Important Progress: Rabbis Sign Declaration to Report Child Abuse

In an important step forward, around 100 orthodox rabbis from the USA have signed a declaration, calling upon members of the public to report child abuse allegations and cases directly to the authorities (without being required to involve a rabbi in that decision).

It is believed that this statement has been prompted by the case of Todros Grynhaus in Manchester, England, who was sentenced to 13 years in prison for sexual crimes against two under-aged girls.

Important Announcement

We, the undersigned, affirm that any individual with firsthand knowledge or reasonable basis to suspect child abuse has a religious obligation to promptly notify the secular law enforcement of that information. These individuals have the experience, expertise and training to thoroughly and responsibly investigate the matter. Furthermore, those deemed “mandated reporters” under secular law must obey their State’s reporting requirements.

Lives can be ruined or ended by unreported child abuse, as we are too often tragically reminded. The Torah’s statement in Leviticus 19:16, “Do not stand by while your neighbor’s blood is shed," obligates every member of the community to do all in one's power to prevent harm to others.

In conclusion, every individual with firsthand knowledge or reasonable cause for suspicion of child abuse has a Torah obligation to promptly notify the proper civil authorities.

This follows a previous statement in 2011 by the US Agudath Yisrael, following the tragic and gruesome murder of 8 year old Leiby Kletzky in Borough Park, New York, which directed their followers to report abuse cases and suspicions to their rabbi, to seek a ruling whether or not to report onwards to the authorities.

In that 2011 declaration, the Agudah used the term "reglaim ledavar"- which is a halchik definition of level of certainty of the facts - which can only be ruled upon by a halachik authority, ie a rabbi.
"Where there is “raglayim la’davar” (roughly, reason to believe) that a child has been abused or molested, the matter should be reported to the authorities."

"However, where the circumstances of the case do not rise to the threshold level of raglayim la’davar, the matter should not be reported to the authorities."

Therefore:

"the individual should not rely exclusively on his own judgment to determine the presence or absence of raglayim la’davar. Rather, he should present the facts of the case to a rabbi…"


The Agudah statement does not distinguish between mandated and non-mandated reporters under the law. 

In parallel to that statement from Agudah, also in 2011, the RCA (Rabbinical Council of America - a Modern Orthodox rabbinical organization) also issued their own statement.

The RCA's bottom line is:

"if one becomes aware of an instance of child abuse or endangerment, one is obligated to refer the matter to the secular authorities immediately,"


and then adds,

"As always where the facts are uncertain one should use common sense and consultations with experts, both lay and rabbinic, to determine how and when to report such matters to the authorities."


On the related topic of those who are "mandated reporters" (ie required by US law to report suspicions of child abuse):

"A person covered by mandatory reporter laws must comply with those laws, even in a case in which
Jewish law might otherwise not require a person to report such child abuse or endangerment."  

In almost verbatim wording to the new rabbinical statement, the 2011 RCA statement also refers to the biblical injunction not to "stand by the blood of your neighbour":

The biblical verse “do not stand by while your neighbor’s blood is shed" is understood by Jewish Law to mandate that one must do all in one’s power to prevent harm to others - even if monetary harm, but certainly physical harm.
Conclusion: It is very encouraging progress that the signatories of the new statement have publicly stepped forward and rejected the Agudah policy which requires anyone with a suspicion of child abuse to first report and take direction from their rabbis - but rather to promptly notify the secular law enforcement of that information.

Kol Hakavod - Kudos to these many distinguished rabbonim!!

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