Marvin Schick makes what is, perhaps, the most foolish argument ever made regarding…
…haredi rabbi-on-boy sexual abuse:
Responding to Hella Winston and Larry Cohler-Esses's series of NY Jewish Week articles on haredi rabbi-on-boy sexual abuse, Schick wrote:
…If this newspaper believes that there isn’t a higher incidence of Orthodox abuse, how to explain why perhaps 98% of the space devoted to allegations of abuse of children concern the Orthodox? You can’t have it both ways. Perhaps more importantly, the newspaper cannot focus on alleged Orthodox abuse and then claim that the tendency among the Orthodox is to cover-up. To put the issue otherwise, if 1) the incidence of abuse is as great among the non-Orthodox and 2) there are few newspaper stories and cases involving the non-Orthodox, then 3), doesn’t this amount to a cover-up of abuse among the non-Orthodox?
My assessment is that there is a greater tendency these days to report abuse among the Orthodox because unlike most other American Jews and Americans they are not just faces in the huge crowd of American society. There are entry points in Orthodox life for those who feel that abuse has occurred. There are visible and vocal professionals and others who now constantly beat the drums on the subject.
These include Assemblyman Dov Hikind. In a letter published last week in this newspaper, he wrote, referring to the Orthodox, that “I firmly believe that there are likely thousands of people who are affected by sexual abuse in some form or another” and that “the total number of cases of rabbinic sexual abuse in our community is closer to ‘hundreds’ of individuals.”
A community leader told me that Hikind is guilty of “a blood libel.” If his statistics are accurate, given the tiny size of our community compared to the Catholic Church, the only possible conclusion is that our rabbis are out-abusing priests by a large margin. With all of the information that he claims to have, why aren’t there many more stories? Why aren’t there many more prosecutions? Has he gone to the authorities? If he hasn’t, he is being irresponsible.
The more important point is this: Sexual abuse is an awful crime. The subject requires vigilance and, at times, courage and not bogus numbers and biased journalism.
A few quick points:
1. The Winston / Cohler-Esses NY Jewish Week articles are investigative reporting and are part of a series. As such, during the extended time this series runs, the paper will appear to have a disproportionate focus on the topic.
2. This investigative series centers around high profile cases of haredi rabbi-on-boy sexual abuse – cases that received their initial media attention elsewhere.
3. In the process of this investigative series, Winston and Cohler-Esses have uncovered other cases of haredi rabbi-on-boy sexual abuse.
4. At the same time, Dov Hikind's focus on the issue has drawn out, in his words, "hundreds" of victims who have contacted him with their stories. This has fueled the story – as it rightly should.
5. The vast majority of these victims tell similar stories: the abuse is reported to rabbis or community leaders, those leaders disbelieve the victim (or say they do), the leaders move to cover up the accusation and to protect the accused rabbi. Often, the victim's family is told not to contact police.
6. Although Schick is too clever to attack victims directly, what Schick does is disbelieve these victims all over again while at the same time attacking those who have brought their stories to light.
7. In any closed society, wrongdoing by authority figures and those linked to them is easily covered up. Indeed, those who study such societies will tell you those coverups, and a the abuser's greatest ally – silence – are the norm.
8. Imperfect though they may be, other Jewish streams have mechanisms in place to vet abuse complaints. Haredim do not.
9. Further, in those other streams the action required when hearing about or suspecting child sexual abuse is to call police or child protection services. Haredim still have no such requirement.
10. Haredim live in closed societies with unelected leadership. There are no democratic institutions. People who violate social norms are shunned. One of those social norms is silence, omerta, if you will.
11. Societies like this are fertile places for sexual abuse.
12. Schick writes: "If [Hikind's] statistics are accurate, given the tiny size of our community compared to the Catholic Church, the only possible conclusion is that our rabbis are out-abusing priests by a large margin."
13. What Schick misses is the idea of opportunity. The longer haredi school day, 6-day school weeks, longer school years, and camps run in close association with schools and staffed in part by teachers, mean that an abusing teacher has more contact time with students in haredi communities than he would have elsewhere.
14. Add to that the idea that one can easily be a devout Catholic in good standing while sending his children to public schools. The same cannot be said about haredim.
15. Haredim live in tight geographic neighborhoods, often with their teacher and rabbis. Catholics do not.
16. All this means a haredi child is kept within a closed, contained society and in constant contact with teachers. Catholics – even when attending Catholic school – are not.
17. Therefore, a rabbi-teacher who abuses has more and longer access to his victims than do Catholic priests – far more, in most cases.
18. this means one haredi abuser is much more likely to abuse higher numbers of children and to abuse them more often.
19. Schick's one valid point is this: "Has [Hikind] gone to the authorities? If he hasn’t, he is being irresponsible."
20. Hikind has not gone to police because his whole effort is aimed at handling rabbi-on-boy sexual abuse allegations internally. In this, Hikind respects the community's norm, and Marvin Schick should clearly know this.
21. Schick has long history of attacking the messenger. It is long past time for Schick to concede the message, as distasteful and as sad as it is, is true.