do not use survivors as pawns in my effort. That is not the preferred path for some. Others may want to go that way and I feel obliged to help inform them of what lies down that path so they can make an informed choice. Handling this competently requires an understanding of the issues, sensitive attention to the individual and discipline so you do not confuse your own agenda with the needs and choices of the survivor. I have always tried to manage that balance and I hope I have succeeded.

At this point I have grave doubts about Yehuda’s ability to manage that balance. I cannot see Yehuda instantly changing his hard-charging character to fit this requirement, not right now, and not soon.

I wish Yehuda well in his private life and efforts and I hope he does change for the better. But these are my thoughts about the here and now.

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6 thoughts on “When Anti-Abuse Activists Are Wrong

  1. Is there not some sort of credentialing process and liability insurance that persons who engage in counseling must acquire before practicing?

    This matter raised about qualifications should not be an issue if counseling is performed either by licensed professionals or under the supervision of a licensed professional.

    Professional services are not a matter of opinion; they are a matter of credentials, oversight, and liability. Experience and competency can be debated.

    • You are speaking of counseling. There are indeed credentialing and licensing laws which vary by state. The same holds true for attorneys. However, there are many roles outside that which are vital and aren’t covered. Journalism, blogging, political activism, and mobilization for community reform are the option of all citizens in a free society and should remain so.

  2. Yehuda needs time to establish himself in this roll that he has taken up. He has immense pain with what happened to him and until you are in someone’s shoes we should not judge them. Giving Yehuda time might help him to heal and even if he saves one child his work will be worthwhile.
    Also I think it’s important that we know the facts about his brother who is an educator. We don’t want more children to get into trouble. I really do believe that past behaviour is an indicator of what is going to happen in the future. I don’t believe the abuse has stopped and this may very well alert people to stay away from him. ( I can’t even say his name because he has caused such trauma)

    • Would you encourage people to trust a self declared surgeon, Pharmacist, Psychiatrist, what if they could save one child. At whose expense do they learn.
      Dealing with victims of abuse is an extremely delicate and sensitive task that take years of training, as well as many other character traits. There are many roles that can be filled on behalf of victims of abuse that do not involve personal, and potentially harmful (well intended) interactions. I have no reason to suspect anyone of ill intent. The best intentions and being a victim doesn’t make one qualified.

  3. Disclaimer: this comment isn’t meant to be advice nor is it aimed at one and/or groups of victim advocates. It comes from personal experience…and I’m still learning.
    YL you are an honest person and your words are kind and sensitive. We have to be extra careful – REGARDLESS of how long a person has been in advocacy or is an activist. There are activists who have created great, world renown organizations and those who are new to this noble cause; both of whom (this writer has seen) slowly emplode – for lack of a better word. This emplosion can be compared to a person working relenlessly to grow his/her business; disregarding personal well-being and that of others, with the inability to delegate and to take advice from those with genuine experience, etc. The one goal is success in the form of cash, accolades and fame no matter who gets pushed aside or hurt in the process. The result will most likely be emplosion or failure.
    Taking a deep breath, slowing down, stepping out of ourselves (something difficult to do), recapping and accepting with integrity the honest advice from those who are in it for the greater good; like you YL; can be lessons learned at a persons own honest pace. To sum it up in your words; “…others may want to go that way and I feel obliged to help inform them of what lies down that path so they can make an informed choice. Handling this competently requires an understanding of the issues, sensitive attention to the individual and discipline so you do not confuse your own agenda with the needs and choices of the survivor.”
    Stepping out into the arena is a vulnerable choice, but it has to be done with finesse and with one success in mind. The victim.

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