Crown Heights Seminar Tackles Child Abuse in Orthodox Community

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Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Yosef Blau spoke in favor of reporting an alleged Orthodox child abuser to secular authorities.A public seminar focusing on the hot-button issue of child abuse in the Orthodox community drew a crowd of one hundred concerned residents to a shul in Crown Heights on Sunday. Featuring such notable panelists as Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Yosef Blau and civil rights attorney Norman Siegel, the event was punctuated by heated exchanges between audience members and Hynes regarding the effectiveness of his policies toward Orthodox abusers.

In addition to the other well-known participants, the panelists included clergy abuse attorney Irwin Zalkin, Crown Heights activist Eli Federman and nineteen-year-old former abuse victim Mordechai Feinstein.  The seminar was moderated by child abuse activist Tzvi Gluck of Our Place.

The tense moments came when some of the attendees voiced complaints to the DA about his controversial policy not to release the names of Orthodox individuals arrested for child abuse, in order to prevent the publicizing of their young victims’ names and any consequent intimidation. When Hynes asserted that his office’s three-year-old Kol Tzedek program had elicited the input of 130 abuse victims, and had brought about the successful prosecution of numerous abusers, a person in the audience yelled out, “Not true, not true! Your policy is failing!” In response, Hynes answered testily, “My policy is succeeding!”

The District Attorney avowed that he would criminally prosecute any community members found to have attempted to silence victims in advance of potential court testimony against their alleged abusers. He additionally lauded the leadership of the Crown Heights Jewish community, noting a rabbinical ruling last year had stated that every case of suspected child molestation must be reported by community members to the police. “I hope that other Orthodox communities will emulate yours and issue similar decisions,” he told the crowd.

Exhorting members of the Orthodox community to lend their support to young victims of abuse, Rabbi Blau emphasized the crucial importance of reporting suspected abuse to governmental authorities rather than rabbis. “While some people in our midst may consider reporting on a fellow Jew to the secular authorities to be a desecration of G-d’s name,” the educator declared, “perpetuating a situation that causes the District Attorney to state that the Orthodox Jewish community behaves worse than the Mafia is a much greater chilul Hashem.”

Former abuse victim Feinstein recounted his harrowing four-year experience of enduring abuse. “The first line of defense against child abuse is positive parenting,” Feinstein said, telling those in attendance that it is important to face child abuse head-on as opposed to deluding oneself to believe that there is no such problem.

Terming the gathering a success, Our Place’s Gluck admitted that those who unabashedly bring the issue of child sexual abuse into public discourse must deal with the risk of a backlash. “The people who coordinated this seminar wish to remain anonymous,” Gluck revealed, “because they are concerned about possible retribution from those who do not want to see the issue publicized.” Gluck went on to say that, “The point of this forum was to bring awareness of these issues to the forefront, and give parents both knowledge of what is going on and the tools they need to deal with the realities of this situation.” 

Offering practical suggestions to audience members on how to keep children safe from abusers, Gluck recommended the popular Project YES/Artscroll book, Let’s Stay Safe, which discusses child safety issues.

Gluck urged parents to unite as a cohesive force and demand that schools formulate policies and guidelines for handling child abuse, which would ultimately protect students, teachers and schools.

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