Sunday, March 6, 2011

Pedophilia in Jewish Institutions

Over the last few years we've read about various educational figures being accused of sexually deviant behavior. This was a topic of discussion--of course along with tuition and other yeshivah-related venting--with our hosts this past Shabbat in light of a new accusation.
So how should parents with children in the school react when someone in the school is accused of pedophilia? My reaction ("Don't switch the child to a different school" is in black followed by "switch the kid" in red):
1) Our host commented that accusations against a sexual predator in a school are not--on their own merit--enough of a reason to pull a child from the school. After all, she argued, it can happen anywhere. Unfortunately I think there is a certain truth to this. It's a "the grass isn't always greener" argument. And after all, pulling a child from one institution that does not have mechanisms in place to prevent--or at least minimize the risk of--such behavior (which unfortunately is typical in Jewish schools*) and putting him/her in another institution that lacks the same mechanisms may be pointless. (*Just to clarify, I don't think pedophilila is typical in Jewish schools, but rather the absence of good measures to prevent it is typical.)
Of course it can happen anywhere, but the fact that one pedophile felt comfortable and safe enough to act can mean there are others in the same institution who feel it is a haven for them to prey without repercussions. There is simply no way to clean house and realistically ensure a safe future no matter how the school reacts.
2) Since it can happen anywhere, the single most important factor in deciding whether or not to pull the child is how a school reacts when accusations are leveled against a staff member. Does it circle the wagons and deny that such activity happens or that the school is already doing all that is possible to prevent such behavior? Does the school hire independent professional outsiders to review how the alleged behaviours could have been prevented and recommend what steps can be taken to ensure such behaviour can't take place in the future? Are such recommendations followed up on? Are these policies in writing and are all staff members instructed in them? Does the school notify parents of the accusations and encourage them to talk their children about the specific case and about abuse in general? Is there any talk of consulting rabbonim?
3) Is there any indication that a cover-up took place or that other staff members were aware of what was going on? If yes, will anyone involved in a cover-up or otherwise involved in enabling what happened be fired?
Who really knows what happened, who knew what, etc.?
4) How far can/should we go to protect our children? Some people (myself included) think it's ridiculous that yeshivos don't fingerprint prospective staff, institute mandatory reporting policies, have written policies regulating staff-child interactions (e.g., never be alone with a kid in a closed area), etc. Yet we also regularly entrust our kids to others (e.g., camps; shul youth groups; Bnei Akiva, Pirchei Aguda and other youth groups; day care centers; babysitters; tutors; etc.) without even thinking about insisting on the same level of protection?
It's true that we can't stand by our kids' side 24/7 until they are eighteen years old. But the fact that our kids may sometimes be in environments over which we have no control shouldn't prevent us from trying to ensure they are in safe environments as often as possible.
4) It's your kid and there is no shame in taking steps born in illogical paranoia in order to protect him/her.


Anonymous said...

On a brighter note, it looks like the 200k Chump blog has collapsed.

Miami Al said...

It is probably relatively common in Yeshivot, I'm sorry to say. There were running jokes amongst kids about certain touchy-feely Rabbis as pedophiles. I mean, pedophiles are drawn to access to children, right, so you'll find them in these sort of roles, and the Yeshiva is a pedophile safe zone.

They won't repot them to secular authorities (perhaps it is different in New York, do you have some Jewish reporting line that Jews are permitted to use).

They'll usually fire them, but you can't give a bad reference, might be sued.

You can't warn another Yeshiva, because after the Rabbi has moved, Change your Location, Change your Mazel.

If it makes you feel better, it's not just pedophiles. Financial criminals move from Yeshiva to Yeshiva as well. Plus simply incompetent teachers.

Abba's Rantings said...


is there a way to know if it's more common in jewish schools? (obviously there are factors that would make it logical to conclude it is more common in jewish schools.)

but it really doesn't matter if it is more common, just as common or less common. whatever the rate of incidence is, it's clear jewish schools aren't doing nearly enough to make it even lower.

so when an apologist claims there is no truth to the claim that abuse is worse in yeshivos, my question is why isn't he intersted in improving the situation further. that fact that is sometimes happens in public schools makes it ok to happen in a yeshivah?

Miami Al said...

Abba's Ranting,

Right. I don't know that it is more common, but once a pedophile is in the system, they might have to move around, but they are safe from prosecution.

The problem is also worse because the kids are likely to be branded heretics or accused of speaking Lashon Hara for bringing it up.

There are no numbers, no way of knowing if it is better or worse.

Anonymous said...

For some reason, pedophiles seem more common in all male/primarilly male settings. I'm just speculating here, but the lack of adult women and particularly adult women who have management/positions of power in the institution that seems to make a difference. I think powerful women administrators/principals, etc. would be more aggressive about having the right policies and procedures in place, would be more sensitive to detecting signs of abuse and would place protecting the child above protecting the pedophile or the community's image. At a minimum, they would be a good influence.