Monday, November 26, 2007

Child Sex Abuse Is Not An Anecdote

Rabbi Avi Shafran, Director of Public Affairs of Agudath Israel of America, recently published his latest contribution on the sex abuse problem in the Orthodox Jewish community. "Sin and Subtext" appeared on Cross-Currents and elsewhere (Cross-Currents, Yeshiva World, Am Echad). The article deserves more careful analysis and critique than I have the time and expertise to perform. Nevertheless, I think it requires at least a basic comment.

Rabbi Shafran writes:

What is also lamentable, though, is that its [abuse's] existence—to whatever extent—in the Orthodox world provides fodder for those who are always at the ready to pounce on the flimsiest of anecdotal evidence to "expose" what they believe are the moral shortcomings of Orthodox life.
This may be true but the solution isn't dismissing accusations as "the flimsiest of anecdotal evidence.” This alarmingly poor choice of words implies that largely, and especially regarding the case mentioned in the subsequent paragraph, all that exists is “the flimsiest of anecdotal evidence.”

This impression is terribly mistaken.

On the contrary, there are sworn testimonies in this case that have led to multiple indictments. While an indictment is not a conviction, it is certainly more than a flimsy anecdote. It means that victims of sexual abuse, often terrified schoolchildren, have overcome their trauma and fear to testify under oath in a room full of strangers and serious consequences.

Rabbi Shafran's next paragraph is the following single sentence: "Last year, an article appeared in New York magazine that told the tawdry tale of an alleged serial Orthodox child abuser.”

“Alleged” may be the legally and journalistically correct term because this yeshiva rebbe has only been indicted on multiple counts of child sex abuse and not yet convicted.

“Tawdry tale,” however, is yet another poor choice of phrases because it greatly diminishes the seriousness of the matter and implies that the multiple charges are nothing more than invented stories rather than serious and frightening accusations from multiple accusers.

While the many accusations about abusers may or may not imply something about the general Orthodox community, the cover-ups, the diminishing of the seriousness of these accusations, and the belittling of the victims and the immense courage that many of them have shown by coming forward, is in my mind a greater indictment of our community than any Brooklyn courtroom can issue.

There are public figures who have said that we should not report to the police the wrong-doings of abusers but the greatest rabbis of our times – including those to whom the Agudah looks for guidance – have disagreed. Whatever Chillul Hashem emerges is saddening but the protection of past and future victims is a more overriding concern. Let us not belittle the ongoing revelations but instead work together towards ensuring that these abuses never happen again.

The first step to doing that is admitting that abuses have occurred and encourage the speedy and just resolution of such cases.

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