Child Abuse Allegations Plague the Hasidic Community
By Elijah Wolfson On 3/3/16
....It’s widely accepted by child abuse experts and advocates that some kids are particularly vulnerable. Usually, they are disadvantaged in some way—family problems, rejection by their peer group—that perpetrators can exploit, particularly if they are teachers who also happen to be religious authorities.
....It was widely known that if you ratted out someone in the community for abuse, the community would turn its back on you. Gena Diacomanolis is the senior director of Safe Horizon’s Jane Barker Brooklyn Child Advocacy Center, where, over the past decade, she says, they have made tremendous strides in the Haredi communities. But the biggest barrier remains the pressure the community puts on individuals who want to come forward with stories of abuse.
“I can tell you tons of stories where they were so fearful of going forward,” she says. “I had one dad who said his son was sexually abused at school.” He decided not to press charges, Diacomanolis recalls. “He said, ‘I don't want you to think I don't love my child, but if I go forward, I won't find a marriage for my daughter.’”
Diacomanolis also says families are often harassed when they come forward. One client who charged her husband with abusing their child “left her house, and the whole block was papered with things saying terrible things about her.”
One mother who found out her son had been sexually abused by a teacher at United Lubavitcher Yeshiva Ocean Parkway (another Hasidic school in Brooklyn) says when she complained to the yeshiva’s principal, she was shunned. “I got thrown out of the community,” she says. “You can’t imagine what was said to me. The phone calls I got. I was an outcast. I was threatened.”
....Protecting the Predators
Chabad has a global network of synagogues, schools and other facilities that is often used to shelter abusers on the run. When rumors of abuse begin to bubble up, teachers are shuttled from school to school, city to city—like Reizes, shipped from Brooklyn to Miami and then back. In March 2008, eight students accused Malka Leifer, principal of the Adass Israel school for girls in Elsternwick, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, of sexual abuse. Just days later, she hopped on a plane and fled to Israel. In September 2015, Australia’s Supreme Court awarded over $1 million in compensation to a 28-year-old abused by Leifer from 2003 to 2006.
According to court documents, it was discovered during the course of the trial that there was a concerted effort by the community to protect Leifer: The school’s president at the time, Yitzhok Benedikt, and board member Mark Ernst played key roles in arranging her escape to Israel. The two men are facing criminal charges; Leifer was arrested in Israel last year and is now fighting extradition to Australia.
In recent years, Australia has emerged as the country most willing to confront child abuse in the Hasidic world. In 2013, the government formed the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, and in early 2015 it began a large investigation into the Hasidic community. Weeks of hearings led to a report detailing alleged abuses—and how yeshivas and rabbinical leadership cover up that abuse and systematically ostracize survivors and their families.
....In New York, survivors of most cases of child molestation have five years after they turn 18 to get the district attorney to prosecute. (In cases of sexual misconduct, legal proceedings must begin within two years after the offense was committed, regardless of the child’s age at the time of the alleged crime.) Many child abuse experts say that window is not nearly big enough for young men just starting to understand what happened to them. It’s no surprise that most of the abuse Newsweek uncovered happened long ago—no 10-year-old has the wherewithal to talk to the press about his abusive teacher. It takes a 25-year-old who has finally received a proper education to understand what was done to him 15 years ago.
For almost a decade, Assemblywoman Margaret Markey, from Queens, has been trying to pass a bill that would eliminate the statute of limitations on both criminal and civil cases of sex crimes against children. But she has faced fierce opposition from two political powerhouses: the New York State Catholic Conference and Agudath Israel of America.
The Hasidic world is starting to take allegations of abuse more seriously, and many of the individuals who talked on the record with Newsweek for this story say they finally feel comfortable speaking publicly about their personal histories with abuse because of the community support that has emerged in recent years.