Sunday, July 10, 2011

Prevention of Child Abuse Worth More than Cure, by Shoshanna Silcove

This past Shabbes a young mother in our community asked me a question that made me shudder. “Do you know if the pedophile who abused Manny Waks is still in Yeshiva College or not?” I told her I had no idea of his identity and she went on to express her great trepidation at sending her still very young children to school there.  “ I don’t feel safe. I don’t feel the mosod is doing enough to protect my kids.”

 If this young mother feels this way then it is logical to assume she is not alone. Yeshiva College may be attempting to rectify the horrendous missteps of the past but, as of now the perception is that they are not doing nearly enough.  Actions speak much louder than words and sending emails of reassurance is not really very reassuring at all. Parents need and deserve much more than this.  This community would do well to take a leaf out of Rabbi Moshe Herson’s book.  His reaction to the abuse scandal in Morristown Yeshiva over two decades ago should be held up as a role model for us to emulate here.

An adult man who had a close association with Morristown Yeshiva was found to have been abusing bachurim. He would lure them into his room with the promise of attention and friendship.  That is apparently where the abuse took place over a sustained period of time affecting a number of talmidim. Fortunately, some of the boys’ strange behavior came to the attention of some adults and the abuser was discovered.  The abuser was arrested and charged with the crime to the full extent of the law.

This pedophile was not shifted to another community where he could strike on fresh prey. To their credit Rabbi Herson and the Morristown kehillah had no compunction about going to the police. There was no question if this was mesirah or not, as it was clear to everyone involved that this was the proper course of action according to both civil and Torah law.

Moreover, while it is commendable that Rabbi Herson did not attempt to help the perpetrator free himself from the clutches of the law, it is what he did after this that gained my admiration. Rabbi Herson along with other community members called in a psychologist who was a specialist in child abuse to educate the community on prevention. The lessons I gleaned from her stayed with me as I put them into place during my child’s formative years.

The psychologist explained that predators are often shrewd and do not want to get caught. Typically, they are people who work in occupations involving children and are liked by them.  They are often the most popular teachers and are very adept at projecting a perfectly normal social façade thereby, allowing them to go unsuspected for long periods of time. That is what makes them so scary.

According to this psychologist, sexual abusers are careful about the children they choose to prey upon. For instance, a child known to be outspoken, strong willed, confident, with parents or family members that are always around or involved with the child’s life is, for the child predator, a high risk target. The abuser prefers the quieter, less confident, or the neglected child, maybe the odd ball who has less friends or doesn’t fit int. The lonely child whose parents are distracted are more attractive as prey to the abuser who wants to go unnoticed. An insecure lonely child is much easier to befriend and control through promises of companionship and offers of reward. This type of child is also much more subject to threats as he/she does not want to be singled out as the one who is different and is more afraid of getting into trouble.

Some ways to equip your child with skills that could make them an unattractive target for a child abuser:

1.      Teach your child that no one is allowed to touch him/her under their clothes other than mommy, daddy, and the doctor.
      Tell him/her that if they ever feel even the slightest bit uncomfortable allowing anyone to touch them in any way, even if their own bubbah wants to kiss them and they don’t feel like it, then they have a right to reject that touch.
      Teach your child that if anyone ever touches them under their clothes and, then tells the child that if they tell their parents or their teachers then the child will ‘get into big trouble’, not to listen. In fact, make it clear to the child that if that were ever to happen, then not only won’t the child get into trouble but, the abuser will be the one to get into trouble and will even go to jail.
            Periodically, especially after sleep over camps and other overnight outings, ask the child, “Did anyone ever touch you under your clothes?” Remind him/her that if so they must tell you the parent and that they will not get into trouble, in fact it would be a big mitzvah to tell.

      Be on the look-out for the signs of abuse such as a change in mood for the worse, a drastic change in behavior, inappropriate non-tznios comments, gestures, knowledge that is too advance for their age etc.

 The above is mostly what I remember from that psychologists' cassette tape I listened to over and over again for several years. I am sure there is much more to learn about prevention of child abuse. This community had better start getting educated or we will be in for rougher times ahead.

May Hashem protect all Yiddish kinder from all kinds of harm!



A Mother of Yeshivah Boys said...

To the credit of the schools (Beth Rivkah and even moreso Yeshivah) they have over the last number of years upskilled the teachers in these matters through external inservices and workshops (some with Mrs. Debbie Gross from Israel and JTAFV) and done 'prevention' training with the kids, going from class to class in the last few months.
When doing this, they sent home notices to the parents to enable the conversation to keep flowing.

(PS I have heard the name of the person who Menachem Waks accuses (from him-I choose not to repeat it b/c this person has children whom I don't wish to cause ill to) and no, he is not involved in the school (he was never a teacher or person in position of authority) at present nor has he been for at least as long as I have had children there. 8 years.)

The Repenting Jewess said...

I appreciate you do not want to hurt the abuser's children but, it is imperative that the community be warned of the identity of any abuser. I feel we have an obligation to name and shame abusers, and let the chips fall where they may because otherwise many more innocent children are at risk of becoming abuse victims. Naming and shaming and outing the abusers is the only way to break the cycle.

Anonymous said...

Thanks shoshana for this article, alot of this I have heard at lectures here in Melbourne as well.
The schools have done these Protective Behaviours workshops for some time.
In addition, I have taught in the YBR schools and they have many policies to protect studetns from having transparent windows into every classroom, not allowing teachers to remain in classrooms alone with 1-2 children, not allowing teachers to email students or SMS their cellphones etc.
These existed before 2008 (well before but I wasn't around then) and were again reiterated after Malka Leifer case occurred and are constantly being reiterated to staff on a frequent basis.
As for the alleged abuser. 75% of people in Yeshivah know who it is, but noone is picking up the phone to call the police. WHy ? Becuase they have no evidence or proof - just rumours.
I guess manny is the one who has outed him. BUt even then, noone is guaranteed that he will be charged, convicted, sentenced at all.

Vicki Polin said...

THANK YOU MANNY for the courage, bravery and tenacity you've shown by sharing your story with the world. I personally believe that Manny Waks deserves a great deal of respect and honor. I personally believe that each time Manny walks into a room everyone should stand up as they would any rav -- and also give him a round of applause.

A father said...

This post quoting an apocryphal young mother is an exercise in Schadenfreude, and not an attempt to empathize with the victim(s)

Anyone disgusted by past wrongs, concerned for the current situation and worried about the future, would realise a few points;

Some victims have reported the abuse to the authorities, these abusers would have their names on police files.
The community leaders including the Yeshivah Centres’ management are aware of the (alleged) abusers and have acted on their access to the premises and access to children.
The schools and centre have put in place many programs, created awareness, updated the physical environment, utilized expert consultants etc etc to avoid any such abuse chas v’sholom ever occurring again.
Anyone who comes into contact with children, even intermittently, must subject themselves to police/govt scrutiny with a mandatory “Working with Children’ check.

No system is foolproof and we must stay vigilant and aware of any unusual behaviour, but to imply that people who have been accused of abusing children are unknown and are allowed unfettered access to children by the school community is a fallacy.

RJ said...

Accusing me of lying is a personal attack and indicates uncalled for hostility. The mother quoted is thank G_d very much alive and her concerns and fears ate shared by many parents. Denying this is not constructive. The mosod has a crisis of trust in its ability to protect kids.

Ilana said...

Parental concerns are very much warranted if a school or educational institute sticks its head in the sand and makes token gestures, but still fails to bring the perpetrators to justice. You cannot be too careful with your child/ren's safety. We are talking not just about physical dangers but emotional dangers and ultimately spiritual dangers to our children. How apt that this comes out at the time of Parshas Balak and Pinchas. What happened to the Israelite men when they were seduced the Middyanite women? The danger became more than just a physical immorality - it became an attack on their eternal neshamas. Pinchas son of Elazar, a grand son of Aaron HaCohen, who was by the way at the time of the plague and the Israelites' immorality with the midyanite women, not a Cohen took swift action when Zimri took a Princess from among the midyanite women into his tent to be immoral with her in front of Moshe and the whole camp. Moshe hesitated, unsure of what to do in such a case, but Pinchas remembering the halacha for such cases, swiftly took a spear and strode into Zimri's tent thrusting the entrance curtain aside he impaled Zimri and the woman in the place of their aveirot in front of the whole congregation. Because of Pinchas who is made a Cohen like his grandfather, because of his swift preventative action, HaKodesh Baruch Hu is appeased and makes peace with Am Israel.
We must have zero tolerance for immorality, incest and we must protect our children and our grandchildren and great grandchildren.
If we hesitate on this matter and do not support Manny and his fellow victims and stand around confused and stupefied, this sickness will take hold because for every child that is damaged, another family is damaged and don't think the brothers and sisters and parents are unscathed. So with a few years with one wretched sick person, we have maybe ten or twenty kids abused, their families suffer and they go on to marry and the spouses need to deal with it.
ACT NOW! Not next week and I can guarantee that there will be no Moishiah until we understand and deal with this.
we must value our kids and their emotional, spiritual and psychological safety NOW, NOW, not next week, next month and we must not let these people continue to abuse other people's children.
It is a greater evil to stand by and watch evil done and do nothing to stop it.

Shoshanna Silcove said...

Dear Members of the Community,

I was shocked and hurt by the recent revelations of sexual abuse at Yeshivah College (including The Age 22 June 2011, 7 July and 8 July 2011, ).

I have been a congregant at the Yeshivah Centre since 1989 & a donor from 1987 until 2010.

The abuse of trust perpetrated against children, can never be excused, and the failure to act, never justified..

I firmly believe that the leadership of the Yeshivah Centre then, and today have failed in their duty of care and moral obligation to the victims.

As a Yeshivah Centre congregant, I should not be ashamed, and neither should the rest of the Jewish Community, by the failure of the Yeshivah leadership both past and present, to protect our Community’s children and offer them the requisite support.

Accordingly I believe it is necessary that the any members of the Religious and Lay Leadership who held positions during the periods under investigation, in particular then school principal Rabbi Avraham Glick (now Head of Student Welfare); immediately tender their resignations, pending the outcome of any investigations.

Further, it is appropriate that Mrs Bendet who has shown a complete disregard for the victims by asserting the Yeshivah had no legal obligation to report matters to police (The Age 22 June 2011) also immediately tender her resignation, pending the outcome of any investigations.

Surely, the victims deserve the comfort of knowing that self interest will not stand in the way of any investigations.

Only then can we end the indignity and shame for the Melbourne Jewish community, and ensure that the religious, moral and legal obligation to protect all children is upheld.

Yours sincerely,

Bruce Cooke

Bruce J. Cooke
PO Box 1136
Elsternwick 3185

Phone: 9525 8287
Mobile: 0427 brucey

The Repenting Jewess said...

The Age June 22, 2011:
Asked why the claims had not been reported at the time, Ms Bendet said: ''My understanding is that it was prior to mandatory reporting. I can't speak for why the victims didn't step forward at the time.''

Either Mrs. Bendet is a completely misinformed ignoramus or she is a liar. What a disgrace!

Ilana said...


Well Bruce, your sentiments and intentions are all good but I think by calling for the resignation of both Rabbi Avraham Glick and Nehamia Bendet, you fail to understand the ultimate arrogance of some people in educational institutions. They can and do make decisions that are warped and wrong. It can be pointed out to them and many may suggest a better course of action, a more reasoned approach, but if they feel that they did the right thing at the time and have justified it in their minds that their actions were the only ones they could have made given the information they had at hand, nothing will get them to admit they are wrong and they will go all out to
a) blame the victims
b) say they did it for the greater good of the community (ever heard of Mills' utilitarianism. Here is some helpful information
"Utilitarianism is an ethical theory holding that the right course of action is the one that maximises the overall "good" consequences of the action.[1] It is thus a form of consequentialism, meaning that the moral worth of an action is determined by its resulting outcome. The most influential contributors to this theory are considered to be Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill.
Utilitarianism was described by Bentham as "the greatest happiness or greatest felicity principle".[2]
Utilitarianism can be characterised as a quantitative and reductionist approach to ethics. It is a type of naturalism.[3] It can be contrasted with deontological ethics (which do not regard the consequences of an act as a determinant of its moral worth), pragmatic ethics, and virtue ethics (which focuses on character), as well as with other varieties of consequential-ism."
here is a link: to a more detailed analysis.
I actually see similarities in the behaviour of the administration and those who should have known better and some of the tenets of negative utilitarianism. Quote:
'Most utilitarian theories deal with producing the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people. Negative utilitarianism (NU) requires us to promote the least amount of evil or harm, or to prevent the greatest amount of suffering for the greatest number.' If this can be applied to the situation at the Yeshiva College it could well be they reasoned that the suffering of a few boys was going to minimize the suffering of the broader Jewish community, by keeping it under wraps and also hoping to protect families, not realizing that they would have been better to confront the issue and had the offenders brought to justice here in Australia.
My late father used to say it is always better to deal with things on the day or as soon as possible because if you don't it comes back at your years later a thousand times worst.
Bruce I doubt you will get either Glick's or Bendet's resignation, but good luck trying. Having spent five years unemployed as a teacher and banned from being employed in the largest state in Australia for bringing a principal to account for his rather unorthodox and mean spirited treatment of me and not only me, I know that these people have connections and friends in high places and they would rather go their merry flawed way and justify it to themselves and others because they are always right, even when they are horribly wrong and it is failing to deal with the real nasties like child abuse, these people still have to see themselves as right no matter the cost. It is called ego and selfishness right to the core. Rather than say, yes, we were wrong and admit and make a concerted effort to rectify the wrongs and as well support and respect those boys who have been brave enough to come forward, they plow on regardless of the hurting families. Don't they fail to see that these families that have been damaged have children and grandchildren who may start to look at Yavene College, Yesodi and Adass rather than send their boys to Yeshiva, which is a pity.

Ilana said...

View this speech by this Rav. He has my utmost respect and speaks a lot of commonsense.