Friday, June 26, 2009

The heck with the rabbis - Protect our kids

By now, unless you live in a cave you know about the raging sex abuse scandal in the Orthodox community. Our children are molested in yeshivot, which hush up the incidents and all too often allow the guilty teachers to continue teaching. Victims and their families are intimidated from reporting the crimes to authorities; they fear social ostracism and worse. The few that come forward find that justice is elusive. Perpetrators get off with a slap on the wrist that neither deters future evildoers nor encourages other victims to come forward. Victims are left with no recourse other than street justice. They are scarred for life; understandably, many leave the Orthodox community. Often they cannot come to terms with what happened to them, and do not report the crimes until much later in life. New York has a five-year statute of limitations (five years after the crime or after the victim turns 18, whichever is later), so victims of this horrible crime often are shut out of the justice system.

A bill that would partially remedy this situation, known as the Markey bill, is making its way through the New York legislature. Since New York has the country's largest concentration of Orthodox Jews and yeshivot, what happens here will have a far-reaching effect on our community and our children's well-being. The bill would extend the statute of limitations to ten years, and open a one-year "window" for victims up to age 53 to bring civil suits and/or criminal charges against alleged perpetrators no matter when the crime allegedly occurred. It would apply to public as well as private schools, even though there is little need for it in public schools. Students and families there are not bashful about bringing complaints (indeed, students often get rid, at least temporarily, of teachers they don't like by making false charges of abuse) and teachers are mandated reporters; if they hear of or suspect molestations, they must report it or face losing their jobs. I know; I teach in public school.

The bill is opposed by outfits like Agudat Yisrael and Torah U'Mesorah. One would think that their top priority would be to protect yeshiva children, but instead they are acting as a trade association for criminal rabbis and teachers, protecting them from embarrassment and denying justice to their victims. Contrast this to my own "trade association," the United Federation of Teachers, which is committed to removing child-molesting teachers from the classroom, after due process to be sure. The "religious" groups claim that the bill would allow actions against yeshivot and teachers for incidents that took place long ago, when the institutions might have been under different management, and that hefty judgments might cause those institutions to go bankrupt and shut down. To counter this, and to allay complaints that private schools were being singled out, the age limit was inserted and the bill was extended to cover public as well as private institutions. Nevertheless, Agudat Yisrael and Torah U'meorah remain opposed and enjoy substantial political clout.

Their fears are largely unfounded. Plaintiffs and prosecutors still need to prove their cases. As a judge told us several times when I was serving on a jury, "The people [prosecution] have the entire burden of proof; it never shifts to the defendant." The older a case is, the more likely it is that memories become stale, witnesses die or move away and cannot be reached, or physical evidence deteriorates or simply disappears. An alleged victim's say-so is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt. It is doubtful that even Adolf Eichmann would be convicted if he were brought to trial today. Yeshivot carry liability insurance, and when a yeshiva's management changes its lawyers see that the new administration cannot be held liable for the misdeeds of the old. The only yeshiva I know of whose existence might be threatened by the Markey bill if it becomes law is Torah Temeiah in Brooklyn, also known as Torah Temimah. There, a known child abuser, "Rabbi" Yehuda Kolko, was protected for some 40 years by a principal, Moron Rasha Hayeshiva Lipa Margulies, who remains at the helm of the yeshiva. Even after Kolko's crimes became public knowledge, "Rabbi" Margulies kept him on payroll until a public outcry forced his hand. Incidentally, this thoroughly evil and contemptible man was recruited by his rabbinical colleagues to sign onto their infamous concert ban. Kolko was arrested and allowed to plead guilty to a relatively minor misdemeanor charge. He still lives in our community and does not even have to register as a sex offender. How any parent can send a child to Torah Temeiah knowing these facts is beyond me. If lawsuits force it to shut down, so be it; such a yeshiva does not deserve to exist.

The Orthodox establishment's opposition to the bill is just one more instance where our authority figures show that they are about money and power, not about Torah. They care more for the "good name" of themselves and their yeshivot than about our children. It is time for us to tell them what to do and where to go. The Markey bill was passed by the Assembly and awaits action by the Senate. Along with much other urgent public business, it is being held up by the shenanigans in the New York State Senate, itself an outrage but that's another tale. When the politicians decide to desist from their own vainglory and do the job we elected them to do, it is incumbent on us to contact them and tell them in no uncertain terms that we expect them to pass the Markey bill with no further weakening, never mind the Orthodox establishment. It is also incumbent on us to let prosecutors, particularly Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, know that we expect them to get tough on child molesters, no matter their faith and/or connections, when there are victims and families willing to testify, and that we will hold them accountable at the polls if they do not.

Since the Orthodox establishment and yeshiva administrators are unable or unwilling to protect our children, we as parents must teach them to protect themselves. It goes something like this:

No one but a medical professional has a right to touch your body in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable. No one but a medical professional (assuming an older child out of diapers) has a right to touch you at all on parts of your body covered by a bathing suit. If a rebbe, teacher or anybody else tries to touch you, or tells you to touch him, in such a manner, leave immediately. Kick the offender in the groin if you have to, but leave the building. Get to a pay phone (or use your cell phone), call the police and call us. Then come home immediately unless the police tell you otherwise. Do not wash any part of your body; you might be destroying evidence. We, Mommy and Daddy, will see to it that So-and-so never hurts you or any kid again. You will not have to set foot in that building until So-and-so is gone. If we have to, we will find another school for you. And then make certain that your children understand.

It is sad that things have come to such a pass in our community. When I was a child I and my friends did not have to worry about such things. If we can change the community mindset to one in which our children's well-being has priority over the image of yeshivot and those who run them, then maybe our grandchildren will not have to worry about such things.


Anonymous shmuel said...

God bless you. Amen.

Fri Jul 24, 12:37:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We just had an incident where two neighboring kids (both 13 vs. my son's age of 12), both of who's mothers are friendly with my wife, keep harrassing my son with 'gay' taunts. When it started getting physical, we alerted the school and the parents.

Thu Nov 19, 12:05:00 PM EST  
Blogger Zev Stern said...

Anonymous -
From what you write, your soon is being bullied by his peers, not molested by an adult authority figure. These are two separate problems, but if you email me privately I have some ideas that might be helpful. Hatzlaha.

Fri Nov 20, 02:27:00 PM EST  

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