|Haredi kids eyes covered|
The following article breaks down what sometimes happens in insular heredi communities when child sex abuse emerges.
Menachem Kaiser has a piece in Tablet about what appears to be a child sex abuse mass hysteria in another haredi neighborhood of Jerusalem, similar to the one in Nachlaot several years ago.
Several weeks ago, I offered to help one of the rabbis involved in investigating this latest case in Sanhedria Murchevet. He didn't respond, and I left the matter.
But since Kaiser wrote his Tablet piece, I'll add a few points to it that may help that rabbi – points I would have made if he had responded:
• Some of the same therapists and community members who fueled the Nachlaot hysteria appear to be involved in the Sanhedria Murchevet hysteria, as well.
• Little children hear many things adults don't realize they've heard and often understand unspoken desires of adults. So when an adult appears to want "Effie" or "Rivky" to be the child who did wrong, the playmates of "Effie" or "Rivky" will frequently tell those adults what the adults appear to want to hear, even if it isn't true. Little kids also talk among themselves and share stories – stories adults don't hear them share and which may not be true.
• That process is at play in any mass hysteria, and what that means, I think, is this: a child who was actually abused – perhaps by a rabbi or a teacher or even an older sibling or other family member – told a parent about the abuse. But because the parent so clearly would be mad at and disapprove of the abuser – who could be her husband or a powerful (in the child's eyes) teacher – the little child does not name his abuser. He only speaks in vague terms about the abuse and only after much coaxing.
Seeking help, the parent goes to a therapist or community leader – people who, in the haredi community, often do not want to see insiders as abusers. The child is interviewed; the unspoken (or even sometimes spoken) desires to name an outsider or a specific person or type of person as the abuser is understood by the little child, who then does what the powerful adults want and names that type of person.
• For a panic to start, all that is needed is a relatively closed community, one or two cases of actual child sex abuse, and the type of mishandling of child victims I just described. All of these factors appear to present in Sanhedria Murchevet.
• Word quickly gets out that "secret Christians" or some other shadowy figures (almost always outsiders in ideology or religion, even if that is hidden) are sexually abusing children. Parents warn their children and children hear and share horror stories among themselves. And suddenly, the two or three actual cases of child sex abuse that took place last week become dozens or even hundreds of cases.
• The key points here are not to say that no child sex abuse took place or that the actual abusers, if the exist, are definitely not outsiders.
• Instead, the key points are that some abuse likely did take place, that abuse is likely ongoing, and the perpetrator is (or, perpetrators are) far more likely to be a child's (children's) teacher, father, uncle or neighbor than a secret Christian running a large secret blood cult and ritually abusing little children in secret tunnels and rooms hidden deep under Jerusalem and reached by an elevator in a special blue building. In other words, there may be a small number of children who are being currently (or were recently) victimized, but there are almost certainly not several dozens or even hundreds of current child victims.
I know some of the haredi leaders involved here did go to police and did try to handle this sad affair correctly. But not all did. And as I noted above (and as Kaiser notes in his piece) there were other bad actors (or mistaken actors) involved, as well.
But at least this time, some haredi rabbis – in particular, one haredi rabbi – did try to do it right. Unfortunately, the tools and professionals at his disposal appear not have been up to the task, or the panic spread too quickly and widely before he was involved to be able to deal with it.