Aug 5, 2011
It's Time to Come Forward
A group fighting predators in Crown Heights wrote a response to a letter from the Vaad Hakohol which called for caution before action.
Friday, August 5, 2011
TO: Vaad HaKohol
390(A) Kingston Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11225
(718) 771 Ė 9000
Re: Aug. 2, 2011 Letter Urging Community Silence and Presumption of Innocence in the Face of Molestation Allegations
Dear Crown Heights Jewish Community Council (CHJCC), Vaad HaKohol and Residents:
Recently the Crown Heights Beis Din issued a Psak Din requiring people to report to the police credible claims of child molestation and abuse in the Jewish community. In light of the recent arrest it is reassuring to see that the community is taking the Beis Dinís mandate seriously. Itís disheartening on the other hand to see the Vaad completely ignore the Beis Dinís mandate by scaring survivors into silence which will assuredly continue to endanger our community.
The presumption of innocence is certainly a sacred cornerstone of our modern democracy, Jewish law and Chazal's teaching of dan l'kaf zechus. The presumption of innocence however does not conflict with the right to free speech and obligation to protect the innocent.
Furthermore, when we know information that could save people from being hurt, all rules of lashon harah and rechilus are out the window and to NOT speak is a grave sin of do not stand idly by your brother's blood. - Leviticus 19:16. It is about public safety. Having compassion for molesters by concealing their identities is an act of cruelty that endangers innocent lives. If a doctor purposely failed to isolate a patient with a deadly contagious disease because it was embarrassing to the patient and his family, it would constitute professional negligence, not an act of compassion! Child molestation is a deadly disease and parents need to know whom to keep their children away from.
If a local retailer were caught selling traif, would there be the same reaction to keep quiet and let the courts sort it out? The people who are active in revealing the truth are simply following the obligations of not standing idly by your neighbor's blood.
Clinical psychologist Dr. Asher Lipner said it best in an article in the Jewish Press published this year:
The mitzvah to confront child molesters is incumbent upon each of us. As Rabbi Shea Hecht charged at a recent gathering for the National Jewish Week for the Prevention of Child Abuse, when Shimon and Levi held the entire city of Shechem accountable for the rape of Dina by only one of its citizens, it taught us for all time that someone who abuses even one Jewish girl or boy must be confronted by every member of society.
Excuses for not doing so include bogus halachic claims of mesira, lashon hara and chillul Hashem; concern over the "unfair" suffering of the abuser's innocent family (who are often victims themselves in need of help); and fear of lawsuits against yeshivas that have knowingly harbored molesters. Not one of these makes sense when the physical, emotional and spiritual safety of children is at stake. Psychological studies repeatedly find that molested children are significantly more likely to suffer later in life from depression, anxiety, substance abuse and addictions, posttraumatic stress disorder, a variety of interpersonal problems, and suicide.
If the leaders of our community believe that false rumors are being spread then they should condemn that speech by intelligently responding to those false allegations, not trying to quell peoples' right to free speech. Do leaders of the community think that their constituents arenít smart enough to make up their own minds about abuse allegations? Is the answer to force people into silence?
Every single predator listed in the CrownHeightsWatch registry is a serial offender whose crimes have been independently corroborated by many victims or/and whose crimes are a matter of public record. There isnít a threat of a personal vendetta leading to a false accusation. These individuals are known pedophiles. No one disputes that. In fact, although the most recent man arrested is presumed innocent in a court of law, the DA obviously had probable cause to charge him. If someone is a known molester you donít need to wait for a conviction to inform and protect the community. No one is suggesting that pedophiles get locked up without their crimes being proven beyond a reasonable doubt but when it comes to protecting our children in public we donít take chances, especially when someone is a known molester.
Those claiming that child abuse awareness generates mass hysteria should look closely at the widely accepted figures that ď1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will have experienced an episode of abuse while younger than 18 years.Ē (See National Center for Victims of Crime). The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry has also concluded that much abuse goes unreported because children are afraid to disclose what happened, and the legal procedure for validating abuse is difficult. Do you really think that the issue is ďrumors, half-memoriesÖ [and]Ö miscommunicationsĒ or perhaps a lack of discussion and awareness within the community? Why is the Vaad fostering a climate where victims will be afraid to come forward?
Lastly, a suspectís family is as innocent as the victim. It is wrong to malign a suspectís family. Guilt by association is wrong BUT is it right to silence survivors and advocates for fear that a suspectís family member will feel stigmatized? Shouldnít we view a suspects family as innocent as anyone else while at the same time encourage survivors to speak out without fear of reprisal?
(1) Victims should be encouraged to come forward, without being discredited, disbelieved and hushed by the Vaad.
(2) Protecting the community by exposing the identities of known molesters is saving lives.
(3) We need to act in accordance with the Beis Dinís recent psak to report abuse to the government authorities.
(4) Expose the known offender. When we donít speak out and expose the offenders we are violating Halacha by standing idly by our neighborsí blood and putting a stumbling block in front of the blind.
Crown Heights Watch