Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Obstructing Justice?

By Michael J. Salamon, Ph.D.

In the United States any individual who works with children is required to report any and all suspected cases of abuse or neglect to the authorities. This reporting law was first formalized in the 1970’s. In many states the law also applies to those who work with adults. When reports are required they are made confidentially and are accomplished via a hotline call to a trained professional who will take the report and evaluate the best response. Responses can include involving the police, childcare services, other social services, or the report may be deemed not to rise to the level for an intervention.

Teachers, doctors, therapists and other childcare professionals are mandated to report what the law calls “any reasonable cause to suspect” abuse or neglect. If, as a mandated reporter, you are aware of such a case and do not report it you may lose your professional license and receive jail time. There are inconsistencies in how situations are handled by these agencies but it is never the responsibility of a mandated reporter to investigate a case nor to try and prevent further abuse. Professionals who work directly in human services are not the police nor are they officers of the courts. They do not have the resources to do the type of legal probing or intervention that the legal system is designed for. But, they do have the ability to see when there is abuse and do the correct legal thing despite any possible shortcomings that may occur after it is reported. And, virtually all shades of Religious poskim within the Orthodox world support the need for reporting cases of abuse to the proper legal authorities.

The Catholic Church has been accused over the last few decades of covering up cases of child abuse perpetrated by pedophile priests on young, mostly male, parishioners. The abusers were given free reign in some cases because people either did not believe that it could be true or were afraid of the repercussions if they did report. At this moment, the Church, as well as organizations within our own community, is fighting against extending the statute of limitations for reporting cases of child abuse. Clearly, these problems are not unique to those of the Catholic faith. Data reported from a variety of sources indicates that as many as one in 5 boys and girls are subjected to some form of sexual abuse in their childhood by teachers, family friends or relatives. And, yes, as we have seen, it does occur in all religious faiths. That is why I was so moved when I was invited to participate in a private conference in September of this past year that addressed sexual abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community. Attendees included mental health professionals, survivors, their families and even the New York State Assemblyman, Dov Hikind.

The tone set at the conference was a determined one. All would be done to stop this horrific scourge from continuing. No school or organization would be exempt from confrontation if it were necessary to do so. In October, Mr. Hikind stated that he would “collect a list of suspected child molesters and make that list available to the public.” It turns out that the Assemblyman has recently been subpoenaed. He has collected, by his own admission, over 1000 dossiers involving some 60 names of pedophiles and according to rumors, has not yet reported a single case to the authorities nor has he released a single name to the public. He has made a statement indicating that someone who admitted to him that he recently abused a young boy was referred to a top mental health professional for treatment. The subpoena came not from the authorities but from an attorney representing individuals who were themselves abused. There are interesting inconsistencies in this situation. It may be true that Mr. Hikind is not a mandated reporter, though several legal sources have been quoted as indicating that he might be. But, even if he is not, the treating specialist to whom this individual was referred is mandated to report. Additionally, it is also problematic that the Brooklyn D.A. has apparently not seriously looked into this very same issue though some news reports are suggesting that there are 10 cases currently under review by the D.A.

While Mr. Hikind’s approach is troubling to some perhaps there is a better explanation to this perplexing and painful drama. This approach that Mr. Hikind is employing may be a plan to allow the authorities, the trained legal and child welfare specialists, to find a way into this morass and finally do what is necessary to stop pedophilia. By going public, even in a limited fashion, abusers have been put on notice by Mr. Hikind and so have the authorities. It is a fact that the proper treatment for a child molester is not limited to psychotherapy and possibly medication but also includes constant supervision and monitoring. The proper legal authorities are the only ones who can enforce this requirement. Now that the situation has become so glaringly obvious, there can be no excuse for both the community and the authorities not to follow the proper legal and clinical protocols, unless, of course, there is a massive cover-up. It is time to accept the problem and work within the system not around the system. As Mr. Hikind has himself indicated, it is time to change the “Out of sight out of mind” mentality that allows abuse and molestation to continue.

This brings me to a related issue. There had been some debate regarding whether Halacha allows Mesira or the notification of secular authorities. It has taken some time but, as I have noted, virtually all of the Halachic decisors now agree that in cases of suspected childhood sexual abuse there is no excuse not to involve the police and courts. Also, despite a recent setback, the courts in the United States and Israel are working together on several cases to make sure that extradition is enforced when necessary. And, the recent conviction of an abuser in Federal court indicates that the community can work with the authorities. Interestingly, the application of these decisions to allow the notification of the authorities may have also led to a remarkable misuse of the law.

The Courthouse News Service of October 29, 2008 reported that a man is seeking five million dollars in damages for defamation against the rabbis at a suburban New York Yeshiva who wrongly accused him of pedophilia. According to the complaint, the rabbis allegedly slandered him because they did not approve of his lifestyle. Both the Police department and office of child welfare investigators found the complaints made about him by the rabbis to be baseless. One would hope that the rabbis would find it appropriate to file a complaint to the authorities in cases where there is evidence and the authorities perform their investigations diligently. All of this covering up has to be done away with. Mr. Hikind is performing an admirable task by taking up the issue and confronting it but without proper reporting and follow through with the legal authorities there can be no enforcement.

Dr. Salamon, a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, is the founder and director of the Adult Developmental Center in Hewlett, NY. He is the author of numerous articles and several psychological tests. His recent books include, The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures, published by Urim Publications and Every Pot Has a Cover: A Proven Guide to Finding, Keeping and Enhancing the Ideal Relationship, published by Rowman & Littlefield.


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