Let's Get Serious About Protecting Our Kids

Vos Iz Neias
June 11, 2012

It is that common theme, again, that is once again in the news - the abuse of young people where someone in authority is protecting the abuser or molester.

The names and players change but the theme remains constant. And, unfortunately, there does not seem to be an adequate solution.

After the Baruch Lanner case many thinkers in our community had thought that the times of covering up were over. A few years elapsed. Then came the accusations against Kolko and people once again thought that a fundamental change had happened. It didn't.

We went back to the same routine. And many more innocents were victimized. Newspapers and bloggers picked up the cry for protection of the innocents and the abused, but by and large, our leadership did not make the fundamental changes that were necessary for complete safety in schools.

Last week, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes issued a call to push for a law that would make Rabbis into mandated reporters. The call was not met with welcoming arms. A subtle rift was detected by some between the Brooklyn DA and some of the Rabbinic leaders who had formerly worked together.

There is one thing that will work, though, and it is perhaps time that we do it.

Florida Governor Rick Scott has recently signed a bill, SB 1816 , into law that we must adopt here in our fine state of New York, as well.

Institutions must put the well-being of children before their own reputations. Florda's SB 1816 provides the toughest child abuse reporting law in the country and gives the law some teeth too.

In essence, institutions that do not report allegations of child abuse will face huge fines – fines to the tune of $1,000,000. That's right, one million dollars. New York State must also pass such a law.

If New York State passes such a law, no institution will question their obligation to report. The law also draws no distinction between mandated reporters or not. Any school or institution that suppresses or quashes a report will face the fine.

What will happen if this law is passed, is that our schools will not quash reports. Since the fate of the school's existence will be at risk, most school authorities will err on the side of protecting both the child and the school rather than err on the side of caution in protecting the alleged perpetrator's reputation.

In the past the religious Jewish organizations did not support the Markey Bill . That bill allowed victims of sexual abuse more time to press charges, as well as extend the timeframe for civil lawsuits. The reason that the Jewish organizations did not support that bill was that they felt that the Markey Bill would cause well meaning Jewish organizations to go bankrupt.

A bill that would resemble the Florida Law, however, would be different. It would not deal with the past, just the future. It would also allow the schools, camps and institutions to err on the side of protecting the victims.

While we are advocating for the strengthening of victims rights, there is another area that requires attention as well. At the same time, the repercussions of falsely accusing an innocent teacher should also be stepped up. We do not want to create a situation where we are furthering the empowerment of a vengeance seeker who wishes to even a score with a well-placed accusation. Don't think that it doesn't happen. It does.

But let's not let this take away from our Torah obligation of protecting the oppressed. The victims of child molestation can face life-long struggles of depression, self-esteem and can often ideate suicide.

The Florida law states: Any institution, state university, or nonpublic college, university, or school, whose administrators, faculty, or staff knowingly and willfully fail to report known or suspected child abuse, abandonment, or neglect committed on the property of the institution, university, college, or school, or during an event or function sponsored by the institution, university, college, or school, or who knowingly and willfully prevent another person from doing so, shall be subject to fines of $1 million for each such failure and the loss of all state funding.. for a period of 2 years.

The Florida law is a good idea and an excellent model for other states to follow.

It is unfortunate that we, in the Torah community, have faltered slightly in this very important area of protecting our children. We have made grave errors of judgment in, for example, how we dealt with the Boruch Lanner case, Kolko, and others too.

And our reputations have suffered. No longer do we play the role of the "light unto the nations" that we have striven to achieve in all of our interactions with the surrounding society. Indeed, in recent weeks the media has unfairly portrayed highly regarded Jewish organizations as nothing more than molester protectors.

The Torah has always called for the protection of the weak and the innocent. The Mitzvah of Lo Saamod al Dam rayacha – do not stand idly by your brothers' blood – has always been a theme that has characterized our Torah organizations.

During the Nazi holocaust our Torah organizations joined together and formed the Vaad Hatzolah to save lives. True, our pooling together, may have been short-lived, but we did it nonetheless, because the underlying issue involved saving human life. It is time to redeem ourselves for our past transgressions and once again stand up for those without a voice.

This law could save many lives as well.

We need to get our politicians on board to craft and push such a bill immediately. Of course it would have to be tweaked to meet New York's needs, rather than Florida's. The politicians should get input from those who are particularly familiar with the uphill battles that victims face.

Our Rabbinic organizations are staffed with highly educated lawyers and politically connected individuals that could help make passing this bill a reality. Our brother's blood is calling out to us. The question is, will we listen?