February 16, 2006
Because I am an attorney who has long been involved in advocating a program for protecting our children from sex abuse, I feel the need to publicly comment in the forum of this blog (unorthodoxjews.blogspot.com/) on the allegations being made against a rebbe at Yeshiva Torah Temimah.
Over the past several weeks, I have read various posts of alleged victim accounts which have given dates, places, type of sex abuse, and other factual detail.
In addition, the blog administrator ("UOJ"), a frum Jew and a musmach, has mailed thousands of letters to frum Jews in Flatbush and Borough Park. He has demanded that this rebbe's employment at the yeshiva be terminated.
I have also spoken to several adult individuals who confided in me their stories of childhood sex abuse committed against them by this man.
The allegations are serious, but there are solutions, and I will present them in this letter. In addition, concerned community members have been in contact with the yeshiva, and I hope and pray, b'ezras Hashem, that a resolution will be reached, along the lines to be outlined here.
For a fair amount of time, I have been advocating a two-part approach for eradicating the problem of child sex abuse in our yeshivas, day schools, camps, and other youth settings.
First, we need to perform fingerprint-based criminal background checks on all of our employees and volunteers, and in this way, we will avoid hiring convicted sex offenders, drug offenders, violent criminals, and other dangerous predators.
I have previously written in my letters to Torah U'Mesorah, Agudath Israel, the Rabbinic Council of America, the Orthodox Union, and the National Council of Young Israel that 42 out of 50 states now require their public schools to perform fingerprint based criminal background checks on their employees (including New York State); 10 states require their nonpublic schools to perform such checks (not New York). In addition, after too-numerous child sex abuse incidents, every major youth group in the U.S. is performing background checks: the Boy and Girl Scouts, the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Little League of America, the American Youth Soccer Organization, Pop Warner Football, the Civil Air Patrol.
In the wake of the Catholic priest sex abuse scandal, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has required employee and volunteer background checks for all Catholic schools and youth groups since April 2003, whether required by law or not.
Even private corporations whose employees do not have regular access to children are voluntarily performing criminal background checks. An August 26, 2004 Wall Street Journal article reported that 80% of America's 400 largest corporations are performing background checks on their employees. Wal Mart, the nation's largest employer, joined this group after two convicted sex offenders working in their South Carolina stores were alleged to have molested children on store premises.
All of these background checks have weeded out thousands of convicted sex offenders and other dangerous criminals who would otherwise constitute a grave danger to children.
How great is the danger? The U.S. Congress and the U.S. Department of Education most recently addressed the school sexual abuse problem in a lengthy June 2004 report entitled, "Educator Sexual Misconduct: A Synthesis of Existing Literature", authored by Hofstra University Prof. Charole Shakeshaft, a leading expert. This report informs us that nearly 10% of U.S. students are targets of contact and noncontact sexual misconduct during their K-12 years. Among the security recommendations are that all public and private schools perform fingerprint based criminal background checks. This report is available on the U.S. Department of Education website.
Another good resource for people who want to educate themselves about the problem is a book called, "Predators" (2004), authored by Dr. Anna Salter, a Harvard College, Harvard Medical School-educated psychiatrist, who presents a mountain of evidence that establishes the great danger that child sex abuse presents. Dr. Salter has also written the two leading textbooks in use in our country on the treatment of sex offenders. Dr. Salter proves through her evidence that sex offenders should never work near children. Pedophiles are actually never cured, and they are in need of lifetime therapy.
In addition, there is also a mounting body of medical evidence which proves what we already intuitively know: that childhood sex abuse has long-term consequences. Medical studies have established that people who have suffered childhood sex abuse are at a greater risk for depression, substance abuse, and suicide.
Our own community has not ignored the child sex abuse problem. In May 2003, for example, both Torah U'Mesorah and the RCA, at their respective conventions, addressed the issue. I have listened to the audiotapes. A psychologist prominent in our community for specializing in this problem spoke at each convention, and described an incident in a yeshiva where a janitor with a criminal record for sex abuse attacked our children. In addition, the psychologist stated that we have suffered an unconscionable number of suicides of children who have been sex abuse victims.
I have made some progress on achieving my goal of having every yeshiva and Hebrew day school in New York State perform fingerprint-based employee background checks. The New York State Senate is drafting a bill, which I hope to have in my hands shortly. State Assembly sponsors will then be needed, and hopefully the Governor will support the bill, and it will pass.
But background checks are only one part of the overall solution. What do we do about the vast majority of sex offenders who never see the inside of a courtroom? Most child sex abuse victims never report the crimes done to their bodies, and unfortunately, even when they do, they are often not believed. More unfortunate, even when they are believed, successful criminal prosecutions are difficult, particularly where there is an absence of physical evidence.
Clearly, our yeshivas and day schools need to unite to form our own internal disciplinary system and registry, which will record the names of those individuals, who after a hearing conducted under careful rabbinic auspices, are found guilty of either violence or sex abuse, and will then be forever barred from employment in our mosdos.
Such a disciplinary system and registry would be neither novel, nor difficult to establish. Every public educational system in our country has such a program in place, as does the Catholic Church. We Jews therefore have numerous models to follow, and we should quickly establish our own disciplinary system and registry. In fact, the registry concept was specifically discussed and spoken of very approvingly at the May 2003 Torah U'Mesorah Convention.
In addition, I approaced the Rabbinical Council of America, an organization of approximately 1,000 rabbis, and proposed and drafted for them a Resolution endorsing background checks, and a disciplinary system and registry for all of our 700 yeshivas and Hebrew day schools that teach 200,00 Jewish children in the United States, including 100,000 in New York State. The Resolution passed at their May 2005 Convention, you can read it on rabbis.org, and I credit this Resolution for the great progress I am making in the New York State Senate for achieving a law that will allow fingerprint based criminal background checks to be conducted in our schools.
Our yeshivas and day schools do need to be concerned about laws that protect our children, and performing background checks, and having an internal disciplinary system and registry, will accomplish that goal.
Some New York laws that come into play are: Education Law section 3204, which provides that a nonpublic school teacher must be "competent". It is highly questionable, to say the least, as to whether a teacher who is a child sex abuser is "competent".
New York State Education Law section 549(1) provides that "the state has a primary responsibility to ensure the health, welfare and safety of children attending both public and nonpublic schools."
New York State Penal Law section 2601.10 is entitled, "Endangering the Welfare of a Child", and provides that it is a misdemeanor for a person legally charged with the custody of a child to fail to exercise reasonable diligence in preventing such child from becoming "abused". Statutes like these have been used in prosecutions of cases against the Catholic Church.
New York State Social Service Law section 413 makes it a misdemeanor for a school official not to report sex abuse to the New York central registry of childhood sex abuse.
In addition, New York courts have, on multiple occasions, declared the duty that a school owes to a child, sometimes referred to by the ancient Latin phrase, "in loco parentis", in place of the parent. When a parent transfers physical custody of his child to a school, the school stands in place of the parent, and assumes the same duty. Thus, just as parent would never hire a sex offender as a babysitter, so too should a school never employ a sex offender as teacher. See, e.g., Pratt v. Robinson, 39 NY2d 554 (1976).
The Torah has much to say about this situation, which time and space do not allow here, but suffice it to say that the Torah commands, Lo sa'amod al dam ra'echa, Do not stand upon the blood of your brother. This is a positive mitzvah that requires one Jew to save the life of another. In addition, the Torah tells us, V'shmartem nafshosachem me'od, You will guard your lives exceedingly. The Torah also tells us, Tsedek, tsedek tirdof, l'maan tichyeh. Justice justice shall you pursue, in order that you may live.
Certainly, if the individual accused of sex abuse at Torah Temima declines to resign, or if the yeshiva declines to terminate his employment, an evidentiary-type hearing, in my opinion, should be held. The alleged victims should testify, the accused abuser can also testify, and a decision should then be rendered by the professional panel of judges - unbiased rabbis and lawyers from our community.
Barring resignation or termination, the hearing may be the solution to our current
problem. This hearing can be the first step taken towards establishing our own internal disciplinary system and registry. Gam zu l'tovah.
This process and verdict can also be a refuah for the alleged victims who have suffered in silence for so long, at cost to their physical and mental health. They are entitled to some small measure of justice.
The establishment of our own disciplinary system and registry can also be a first step in teshuvah and recovery for the accused individual.
In the future, cases like these need not be addressed through anonymous mass mailings, blogs, and public letters from a lawyer such as myself. Our own genuine justice system, which will itself act as a deterrent, can properly handle such problems.
Together with our own hishtadlus, may the ribono shel olam endow all of us with the kochus and chochma that we will need to resolve our current situation.
Very truly yours,
Elliot B. Pasik
Attorney at Law
145 West Olive Street
Long Beach, New York 11561