Thursday, May 15, 2014

"In light of the many recent events revealing that our community also is affected by sex-abuse, it is time that we stop putting our faith into the rabbonim and rather put our faith into actual experts on these matters"

by Benny Forer 
Dear Jewish Press,
In light of the publication of two recent articles in your newspaper[1], I find myself writing this letter. As an introduction, I am, and have been, a Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles County for the past seven years. During this time, I have handled or been involved with 10,000 – 15,000 cases, including many sex-crimes related cases. I have interviewed and counseled thousands of victims and witnesses, including various victims of sexual abuse. I am also a member of the frum community having studied in a variety of yeshivas ranging from Litvish, Bobov and Chabad and I have obtained smicha.
As a person whose profession dictates seeking justice, I have found myself constantly at crossroads with many in the charedi community, including some of their leaders and rabbis. Many rabbis and members of our community have limited knowledge or understanding of various halachic issues pertaining to criminality and particularly sex-abuse, resulting in a primitive perspective of these issues.

Further, due to the authoritarian structure in place for most of the various communities, we blindly follow our leadership, regardless of the negative example they have set pertaining to this specific area.
Many rabbonim, including William Handler, propose respect, honor, credit and total power be given to individuals who A) possess limited skill, knowledge or ability to handle these matters; and B) have engaged in cover-ups, resulting in innumerable harms to our communities. 

Nevertheless, he continues to desire that the community trust such people. 

We have created a society where the learned become rabbis and leaders, regardless of acumen, intuition or sensitivity. Our system of governance is authoritarianism with too much power and credit being given to our “rabbonim.”

I certainly prescribe giving power and adhering to halachic rulings pertaining to areas of expertise, including kashrus, Shabbos and various areas of Choshen Mishpat. Notwithstanding our rabbonim’s expertise in these areas, they have virtually no expertise in the areas of sex-abuse.
The anatomy a sex-abuse case takes is very complex (and the following is a general statement regarding composition such a case takes): When a victim and/or legal guardian and/or mandated reporter initially make a claim, they are interviewed by a police officer. This officer may or may not have experience with sex-abuse. Subsequently, a detective trained in sex-abuse reviews the statement and conducts his own interview of the relevant parties. The detective may also conduct further investigative work to determine the veracity of the claims, including checking into various objective statements. Once the detective determines that there is sufficient evidence to bring the case forward, he will provide it to his supervisor for secondary review. If all parties approve, the detective will then present the case to a District Attorney. The DA is typically also a trained expert in sex abuse. He will review the case and determine whether there is sufficient evidence to file a case.
An important tangent: A DA is not allowed to file a case unless they reasonably believe that there is sufficient evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. I.e., they cannot willy-nilly file a case just to see how it turns out. It is a violation of prosecutorial ethics, which can and does result in disbarment. Furthermore, despite continuous claims by rabbonim and members of the community, of abuse of this power, no one has illustrated any case revealing a bias and a motive for a deputy or assistant DA in filing a case. (Regardless of criticism of Charles Hynes, his office has thousands of cases, and it is not likely that he reviews the cases that do not receive media attention. In Los Angeles, the DA is never involved in cases, including the thousands of sex-crimes cases, unless it is one of major high profile).
If the reviewing DA determines that the case possesses sufficient evidence (the DA may have sent the detective for further investigation numerous times before making this decision), a sex-crimes DA is assigned to the case. This DA is required to personally interview the relevant parties to determine the veracity of their claims. If the DA concludes that there is sufficient evidence, and that the parties are being truthful, the DA will file the case. Next, the case is thoroughly vetted by the system. Either a grand-jury is convened or a preliminary hearing is conducted. This ensures that an innocent person is not wrongly accused. Rarely, but on occasion, a case is dismissed in its entirety due to various issues (victim/witness refusal or unavailability, loss or destruction of evidence, other evidence pertaining to guilt or innocence is produced, or a person is actually innocent). Consequently, there are numerous safeguards in place to ensure an innocent person is not wrongfully accused.
Importantly, all the players in these scenarios are trained professionals. Mr. Handler’s accusations that they are pseudo-professionals, notwithstanding. All have gone through a variety of lengthy and complex training in order to achieve their status and understanding. A typical sex-crimes DA has attended both university and law school, a DA training course, experienced multiple low level crimes for 1-5 years, managed over 1,000 cases, conducted numerous trials, and received both formal and informal training relating to sex-crimes. Additionally, sex-crimes DA’s are continuously required to attend various trainings to assist in effective prosecution. No DA office simply throws some inexperienced individual into the fray of sex-abuse and tells them to figure it out. Contrast that with the deafening lack of training by our rabbonim.
Mr. Handler’s frantic and hysterical portrayal of governmental systems is designed to undercut the truth and portray a cruel, malicious and vindictive organization. His purpose is to legitimize predators. His purpose is not to protect victims. He writes these accusations despite numerous rabbonim and battei dinnim ruling that a victim should go to the police (and agreeing that rabbonim lack the training and power to make decisions in this area). He writes despite numerous Torah sources, both modern and ancient, that dictate reporting to the police and maintaining a civilized society.
This brings me to the article written by Yori Yanover.[2] In an appalling article, Yanover attempts to claim that it’s quite likely the victims are lying regarding an accused predator. Mr. Yanover has no training in any of these matters; rather, he relies on his own perceived common-sense. His proof that the victim claims are likely false is based on a chilling documentary known as “Capturing the Friedmans” – a single case from 25 years ago, that was the result of improper investigative techniques. Amazingly, he is unaware of incredible strides taken in training and interviewing techniques, particularly in sex-abuse scenarios. He is not an expert on sex-abuse, criminal justice, suggestive interviewing, or any other matter pertaining to the case. The entirety of his expertise is that he taught 1st and 2nd grade for a total of two years.
Finally, both authors attempt to falsely portray that the system is out to get Jews and religious Jews in particular. 

This sort of hysteria is counter-productive and ill-conceived. It further puts our communities in an incredibly negative light. Ultimately, it is a transparent attempt to protect the predators and the rabbonim who sheltered them.

In light of the many recent events revealing that our community also is affected by sex-abuse, it is time that we stop putting our faith into the rabbonim and rather put our faith into actual experts on these matters.
Benny Forer
[2] http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/jewish-teacher-charged-with-molestation-and-fired-on-dubious-grounds/2013/05/13/0/ – The Jewish Press has since removed this article, however, they failed to apologize or issue any sanction for the editor of this article.