Wednesday, January 23, 2008

I feel we should develop appropriate ways of using the existing criminal justice systems to our advantage. What else could work?

Dr. Benzion Twerski Writes:

There seems to be some disagreement whether there is a rampant problem of molestation and abuse in the schools as opposed to non-school related incidents. In the absence of empirical data, no one really knows. Obtaining reliable data is also close to impossible when we are dealing with an issue that is associated with shame and stigma. However, there is another angle (and I am sure I am stating the obvious). The school based molestation, even if the actual numbers are low, is so alarming and horrifying. We send our children to be in the care of the school staff and faculty. And it is caregivers that are not only failing to protect the children, but are perpetrating the crimes themselves! This takes even low numbers to soaring heights.

Much of the apprehension is the issue of reporting. The belief, with merit, is that this can result in criminal charges, incarceration, etc. This also affects the reputation of the school, since the safeguards to prevent were not in place. The establishment seems to take the stance of “Let us handle the issue internally without resorting to the criminal justice system that is out of our control.” While I can appreciate this, I must appeal to my conscience about the consequences. Do our Batei Din have any real clout when it comes to punishment and enforcement? Doesn’t halacha require us to allow the shiltonos to handle such affairs?

I share the horror that is elicited by such traumatic events. Every incident I hear makes my blood boil. Ask my wife – she sees me coming back home with a different mood and recognizes I just heard about an incident of this type. My knee jerk reaction is respond with drama. Report it, get the perpetrator fired, publicize the person’s name in every form of media, include those in supervisory positions who failed to establish safety and prevent the trauma, etc. None of these reactions are irrational. Someone posted here about having a single recognized organization take the reins to guide families through the painful process. Not that I am optimistic that any one organization would undertake such a mammoth responsibility, but the idea that there should be a process that would have some structure to it that would avoid the heated reactions such as those I listed is inviting.

Someone told me several years ago that terminating a yeshiva rebbe or other faculty is terribly hard to do, even if identified as a perpetrator of such violence. The reason given is that the Batei Din routinely obligate the yeshiva to continue the employee’s salary in full for two years to allow him to find another job. This is to insure that the family will not be thrust into poverty for a crime they did not commit. I cannot verify this, though it is understandable. If anything of this sort is true, who would expend two salaries to get one person to do a job? I know the judgment of allowing a molester into a classroom is poor, to say the least (actually criminal), but I have never faced a yeshiva budget with loads of red ink and financial pressures. Such conditions have led others to other forms of crime.

Let’s take an inventory of what we have here. Rabbi X. is alleged of perpetrating an incident of trauma. These are the option:

1- Bring this issue to yeshiva administration. Unlikely to produce much beyond denial, or at best the promise to discuss the matter with Rabbi X.

2- Approach a local Rav, Posek, or Bais Din. This will most likely elicit additional denial, and all forms of manipulation of the system will be attempted.

3- Try a grass roots effort of bringing the issue to other parents. This will prompt an understandable backlash of retaliation. How dare an accuser create havoc among the parent body!

4- Report the incident to authorities. Expect to be ostracized in the community as a “moser”. Expect all other children to be expelled from the yeshiva. Expulsion may also spread to other schools if there are other children there, as the schools will all be guided to expect similar accusations. Getting rid of all members of the family is a good protection from such accusations.

5- Ignore the problem, hoping that it will go away. That type of parental neglect is inexcusable.

In my earlier posts, I made my feelings clear, that we should not be holding the gedolim responsible any more than anyone else in the community. However, I ask, if this is your child, chas veshalom, who was a victim, which of the above options would you choose? I hear the frustration and the hopelessness. I feel we should develop appropriate ways of using the existing criminal justice systems to our advantage. What else could work?