Op-Ed: The Case for Reporting

By

Rabbi Avrohom Stulberger, Dean of Valley Torah High School

A young lady’s poignant and gut wrenching account of sexual abuse at a recent Jewish Community Watch event has clearly raised our collective awareness of this horrific scourge. For her courage and for making us more aware, we should stand up and applaud. On the other hand, to stand up and applaud the harsh criticism of four local Rabbanim, is an entirely different matter.

When we hear Lashon Hara, even if it is spoken in a purposeful context, we are still halachically prohibited from believing it. Investigating and being concerned about the information is certainly appropriate. Believing it and condemning those spoken about without verifying the truth of the claim is not appropriate. Had the people in the audience that night, instead of applauding the denigration, listened to the mesmerizing account of this young lady’s horror and gone home and thought about what they just heard, they would have realized that this is an extremely complicated situation with no easy answers.

If a victim were to come to a Rav and offer information regarding abuse on the condition of complete and total confidentiality, it is of supreme importance that the Rav respect that confidentiality. Protecting the community from a sexual predator is a critical consideration, but it is just as important that no action is taken which would further shatter the victim’s already fragile world.

Should the victim choose to inform the police of the crime, her case will gain strength and credibility. However, the fact that she has chosen not to make a police report creates a much more difficult and complicated situation for the Rabbis. Without formal charges, or a name and a face to attach to the victim, the community response is very often cynical and skeptical. Although the victim and her family may want “Rabbi X” to be publicly labeled a sexual predator, this is not necessarily the most effective course of action.

When the abuser is a popular rabbinic figure, it is not unusual to hear comments such as, “This is a witch-hunt motivated by jealous rabbis listening to baseless rumors, “or, “If there is no police report, it never happened.” When that occurs, the abuser is emboldened by the perceived community support, the Rabbis lose whatever leverage they had to force the perpetrator into a therapeutic and guarded environment, and the victim and her family are further traumatized.

-Additionally, if the victim requests anonymity it is unrealistic to think that a Rav can truthfully say to the victim, “I will let everyone know that Rabbi X is guilty of sexual molestation but don’t worry, no one will know it’s you.” Can a Rav guarantee that our community, which is gifted with a talent for ferreting out information, will not discover the victim’s name? If the main goal is to protect the emotional and mental health of the victim, it would be logical for the Rav to say to the family, “You have no moral, legal, ethical or Halachic obligation to let people know what occurred since doing so may worsen your situation and there are other ways to deal with the perpetrator.”

In this tragic and local case the Rav involved may well have feared the outcome which transpired. There were indeed members of the community who turned against the victimized family and accused them of firing an innocent Rabbi. The Rav was simply saying, “You don’t have an obligation to put yourself through such suffering. In this type of murky scenario, the community is likely better served by rabbis gaining the trust of the abuser and getting him into a recovery program that demands ongoing therapy. There, he will be humbled by the professionals and clergy with an ongoing focus on his whereabouts, activities, and progress.

The Rabbonim that the victim reported to in this case, are men respected for their wisdom and experience. It is reasonable to assume that the complexity of the considerations above guided their response.

Analysis has shown that knee-jerk reactions to complex dilemmas are unacceptable. As listeners or viewers, it is vital that we analyze the issues presented extremely carefully, lest we succumb to a mob mentality. Even more so when it provokes the degradation of dedicated and selfless Torah scholars.
Let us hope and pray that we have no more victims in Klal Yisroel. But if chas veshalom we do, let us not exacerbate the chillul Hashem by rushing to condemn our community leaders.