The lengthy Mishpacha piece on Rabbi Moshe Bak's Project Innocent Heart ("King of Hearts," January 1 2014) and the plethora of responses it generated in these pages last week are indicative of a positive trend in our community. Child abuse is no longer a taboo subject that can never be discussed. The numerous organizations in the field addressing various aspects of the problem indicate that it has moved to the top of the communal agenda.
That itself is an achievement. For years predators have been emboldened by the unwillingness of the community to discuss, much less address, the issue of abuse. Now that the issue is being discussed they can no longer hide in the shadows confident that a conspiracy of silence surrounds the issue.
The different emphases of Project Innocent Heart and groups like Magenu and Magen also remind us of an important truth: On very few complex and important issues is there one self-evident correct response. And often times the best response is a multi-layered one that combines the different expertise of the major actors in the field.
ONE LINE DID STICK OUT in Rochel Ginsberg's genuinely path-breaking interview with Rabbi Bak: Her statement that Project Innocent Heart "does not hunt predators." No organization in the field, as far as I know, focuses on hunting predators. Rather their concerns are education of children, parents, and teachers, prevention, early intervention, and treatment.
I should emphasize that I did not for a moment read Rabbi Bak's statement as one of a lack of concern with removing predators from our communities. Elsewhere he states, "We don't care who the predator is. It [the abuse] must stop and the abuser must be punished."
But I think it is important to emphasize that removing predators from our communities is inextricably related to the issues of prevention and successful treatment of victims. As Tanchum Burton, a therapist with a great deal of experience in the treatment of predators, wrote to Mishpacha last week, predators do take into account the likelihood of being caught, especially where detection entails the likelihood of a long prison term.
One of the many crucial points Rabbi Bak made was that pedophilia is a disease -- one that seems virtually incomprehensible to those not afflicted. Like any compulsion, it is difficult to treat, and we fool ourselves if we think that mere threats will be sufficient to deter predators. I know first hand of a case where a pedophile was repeatedly warned by neighbors, given a protocol that he was to follow, and pressured to enter therapy. In addition, neighbors informed one another that they should make sure that their sons stayed well clear of him.
No one wanted to see him go to jail, and there was widespread sympathy for his family. Yet, perhaps inevitably, there were those in the neighborhood not "in the loop" – new ba'alei teshuva, non-Hebrew speakers – who never received the message to protect their children and whose children may have been more vulnerable as well. The warnings were not heeded, the protocols not followed, and the therapy abandoned, with the result of damage to more precious souls.
NO LESS CRUCIAL is a point I have made before: Prosecution of predators is a crucial component of the therapeutic treatment of their victims. (Here I'm drawing primarily on "Treatment of Victims of Childhood Psychological Abuse" in Breaking the Silence by Dr. David Pelcowitz, the Orthodox community's go-to expert on the subject.)
Another of the very important points made by Rabbi Bak is that perpetrators are far more likely to be family members or those well-known to the victim than they are to be educators. But whether the perpetrator is a family member or an authority figure bearing the communal imprimatur, the inevitable result of abuse is for the child to experience a dramatic loss of trust in those structures to whom he looked for protection, whether they be communal or familial. Those structures have failed him by not protecting him.
Mrs. Debbie Fox, who developed the "Safety Kid" program being used in many Orthodox schools today, writes that victims often express greater anger towards those who failed to protect them than towards the perpetrators themselves.
If a child who has been victimized sees his abuser still walking free in the community, his generalized sense of betrayal is magnified. Even if the abuse has stopped, each time he views the perpetrator he experiences a fresh reminder of what happened to him. The trauma remains an open wound that cannot even begin to be healed. The perpetrators presence conveys a message to the victim that the "system" – in this case the religious community in which he lives – does not really care about what happened to him.
Dr. Pelcowitz emphasizes the crucial nature of "validation" of what the child has suffered for any therapeutic intervention to be successful. In other words, the child seeks support for his feelings of having been horribly wronged. Where parents or others show a reluctance to prosecute the perpetrator – sometimes out of sympathy for the perpetrator or his family – the child will experience that reluctance as minimizing the magnitude of what he has suffered. Indeed, writes Dr. Pelcowitz, it is relatively common for parents to downplay the significance of what has taken place, perhaps out of a misplaced feeling that doing so will make it less traumatic.
Victims of abuse typically experience feelings of worthlessness and are prone to faulting themselves in some way for what happened to them. That is one reason why it is so crucial that they be treated as victims and not as accomplices. Reporting and prosecution of predators is a crucial component of validating the child's status as a victim. "[W]hen the response of the community does not actively and unambiguously support the child by validating their feelings and ensuring that they feel safe," writes Dr. Pelcowitz, "feelings of guilt and worthlessness can be significantly exacerbated.
Those feelings of worthlessness are often expressed in patterns of hopelessness and passivity. When a child sees, however, that his complaints are acted upon, he realizes that he is an actor – not just a passive victim – and his generalized feelings of helplessness are alleviated.
TRANSPARENCY, it is said, is the best disinfectant. By opening its pages to this vital discussion, Mishpacha has gone a long way to bringing closer the day when "our community is [no longer] safer for a pedophile than for a kid," in Rabbi Bak's words.
by Jonathan Rosenblumhttp://www.jewishmediaresources.com/1666/parashas-ki-tetzave-5774
February 6, 2014
February 6, 2014