Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Truth About Ohel Children's Home and Family Services

Breaking the Silence about “Breaking the Silence”

by Dr. Asher Lipner

In the recent sequel to the hit movie Wall Street, the protagonist, Gordon Gekko, gets released from jail after completing an eight-year sentence for committing insider trading and stock fraud. The “reformed” con-artist makes an “only in America” comeback by writing and marketing a book warning people of financial trouble in the real estate bubble that has been created by the very philosophy Gekko promoted in the 80’s: greed is good.

In their new book, David Mandel, CEO of Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services and his colleague, Dr. David Pelcovitz, Ph.D. similarly endeavor to lock the barn door after they have stolen the horses. The title, “Breaking the Silence: Sexual Abuse in the Jewish Community,” attempts to convey a courageous heroism, as if the editors are exposing an unknown crisis to the public. But in fact, our community has had scandalous headlines about sexual abuse and cover-up for over ten years. Like Gekko, the editors are engaging in a public relations campaign to cover their backsides and to maintain the silence about the fact that as leaders in the mental health community, they have helped create the system that got us into this mess.

Mandel attempts to establish his credentials as an expert in the field by repeatedly referring to “our experience at Ohel”, so the book really needs to be read in the context of Ohel’s notorious record. Since the 1980’s when Ohel failed to warn the community about its “consultant”, infamous child molester Avraham Mondrowitz, thereby enabling him to escape justice, until this day Ohel has repeatedly been involved in protecting molesters, not children.

Even on the book cover in the short list of safety goals, “reporting” to the authorities is glaringly missing. While Rabbi Dovid Cohen commits to writing for the first time that one is “allowed” to report sex crimes to the police, he hedges his bet by equivocating that the issues of “mesirah, lashon harah and chillul Hashem” are complex, and one should consult “a competent halachic authority” when in question.

Unfortunately, consulting rabbis is exactly what parents and survivors of abuse have been doing until now with catastrophic results, as almost all rabbis, out of ignorance or cowardice have breached halacha and advised protecting the abusers. Ohel’s own internal policy for staff is that no therapist is allowed to report child abuse without clearing it with Rabbi Cohen, a policy that is in breach of mandated reporting laws.

Ohel’s misguided philosophy on dealing with abusers is due to the book’s stated belief in a “diversity of values and ends” that can create conflict among “reasonably rational, well intentioned persons…involved with sex offenders.” The “relevant stakeholders” that in Ohel’s opinion can “reasonably disagree on the ordering of priorities”, seem to include (based on Ohel’s history) the molester whose concern and legal right to confidentiality is constantly trumpeted by Ohel, the molester’s family, the community whose image is tarnished by revelations of criminality and deviancy, and the institutions that harbor molesters who want to protect their reputations and finances from lawsuits. This ideology of complex, relative moral values completely flies in the face of both Jewish and secular law that give simple, straightforward and unequivocal directives that protection of the past and future victims must be the primary value and consideration.

In their chapter on “treating” sexual predators, the authors ignore the experts who advocate that courts and probation departments play a particularly important role both as a motivating force, and an integral part of therapy. The Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers treatment guidelines also insist that “supervision agencies work closely with victim advocacy organizations to ensure that their policies do not re-traumatize victims of sexual assault,” an idea that is neither recommended in this book, nor practiced by Ohel.

One example of a policy that certainly re-traumatized victims of abuse is that instead of joining virtually all child advocates groups in supporting the Child Victim’s Act, (aka the “Markey Bill”) Ohel advocated for a “compromise” bill giving legal amnesty to abusers.[1] Furthermore, not a single of the recent pedophiles arrested in Brooklyn were brought to the attention of the authorities by Ohel, nor has Ohel given any support to the victims of abuse who courageously came forward to warn the public.

The book also continues to support the “Ohelian” idea that a rabbinic Beit Din should be utilized to address cases of child molestation. Refusing to learn from the fiasco of the Catholic Church’s shameful system of sheltering pedophile priests, or the doomed-to-failure attempts of the Batei Din of Yeshiva University, Lakewood, Baltimore, Los Angeles and Chicago to play “Law and Order” without the police, the editors and some of the authors are proud to help set up yet another rabbinical group to “deal with” (read: cover up for) sex crimes in Rockland County.[2]

In the chapter on “Prevention and Intervention Programs,” highly trained professionals give dangerously bad advice to parents. They state that although there is no halachic problem of reporting abuse to the authorities, it is “understandable” that orthodox professionals who are mandated reporters nevertheless feel hindered by cultural taboo from doing so. Even more shocking is that parents are admonished not to tell other parents in their child’s school if molestation occurs, because it is a “private matter.”

Silence is not always golden

Psychologists and crime prevention professionals have long known that in communication, one can often learn more about the speaker’s thoughts from that which is not said than from that which is. While claiming to “break the silence,” Ohel’s book continues to censor important information that the community needs to know. The most glaring omission is the voice of a survivor of abuse. While the disclosures that were taken from therapy sessions and edited letters are educational, sorely missing is a first-hand account of an adult survivor about the real life experience of surviving abuse in our community. Survivors of abuse will certainly feel that yet another opportunity was missed to finally give them a voice, and they have once again been shut out of the discussion. By comparison, in the recently published scholarly book, “Daas Torah: Child and Domestic Abuse,” edited by Rabbi Daniel Eidensohn and Baruch Shulem, Ph.D. (to which this writer also contributed) two powerful autobiographical chapters are included, allowing the reader to hear what survivors really think and feel, unedited and uncensored.

Furthermore, “Breaking the Silence” can break one’s eardrums with its silence about the history of scandalous communal cover-ups. It is utterly ludicrous to discuss abuse in the community without addressing the real betrayal experienced by survivors whose victimhood has been denied, minimized, and silenced by our establishment leaders for so long with threats and intimidation. Most survivors of abuse agree that the community response to child sexual abuse is often a worse trauma than the abuse. The parents who have had their children thrown out of yeshivas for the “crime” of disclosing abuse, the families that were literally run out of town, the children who were slapped in the face for daring to name their molester, will all read this book and think “Here we go again.” The reasons for this betrayal are not unknown, as Dr. Michael Salamon explains in his new book, “Abuse: How Extremist Views Undermine the Apprehension of Offenders and the Treatment of Victims.”

On a bright note, David Mandel’s own chapter does provide some comic relief. Although he admits that the rabbis, adult survivors and child advocates who brought this issue to the awareness of the community deserve recognition, he declines to name them with the excuse that he does not want to get them into trouble. As if survivors like Mark Weiss, David Framowitz, and Joel Engleman, Esther Malka Reich, Sara Rosenberg, advocates like Vicki Polin, Ben Hirsh, Michael Salamon, Mark Appel, Assemblyman Dov Hikind, rabbis like Nochem Rosenberg, Yosef Blau, Daniel Eidenshohn, and Yitzchak Eisenman or bloggers like Paul Mendlowitz of UOJ, or Shmarya Rosenberg of FailedMessiah fear backlash in standing up for child safety. Dr. Freud would surely interpret this notion as Mr. Mandel “projecting” his own fear of bringing attention to these individuals who have, almost to a person, been harshly critical of his record (in UOJ’s words) of “letting no cover-up go uncovered.”

[1] Mandel, D. (April 29, 2009) Sexual Abuse Legislation: A Proposed Strategy for Reform. Five Towns Jewish Times

[2] Orbach, M. (April 23, 2010) New Square appoints Vaad to deal with sexual abuse. The Jewish Star