So, you already know the background. Dov Hikind has the names of hundreds, perhaps more than one thousand, haredim who claim to have been sexually abused. The abusers? Often rabbis, rebbes and yeshiva teachers.
Hikind promised these victims confidentiality. An attorney for victims who have already gone public, and who is now suing Yeshiva Torah Temimah for…
…protecting the rabbi-abuser, Rabbi Yehuda Kolko, while knowing exposing hundreds of boys to Kolko. Some of those boys Torah Temimah put in Kolko's care were later abused by him.
The attorney, Michael Dowd, who successfully sued the Catholic Church for much the sme thing, wants to see Hikind's records. He wants to see if any victims of Kolko went to Hikind. If so, he wants to contact them in confidence and urge them to help with his lawsuit.
Hikind will not release the names, even though subpoenaed. He claims he promised absolute confidentiality and he will not violate that promise.
The Forward writes:
…[Attorney Michael] Dowd, still pressing a civil suit against Kolko, asked to search Hikind’s list for evidence. Hikind refused, saying he had promised his informants complete anonymity and could not betray their trust. On November 18, Dowd obtained a subpoena requiring Hikind to testify about his information. Hikind’s critics say the lawmaker is withholding evidence of crimes and assisting a cover-up. Hikind says he’ll go to jail if he has to, in order to protect his sources.
In the end, the courts will decide who can see the notes. If they’re smart, they’ll side with Hikind. No one before Hikind has succeeded in gathering victims’ testimony. Efforts to bring the accused to justice often fail before they start, because of victims’ unwillingness to speak.
It’s not just suspicion of the authorities that silences victims. Haredi parents are terrified that if news gets out — not just to authorities, but to anyone — their children will be tainted for life. Being known as a victim will drastically lower the chances of a good marriage, for victims and their siblings.
Getting victims to talk will require far more trust than the police or courts can hope to win. Hikind has that kind of trust, and he is making a breakthrough where countless others have failed. He should be allowed to continue developing his methods and pursuing the facts.
Here's why the Forward is wrong:
1. Hikind's entire premise is wrong. He wants to deal with this horrific problem by bringing this evidence to Brooklyn's rabbis. Many of these same rabbis have known about some of this evidence for years. Indeed, some of them have actively covered it up. Hikind is, in effect, asking criminals to help him protect the the victims they hurt.
2. Past that, he wants the abusers dealt with outside the criminal justice system. This means no sex offender registry for Hikind's abusers. No closely supervised release. No sharing of information across neighborhoods and across countries. An abuser can simply skip Brooklyn for Israel (or for St. Louis, for that matter) and start abusing all over again. In fact, the abuser can simply walk a few blocks outside his haredi neighborhood an hunt for victims there. And, even if the abuser sats right there in Williamsburg, Borough Park or Crown Heights, he will still have unsupervised access to kids – unless haredim suddenly start purchasing GPS ankle bracelets, 24/7 monitoring and more. Of course, that takes real organization and the ability to keep order. Anyone who has ever been in a large hasidic synagogue should have a pretty good idea how this would not work.
3. A promise to break the law should not be valid. Withholding evidence that could be used to keep abusers away from kids is just plain wrong. Indeed, one of Hikind's abusers had abused a child two weeks before contacting Hikind. Hikind put him in touch with a therapist and thinks he's done his job. Never mind the recidivism rate for this type of offender is said to be over 90%. Never mind the abuser is still around kids. And never mind potential victims have not been warned. Now multiply this by several dozen offenders documented in Hikind's files. You get the picture.
4. Pearl Engelman, the mother of a victim, says Hikind sold out her son. Why? Her son's abuser is a leading Satmar rabbi and Satmar, she says, made sure Hikind realized pursuing the case would cost him politically. In response, Hikind has made some bellicose threats against the abuser and the Satmar school that harbors him. But those remain threats.
5. Haredim are reluctant to come forward for many reasons, all of them having to do with one form of shunning or another. But by behaving this way, haredim ensure abusers will abuse again – and again, and again, because they continue to have unfettered access to children only silence brings.
Dov Hikind may have meant well, and his campaign has certainly made the issue of child sexual abuse a whispered topic of discussion at haredi Shabbos tables – and more so in men's mikvas, where much of the business of the haredi community (and a good part of the abuse, as well) is done.
But Hikind went about this in the wrong way.
I don't think Hikind should be faulted for this – unless we later learn he did this knowingly.
But to argue that Hikind should violate the law to continue the silence that has already destroyed so many young lives is simply wrong. You would think an elected official would know this. So should the otherwise noble paper of record for the American Jewish community.