Sexual Abuse: Prevent, Police, Prosecute
David Mandel • The Jewish Press
We play the odds all the time, don't we? We may not consciously think about it as such, but in effect we do. Hashem rules the world and controls the odds; we have to do our hishtadlus. We get behind the wheel of a car, board a plane, or cross the street knowing there are risks such as car accidents, plane crashes and pedestrian injuries.
This is not meant to be morose; it is just a fact. Still, the laws of probability work in our favor. We go about our daily lives and while we are not oblivious to these statistics, we do not obsess over them. We feel bad that people inevitably will be hurt or, God forbid, die, but anonymity and distance enables us to continue our normal patterns of behavior and routine.
But would you play the same odds with your son or daughter? Do their safety and well being follow the same set of rules?
Tens of thousands of children attend yeshivas and day schools. They are taught by thousands of self-sacrificing rebbeim and teachers. We rely on the schools to recruit and hire the most talented, motivated people to teach and lead our children.
Typically a school administrator or principal will complete an extensive reference check prior to hiring. This is all good. But there is one important missing piece of information - a criminal background check on the potential employee.
In every large group there may be a very small number of individuals who engage or might engage in unacceptable behavior. So the question becomes, how do we identify such individuals and prevent them from entering our schools?
Social service organizations have for many years been required to fingerprint and complete a criminal background check on all employees. It can take from several days to a week to get results of a fingerprint check. Every now and then a hit comes back on a prospective new hire showing a criminal record. The system also sends information to employers of any new criminal proceedings against a person already in their employ.
Which brings us to the point of Prevent, Police, Prosecute.
There are several ways we can work to prevent the sexual abuse of our children. Parents must speak to their children at several different stages in the child's life, while schools must adopt a strong program to educate students, faculty and parents as well as monitor and adhere to mandated reporting protocols.
Another important factor whose time has come is the fingerprinting of all people employed in yeshivas and day schools, as is currently required in public schools. A detailed proposal by Elliot Pasik, Esq., and other advocates is a sound template urging the state legislature to enact laws requiring fingerprinting in private schools.
Why is this important? It comes down to playing the odds. It's only a matter of time before a hit will come back on an employee of some yeshiva or day school who has a criminal record and possibly a history of sexual abuse.
There are very few individuals in our community who have been convicted of crimes related to child sexual abuse, and even fewer on Megan's List. It may be a long shot, but we always want the odds to be in favor of our children.
Years ago in an article for The Jewish Press, I urged parents who had reason to believe their child had been or was being sexually abused to report it to the police.
"The concept of protecting one child (from shame and stigma) by not reporting this to the police," I wrote, "virtually assures that other children will be hurt in shul, in yeshiva or in the neighborhood park."
In a dozen subsequent articles in newspapers and magazines I emphasized the importance of working with police and district attorney staff to prosecute child molesters. Only by pushing abusers into the criminal justice system can we prevent them from harming other children. Moreover, once child molesters are prosecuted and have a criminal record, we will know who they are, and through fingerprint checks can keep them from jobs that provide access to children.
In Breaking the Silence: Sexual Abuse in the Jewish Community, a book I edited with Dr. David Pelcovitz, Rav Dovid Cohen, Ohel's mara d'asra for 41 years, describes the imperative of adhering to mandated reporting laws including contacting the police when sexual abuse takes place.
In the Mi Sheberach for a sick person, we refer to refuas hanefesh u'refuas haguf - healing of the soul and healing of the body. The healing of the soul comes first. If someone were to break into our home or car, or physically attack us, we would without question call the police. It is an attack on our person, our guf. Sexual abuse has been described as an attack on the soul as well as on the body. And if the Mi Sheberach gives priority to nefesh before guf, it is a strong message to protect the soul. If murder of the body can result in a life sentence for the convicted killer, why not a similar sentence for murder of the soul?
Playing the odds with lottery tickets is fine. Playing the odds with people who work with and to whom we entrust our children absolutely is not. Prevent, Police, Prosecute - three P's to protect our children from harm.
David Mandel is chief executive officer of Ohel Children's Home and Family Services. He can be contacted at [email protected].
The problem with this article is that it doesn't seem to be telling the whole truth.
During the time Mandel was allegedly writing the articles he cites above, he was caught on video telling Jews to report child sexual abuse to rabbis, not police.
Ohel has been implicated in protecting child molesters.
It's treatment program for offenders was run in such a way that there were no safeguards in place if offenders dropped out of the program. Instead, they could and did and go back into the community unreported. (The Stephan Colmer case, for example.)
And former Ohel employees – one on the record, several off – as well as former foster care children have claimed that Ohel instructed them not to report suspected child sexual abuse to ACS or the police because "frum Jews don't report other Jews."
So while Mandel may now be talking the correct talk, there is still no evidence – and no third party assurance – that he and Ohel are really walking the walk.
And that brings us to his mention of Elliot Pasik.
Pasik was involved in a sordid affair in which he – wholly unqualified – agreed to look at medical records and related information Ohel controlled to determine whether or not Ohel complied with the law in a case reported by The jewish Week, and in which Asher Lipner, a former Ohel therapist, alleged Ohel supervisors told therapists not to report suspected abuse.
The problem, besides Pasik's lack of training, was that Lipner was the Vice President of the Jewish Board of Advocates for Children, and Pasik was the president. And Pasik made a deal with Mandel to do this audit in the name of the JBAC without clearing it with what was then his board, and without regard to the fact that he was, in effect, being asked by Ohel to judge Lipner and rule him a liar.
Worse yet, Pasik was willing to do this without seeing all the evidence, without meeting with relevant staff independently of Ohel's management, and without meeting with all the staff and former staff involved in that case.
In return, Pasik told questioning JBAC members that he thought Ohel would come on board for some JBAC programs and possibly support some of JBAC's activities financially – in other words, a quid pro quo.
Pasik's response to the JBAC members who questioned him was to push them out – and that includes Lipner. And then Pasik replaced Lipner on the three person executive board with a crony, doing so without an election or notice to the rest of the membership.
After all this, David Mandel suddenly finds Pasik's fingerprinting proposal worthy of support. How very convenient.
Mandel should be held to his word, and anyone who suspects child sexual abuse (or elder abuse, etc.) should call police or ACS.
More than that, Ohel should open its records to an independent third party audit done by licensed and bonded third party forensic investigators specially trained to ferret out noncompliance with the law, non-reporting of child sexual abuse, and coverups.
When Ohel does that and passes the audit, Mandel can be taken at his word.
Before that, we should hold him to what he wrote in this op-ed, while understanding that what happens behind Ohel's closed doors may be very different from what David mandel has led us to believe.