Can children be better protected from child sex abuse at Chabd's Yeshivah Centre in Melbourne and its counterpart in Sydney? A social worker familiar with the situation argues that despite Chabad promises to do better, children in Chabad's care – and indeed in much of the Jewish community – are still poorly protected from abuse.
Can Children Be Better Protected At Chabad’s Yeshivah Centre?
By Vivien Resofsky
“Today, at Yeshivah College, we employ absolute best practice and we are vigilant in ensuring the safety of the most vulnerable members of our community – our children.” (Rabbi Yehoshua Shmukler J-Wire July 26, 2013: J-Wire Staff)
It has been two years since the public exposure of child sexual abuse and non reporting by school authorities at Yeshivah College. School administrators are dealing with the consequences on the school of the child sexual abuse scandals, including reforming of the way in which children are protected at Yeshivah College. Principal of Yeshivah College, Rabbi Shmukler has taken the action of publicizing letters to reassure parents and the community. “Today, at Yeshivah College, we employ absolute best practice and we are vigilant in ensuring the safety of the most vulnerable members of our community – our children.” (J-Wire July 26, 2013: J-Wire Staff)
Many accept Rabbi Shmukler’s assurances without checking. Parents of children who attend Yeshivah College should check for themselves. It is also important that correct information reaches the community.
Rabbi Smukler tells us that the most effective approach to child protection is to utilize multiple perspectives including: “Robust policies and practices, highly effective staff training, student education, education for parents and community.”
Each of these elements is involved and would require the patience of readers to digest a lot of detail to assess whether best practice has been implemented. For the sake of brevity, just one child protection measure - staff training will be discussed with the aim of assessing Rabbi Shmukler’s assertions that staff training at Yeshivah College is highly effective and best practice. “We prioritize child safety with best practice in relation to staff employment policies and training.” (J-Wire July 26, 2013)
Rabbi Shmukler’s assertions sound very reassuring. Education and training are fundamental tools in reform.
Best practice involves training volunteers.
It would be best practice for volunteers whose duties require direct contact of children to be trained and screened as well as staff but Rabbi Shmukler does not mention training for volunteers.
Volunteers require training for several reasons. Convicted offenders David Kramer and David Cyprus both worked as volunteers in the past. Mr Daniel Hayman was just arrested on charges of child sexual abuse allegations from more than 25 years ago at the Yeshivah Centre in Sydney. A police media release asserted that he was a volunteer supervisor at camps for Jewish children. (Latest Media Releases Man charged over alleged historical indecent assaults - Strike Force Bungo Tuesday, 05 November 2013).The Sydney Yeshivah Centre has said something else in relation to Mr Hayman’s status at the Centre. “Mr Hayman attended Yeshiva Synagogue to pray or for classes but was never an employee or teacher at the Yeshiva Centre. Any volunteer work that he offered Yeshiva did not include responsibility for children”. http://www.smh.com.au/national/daniel-hayman-charged-over-child-sex-at-bondis-jewish-yeshiva-centre-20131105-2wyl6.html#ixzz2jlbnWPDz.
Research suggests: “Youth-serving organizations are often magnets for offenders seeking victims” (Abel & Harlow, 2001). A volunteer might stay away from an organisation that was alert and proactive in relation to preventing abuse due to the fear of getting caught.
Best practice involves clear expectations of staff and volunteer behavior - set out in a code of conduct. Child protection may include procedures for reporting concerning behaviours of others.
According to UK child protection organization, NSPCC , volunteers need to understand the school’s child protection policies. If you want to create a positive and safe environment for children in your school, it is vital to have clear guidelines or a code of conduct for all those involved: staff, volunteers, pupils and parents.
It is essential that everyone involved in your school community knows what behavior is acceptable and what is not. When expectations are clear, individuals who are not adhering to this standard of practice can be challenged. It is important that your school has procedures in place for dealing with child protection concerns, disclosures or allegations in order to support staff/volunteers, young people and parents through the process of reporting any concerns.
All sections of the school community need to be made aware, in an appropriate way, of the policy and procedures and their responsibilities. Paramount is the understanding that the safety and welfare of the child is the priority and that any concern about the behaviour of a member of staff or other adult working in school must be reported immediately.
An ex-student of Yeshivah recently alleged that he was raped when he was eight or nine. “After I was raped I was in shock and I went to the office and I was shivering and crying. I didn't know what rape was because I was eight years old. I didn't know what sex was, so I didn't have the words to say what happened," (AJN Yeshivah embroiled in fresh abuse scandal; October 10, 2013)
Are office staff trained? Best practice would provide education for office staff, so that they recognize the symptoms of child sexual abuse as well as know how to respond - according to the procedures outlined in the child protection policy. Best practice relies on adults in the environment of children being prepared and willing to respond to a child needing help.
JustTell is an organization that aims to empower children to speak up about child sexual abuse. It describes the benefits of adults responding responsibly to child sexual abuse. “JustTell envisions a world in which children who are molested immediately turn to a trusted adult figure in their lives and tell them of the abuse. That trusted adult has information to help the child though the next steps so that the abuse is stopped and the abuser is prevented from harming other children. In our vision, children do not have to bear the scars of unrevealed and repeated abuse, the consequences of which have been repeatedly shown to include higher-than-average rates of: drug and alcohol abuse, self-destructive behaviors, guilt and shame.” (http://www.justtell.org/)
Best practice involves transparency.
Unfortunately it was not possible to learn more about training processes at Yeshivah College because the child protection policy is not freely available and Rabbi Shmukler does not make it available to all who request it. One of the problems in the past was Yeshivah’s lack of transparency in the way it dealt with child sexual abuse. In the interests of transparency it would be best practice for organisational policies, procedures and guidelines to be freely available.
Best practice would be for an accredited agency to deliver this service.
Rabbi Shmukler tells us that Yeshivah uses the resources, training and support offered by the JTAFV (Jewish Taskforce Against Family Violence) & Sexual Assault. Taskforce members who deliver education to the community, at forums, gatherings and through articles in The Australian Jewish News and operate the helpline are volunteers who have no degree or equivalent in any field related to child protection.
Most parents and concerned community members accept what they are told and don’t realize that the Taskforce volunteers are not qualified in child protection.
Best practice involves professional expertise.
The Taskforce tell us that with education, children can repel abusers. (AJN Tackling abuse head on: D. Wiener 21/9/12). It would be wonderful if children could repel abusers because you could teach them about child sexual abuse and then leave it to them. There would be no need to report abuse to Police and adults would not have to face the dilemma of reporting to authorities. It would solve a lot of problems for communities that need to change long standing cultural beliefs.
It sounds good in theory. The only problem is that children can’t repel abusers. The Protecting our Vulnerable Children Inquiry Report (Feb 2012), weighed up all the worldwide research and evidence about the effectiveness of teaching children personal safety to prevent abuse. It accepted Finkelhor 2009 &Smallbone et al. 2008 “There is little convincing evidence for the effectiveness of these programs for preventing sexual abuse.”
However, Ms D Wiener (Taskforce Chair) who has no child protection qualification disagrees. “We dispute the assertion that such a program (student education) fails to prevent abuse”. “We have empirical evidence of the effectiveness of such a tool.” (Tackling abuse head on: D Wiener, AJN 21/9/12). However, upon request, this evidence was not made available. The research of Finkelor and Smallbone et al is freely available. Assertions such as children can repel abusers would not be considered valid by Child Protection Inquiries unless the research underpinning the assertion was available and accepted as reputable.
Rabbi Shmukler appears to accept that children can’t prevent abuse. He states: “We empower our students by training them in age appropriate protective behaviours and fostering resilience. Even so, it is always, and will always be the responsibility of the protective adults in their environment to ensure and uphold their safety.
The problem is that staff and parents appear to accept The Taskforce. Mrs Balfour, head of The Early Learning Centre at Beth Rivkah believes that schools do not need to educate parents, because children under the age of five can protect themselves! She has seen it herself!
A parent of Yeshivah College recently commented on Facebook in defense of Yeshivah’s initiatives. He made the following comment in relation to an educational gathering for parents: “And yes, the majority of the discussions were about PREVENTING abuse... i.e. educating your children, the school has programs of education…..” (He also referred to school child protection policies and procedures). (Manny Waks, Facebook Oct 10, 2102)
Although The Taskforce assert that the way to combat abuse is to adopt a multi pronged approach, (AJN 21/9/12), if you teach the community that children can repel abusers it changes how we protect children. When we accept that children can’t protect themselves, protecting children from sexual abuse involves placing responsibility on adults, rather than placing the burden on children to protect themselves.
This signals the acceptance that engagement of parents and communities are the critical elements for preventing abuse. The Taskforce have emphasized on educating Rabbis and their wives as well as educating children.
Social worker Rachael Zimmerman (who runs the Chicago Jewish Community’s child protection program, Project Shield) focuses on educating the community and refers to community members as the most important advocates for child sexual abuse is the community.“
“When someone has been victimized it is very hard to come forward. Most likely when someone comes forward it is not going to be to a professional, therapist, and hotline. Most likely it is going to be to a family member, teacher, a friend or someone close. In real life any of us can be called upon to help a child and that is why experts tell us that protecting children from sexual abuse is the responsibility of every adult.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZG5mDz3FAVo)
Best practice involves changing attitudes and belief that act as barriers to protection.
Most of us fear responding to child sexual abuse, including teachers. That is one of the reasons why many incidents of abuse go unreported even when a child discloses or a person suspects abuse. (According to Victor Vieth, executive director of the National Child Protection Training Center at Winona State University, USA: “The problem we have is that most people most of the time won’t report abuse, no matter how clear the evidence is.” “People tell researchers. I don’t report because I’m not quite sure.” (http://www.youthtoday.org/view_article.cfm?article_id=5665)
The acceptance that it is the responsibility of adults to protect children involves communities overcoming their own cultural or religious sensibilities that act as barriers to preventing or responding to abuse. History has shown that leaders of Ultra Jewish Orthodox communities struggle to report allegations or suspicions of child sexual abuse against a member of their own community to the Police. Then there are the culturally specific sensibilities such as the shidduch system.
At a JCCV educational forum (August 2011), Taskforce member Sheiny New was the keynote speaker. She spoke about Jewish specific cultural issues that contribute to the problem of not reporting abuse. “Marriages are arranged through the shidduch system.” The first question asked: Is it a nice family? Sexual assault does not a nice family make.” Ms New asked the audience not to be judgmental. “If your brother had a choice between two girls – both lovely girls, but one had been raped six months ago who would you choose? Even if the girl who was raped is getting help and good support, which one would you choose?
Ms New did not challenge this barrier to reporting. Other Ultra Orthodox advocates have. Rabbi Moshe Soloveichik, spoke at the Chicago Nefesh community education gathering about a mother whose son was severely molested by a teacher. The boy was very angry because he felt that his parents and community did very little in reacting to what had happened to him.
The mother told Rabbi Soleveichik that at the time she had met with a group of Rabbi’s who told her that she had the legal right to go to the Police but they did not recommend that she do this. Rabbi Soleveichik asked the mother why she did not exercise this right and she told him that she has two daughters who would need shidduhim in the future. “This (shidduchim) has become the new weapon, implied threat, or what may be implied threat, that if you do not toe the line of the community your children’s shidduchim even years later will be affected.
Is it realistic to expect community members and staff to report abuse if they are afraid of children being impacted negatively when it comes to their marriage prospects? Experts tell us that: “prevention of abuse involves changing those individual and community attitudes, beliefs and circumstances which allow the abuse to occur.' (Hawkins, McDonald, Davison and Coy 1994).
I don’t accept all Rabbi Shmukler’s reassurances. The change required does not occur overnight. It takes time, commitment and transparency. In addition, I believe that it takes leadership throughout communities to support victims and their families who are the champions of change.