So How Common IS Child Sexual Abuse in Ramat Bet Shemesh?


Background

A few months back, I was quoted in an article by Ruth Eglash in the Jerusalem Post, on the topic of sexual abuse of children in Ramat Bet Shemesh. http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1243872320108&pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull

The initial quotation in the Eglash Jerusalem Post was a few lines, which I shall quote in full, as many of those who subsequently had a strong opinion on the matter, seemed not to have actually read it.

"We are a lightning rod for all sorts of problems in the community here," says David Morris, founder and chairman of Lema'an Achai, which provides among its services support and guidance for haredi parents who believe their children might have been sexually abused.

Last summer, the organization set up the "Safe-Kids" hot line in conjunction with the Beit Shemesh social welfare services to provide a lifeline to local families whose children have been abused. While the service has not been inundated with calls, Morris says there have been between five and 10 concrete reports of sexual abuse in the community - and that is just the tip of the iceberg.

"If only one in 10 children actually reports what has happened to them, and then only one in 10 parents goes on to officially report what has happened to their child, and the police or social welfare services only get around to investigating one in 10 complaints, that means there are many more cases out there that we don't get to hear about," he says.

According to Morris, the problem is concentrated in local independent schools - facilities partially funded by the Education Ministry but not supervised by it - which have failed to be supportive of parents who claim that their child has been a victim. In most of the schools, a rabbinic authority has the final say, and in many cases ends up believing the perpetrators' story over the victims', he says.

"I don't know why the community leaders chose to protect the adults over the children, but we hope that we can now start to get the word out that children have to be listened to and protected at all costs."

Morris also says that the response of the authorities such as the police and social services is slow and bureaucratic, with the accused not being found guilty or exonerated for years.

"It's a no-win situation," he continues. "Most people are greatly disappointed by the official response from both within the community and from outside."

(By the way, that's it! Do YOU see anything here controversial, or requiring retraction?).

I was subsequently 'taken to task' by Jonathan Rosenblum, in the same newspaper, apparently with the cooperation of three community rabbonim from Ramat Bet Shemesh. Only one of these was named, being Rabbi Kornfeld. http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?apage=1&cid=1244371074854&pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull

I addition, I was accused of "chilul Hashem be'rabim" by one community rabbi (the Jewish equivalent to Hell-Fire & Brimstone); and another community rabbi responded by placing a cherem (ban) on fundraising in his shul for Lema'an Achai.

A few days later, an extensive report was published detailing specific cases of child sexual abuse in three schools in Ramat Bet Shemesh, in the national newspaper Haaretz: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1093270.html

Finally, the Jerusalem Post published an article "Right of Response", by an anonymous resident of RBS, responding to the Rosenblum article, and defending my position against child abuse:

http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?apage=1&cid=1245924929869&pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull

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There is a lot to say on this topic, and I have refrained from saying it, preferring to wait for the initial hubbub to calm down – which I feel it now has.

While calming down is a good thing, forgetting about the issue of child abuse is not.

Thus I now see a need to respond to some of the issues which were raised in the Press and on the blogs at that time.

For the purposes of this article now, I am going to focus on the issue of the scope and scale of the child abuse problem (in bold above).

The first thing to point out, for the purpose of setting the record straight, is that Ms Eglash quoted me somewhat inaccurately in the Jerusalem Post. My actual words were "I don't know the statistics, but, for the sake of illustration, if only one of every ten kids who has been abused, actually speaks up; and only one in ten adults who have been informed by the child, actually formally report; and only one in ten cases which are reported, result in a conviction…then that means there are many more cases out there that we don't know about."

I do not think the misquotation is actually significant, because the end-result is substantively the same. For every case we know about, there are many more we do not know about.

Jonathan Rosenblum stated: Morris speculates that there is an epidemic of child abuse in Ramat Beit Shemesh based on the wild claim that every case investigated by the police represents 1,000 others not investigated.

A prominent community rabbi (who I understand to be one of the three community rabbonim Jonathan Rosenblum referred to in his article) wrote an email to his Ramat Beit Shemesh community, regarding the Eglash article: the situation is far, far from anything that would be considered "epidemic proportions" and "tip -of-the-iceberg" , which, since completely undefined , are nothing but scare words.The article also had an absurd , ridiculous , baseless , completely made-up "statistic" , that every phone call received about a problem really represents 100 incidents (I kid you not).

Given the controversy on this point, I have done some research – nothing fancy, or privileged, and well within the researching capabilities of anyone reading this article.

Here are the statistics, backed up by academic and clinical research.

One in four girls has been sexually abused by the age of 18.

One in six boys has been sexually abused by the age of 18.

These proportions are apparently pretty consistent for different countries, different cultures and different social standing.

In order to begin to comprehend these statistics, I recommend you think of four girls/women you know. One of them, statistically, has been sexually abused as a child.

Now.. ask. I mean it. Gently and supportively ask your older daughters. Ask your wife. Ask your sisters. "What do you think of the statistic that one in four women has been sexually abused by the time she reaches 18?"

You will be amazed; I was. Listen to their personal experiences, and that of their friends and family.

"It's not true," I was told. "I believe the numbers are far higher than that."

"I know what happened to my friends Sarah, Rachel, Leah, Rivka…"and the lists go on.

In Israel, the Child Protection Services in 2008 were treating 41,161 victims of child abuse. They state that, in their opinion, this represents one-in-eight of the actual abuse cases. That would be over three hundred thousand victims of child abuse in Israel.

Although a repeated refrain in some quarters (I have heard it myself, even from people in high standing) is that children "often lie about these things", the fact is that both in Israel and the USA only around 2% of reported child abuse cases are "false alarms", where the child is reporting crimes which have not been perpetrated. That's 98% real alarms.

A far larger problem than "children lying about these thing" is children not telling. For example, in a study of 116 confirmed cases of childhood sexual abuse only 11% (approx 1 in 10) victims disclosed what had happened to them without minimization or denial.

In addition to these statistics is the phenomenon of delayed reporting. "Most children do not tell until many years later". Thus the legislative move now in the USA to extend the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse from 7 years, to twenty years.

And whereas children (almost) never lie about these things, perpetrators (almost) always do. Of course they do. Think about it. If you had done something like this, would YOU ever admit it when challenged?

Even in cases where sex offenders are arrested, convicted and confess, they will still deny most of their offences. For example, in one study, 36 convicted sex offended admitted to an average of two offences each. However, after a polygraph test the average number of offenses these same offenders admitted to was one hundred and sixty five offences each.

So how does that look for Ramat Bet Shemesh?

The recent RBS cases now widely known to the public, such as in the recently published Haaretz article, statistically represent a small part of the scale of the problem. I stand by that.

Statistically, yes, Jonathan Rosenblum and those three community rabbonim, hundreds of children in Ramat Bet Shemesh have been abused. Assuming Ramat Bet Shemesh is no worse, nor no better, than any other community.

And here is some further information most of us do not know:

The largest number of sex offenders in any age group is…aged fourteen.

The most frequently reported age of the victim when the abuse began is…aged five.

So, yes, we should be concerned about our teenage kids going out late at night, and passing through unlit areas. But the fact is they are far more likely to be violated by someone in a position of trust, and when they are even younger.

The most likely child abusers are members of their family (yes, incest is a widespread phenomenon), babysitters (look again at those ages for offenders and victims), summer camp supervisors, school/university/yeshiva friends, teachers, and, yes we all know it has happened, even rabbis or priests.

Before we can begin to address appropriate programs for prevention, and for a suitable code of response to cases of child abuse, there must be an honest reckoning of the nature and extent of the problem.

Ridiculing the messenger ("absurd , ridiculous , baseless", "wild claims", "not the Alpha Omega of child abuse"..), attempting to shut him up by ostracizing & punishing (threatening Hell-Fire, and placing cherems/bans) - tragically sends a clear and dangerous message to our kids and to the community that their reports or complaints of child abuse will continue to be, as mine were on their behalf, ridiculed as "absurd","wild claims", and they will be ostracized and punished.

"Children have to feel safe to tell the truth. A child who faces rejection, shaming, guilt, anger, ridicule or disbelief will deny or rarely tell…The average child never tells…"

I kid you not.

Comments

  1. Shakespeare had it right: "Methink [he/she] doth protest too much." Denial of responsibility tends to come most forcefully from perpetrators struggling to shift the blame from themselves. The pashkevilim about zniut are a highly suspect case in point. Hormonally obsessed poster-hangers are likely at odds with their private behavior, which is most likely aberrant and abusive. The "Alilat Dam" tabloid illustrades warped perspective and lack of self-control. Intrusions into the lives of defenseless victims and well-behaved neighbors deserves to be dealth with forcefully: jail and psychiatric treatment. ZERO tolerance for the tzniut-obsessed is called for.

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  2. I am an RBS resident, and I daven in one of the local shuls.

    I find this article deeply disturbing at two levels:
    1. about the extent and nature of child abuse. I did not previously know this important information.
    2. about the inappropriate response of community rabbonim to your quotations in the JPost article.

    I would like to know which rabbonim we're talking about?

    Who called your stand against child abuse a "Chilul Hashem BeRabim"? Who has banned Lema'an Achai from collecting in their shul?

    I admire that you have not stooped to naming them - in spite of the fact that Rosenblum (+ three RBS Rabbonim) was quick enough to publicly insult YOU by name.

    BUT, frankly, I don't want to be a member such a shul, nor ask such a "rav" my shailos. Maybe he IS my rav? Maybe it IS my shul?!

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  3. I don't understand - even if a Rav has issues with your statements (not in my purview to comment upon their legitimacy), why he would ban fundraising for Lemaan Achai. By doing so, he is potentially harming hundreds of families in RBS who are the beneficiaries of the organization, among them most likely including families in his community.

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  4. Apparently, when it comes to rabbonim protecting their own kavod, they are willing to make enormous sacrifices.
    Mesiras nefesh, mamish!

    The catch here is they are eagerly sacrificing OTHER peoples nefashos.

    Or maybe I've misunderstood something?

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  5. Kol hakavod, David.
    Thanks for publishing these statistics. They really are a shocker.
    I'm fully with you - don't let abuse get swept under the carpet!
    Shaul

    ReplyDelete
  6. First, kol hakavod on all your work, both in general and on this topic in particular.

    The question that I have about your quotes and your statistics is how it relates to the religious community. Your quote says that Chinuch Atzma'i schools are worse than others, and your statistics don't take into account differences that might exist in the religious community (e.g., gender seperation).

    To be clear, I'm not naive. I was on the fringes a few years ago of incidents of abuse in a chareidi community where the incidents themselves were happening in mens mikvas and in shuls (yes, truly). And at the time the biggest posek in the community had the guts to tell parents that they should talk to the police.

    But that leaves the question unanswered about how your worldwide statistics apply in the religious world. Other similar statistics, such as teen pregnancies, are clearly lower in the religious world than in the secular world in general (although not zero). So simply mirroring statistics may not be accurate.

    It also leaves the question unanswered whether there's any basis for pointing fingers at a particular school system over others. (Note that I have no involvement or particular love for that school system, but the question needs to be answered.)

    Thoughts?

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  7. Dov - You are on-the-mark with your observations.

    Yes, I am quoting general data, which is not specific to orthodox communities. I simply do not know the variances in orthodox communities, nor for Israeli orthodox communities in particular.
    For example, it might be reasonable to surmise that, given the regulations of Negia and Yichud governing unmarried male + female relationships, that abuse of girls by men is less prevelant than in the general community.(Less teen pregnancies would point to this).
    Regarding male abuse of males the LACK of awareness, controls and protocols governing this would seem to make it a higher-risk area in the orthodox community.

    But I simply don't know - so if anyone has specific data on this, please let us know!

    There is new book out on this subject (child abuse in the orthodox community) "Tempest in the Temple", by Amy Neustein.
    When I have received it and read it, I will let you all know the latest research and findings!
    See: http://www.upne.com/1-58465-671-9.html

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  8. David, thank you for your efforts on behalf of the community in this critical area.
    Do you know if there is any effort being made to develop a standard protocol for schools and camps to prevent abuse, educate parents and children, and handle accusations?

    ReplyDelete
  9. Protocols of appropriate behavior, and of response to reports of inappropriate behavior, are becoming widely accepted in the Jewish schools and yeshivos in the USA - but are not yet standard here in the independent education system.
    Introducing these protocols is high on the priority list for those of us trying to improve the situation here.
    I understand that David Mandel will be promoting this concept of protocols for schools, camps, etc, in his seminar he will be delivering at the Lema'an Achai office, for professionals, this Wednesday afternoon 2pm. (Please contact me by email if you would like to be invited).

    ReplyDelete
  10. The Let Go...Let Peace Come In Foundation is a newly formed nonprofit with a mission to help heal and support adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse worldwide. We are actively seeking adult survivors who would be willing to post a childhood photo and caption, their story, or their creative expressions to our website www.letgoletpeacecomein.org. We need to "show" the world that we will no longer be silenced and that there are enough of us to make a difference. By uniting survivors from across the globe we can help provide a stronger and more powerful voice to those survivors who have not yet found the courage to speak out. Together we can; together we should; together we NEED to stand up and be counted. Please visit our site for more details on how you can send us your submissions.

    Thank you for continuing to bring the issue of childhood sexual abuse to light. Our foundation offers a confidential place where survivors can start to heal themselves and inspire others by sharing their experiences.

    Gretchen Paules
    Administrative Director
    Let Go...Let Peace Come In Foundation
    111 Presidential Blvd., Suite 212
    Bala Cynwyd, PA 19004

    ReplyDelete
  11. I wonder to what extent is the community health service administering to the Haredi sector effective and proactive in identifying and reporting suspected child abuse cases. Family and paediatric medical practitioners in particular are perhaps the best placed agents to alert the relevant authorities.

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  12. There is increasing awareness here amongst the medical practitioners that their role in reporting and responding to child abuse cases can be critical. For example, our family pediatrician has recently been to two seminars about child abuse, as part of his kupat cholim training. Nevertheless, there are still doctors/pediatricians in RBS who are reported to be NOT reporting child abuse cases. If true, this is a cause for great concern.

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  13. Hi there,

    Fascinating stuff, however you state:

    "I have done some research – nothing fancy, or privileged, and well within the researching capabilities of anyone reading this article.

    Here are the statistics, backed up by academic and clinical research."

    Can you be a bit more specific about these statistics and how you came to these figures. It does you no favours in trying to establish credability of evidence.

    Thanks for highlighting this.

    ReplyDelete
  14. In general, most of my information came from The Israeli Society for the Protection of Children (they publish an annual report), from experts such as Helise Pollack here in Bet Shemesh, David Mandel of Ohel, a "popular introduction" book called "Miss America by Day" (recommended reading for us non-professionals), and plain-old-google (particularly the Scholar option).
    If there is a specific stat you would like verification for - please let me know and I'll do my best to get you the source.
    By the way, David Mandel said "there ARE NO statistics yet specifically for child sex-abuse in the orthodox Jewish community". He's working on changing that.

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  15. Rosenblum's article was deeply deceptive. He claimed that the community rabbonim always go to the police; whereas the community rabbonim in fact objected to David Morris's approach specifically because they do NOT believe in always going to the police.

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  16. Several academic studies-- at least one of which has been published in one of the most respected, peer-reviewed journals of psychology--have found that the numbers quoted in this post hold true for the frum community as well.

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  17. David
    Your face brings me joy, I see in you a lot of humanity and love. The wider humanity has a great task ahead of them, the first of which is to eliminate hatred.

    Somewhere out of nowhere arrived this concept of Love and it is growing.... I say that hopefully.
    The protection of children has no equal in where we should put our efforts, but let them be without race, or religious identity; we are all children of God, that is what is. And Peace and Love is that which should emanate out of the land of Israel. That is what we, or should I say the world is waiting for.

    David Gordon

    ReplyDelete

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