Caught on Camera: Senior Rabbi Telling an Alleged Victim of Child Sexual Abuse Not to Go to the Police
By Jackie Long (Huffington Post)
January 30, 2013
Doing a piece about child sexual abuse is never easy.
Asking people to talk to you about something so private and so traumatic on television is clearly expecting a great deal.
But for me, it's rarely been as difficult as during our Dispatches documentary , to be aired on Wednesday night on Channel 4, which tackles the issue within the ultra orthodox Jewish community, the Charedi.
Here, the veil of secrecy around the crime of child abuse was almost overwhelming. The fear people felt in talking- even to us, off camera and anonymously - was palpable. They were terrified of the rabbis and others within the community finding out. They said the repercussions would be enormous.
It's a potent combination, secrecy, fear and power - the power of the rabbis - and it's this which is keeping victims from getting justice and abusers from being prosecuted.
There are around 40,000 Charedim in Britain, around a sixth of the Jewish population.
They live by a strict interpretation of their faith, as decided by their rabbis.
It's the rabbis they go to for advice and help on even the most challenging of problems.
Our investigation found that when people who say they've been sexually abused as children go to some rabbis, they are being explicitly forbidden from taking their case to the police.
We asked a young man to help us.
He was brought up in the community in London and told us he was abused as a child by a fellow Charedi.
We taught him how to use a hidden camera and he secretly filmed a meeting with one of the country's leading rabbis, Rabbi Ephraim Padwa, of Stamford Hill in London.
The man had never been to a rabbi before about his case.
And what the rabbi told him was shocking.
The undercover footage shows Rabbi Padwa emphatically telling him not to go to the police - not once , but three times.
"It's mesira," says Rabbi Padwa.
Mesira, we've discovered, effectively translates as tale-telling against a fellow Jew to non Jews. And the rabbi makes it abundantly clear , it is forbidden.
In effect, reporting a fellow Charedi to the police - even one suspected of abusing a child - is simply not allowed.
To be certain of what the rabbi is saying, the man asks him, "what if someone else went to the police on him and I was called.?"
Rabbi Padwa replies: "Let's hope it won't happen."
Our investigation also uncovered evidence of what can happen if you defy such advice from the rabbis and do go to the police.
A Charedi rabbi himself agreed to be filmed anonymously to tell us the story of one young family, he says, was targeted by members of the community, after reporting that their child had been abused.
The rabbi says they were cursed and spat at in the street and called informer.
In the end they left the country.
Being ostracised by the community , he told us , is not just a little "unpleasantness" - it makes very survival difficult.
It can become impossible to find work, your children's marriage prospects can be damaged, you may be excluded from Charedi schools. And for many families, living outside the community is not an option. It is simply a different world.
So, what alternative help is offered to those who say they've been abused?
The rabbis we secretly filmed talk of "dealing" with abuse cases.
We heard one senior rabbi talk about how he was "investigating" a teacher suspected of abuse but it becomes terrifyingly clear that the teacher remains in contact with children while the so called investigation takes place.
And of course, it seems so obvious , how can a rabbi - or any religious leader - even be qualified to investigate a complex case of child abuse? They have no forensic skills, no power of arrest, no Sex Offenders Register.
What right do they have to judge who has been abused and who has not. Who is guilty of that abuse and who has been falsely accused?
As the rabbi we interviewed put it, bluntly: "There is no question here that we do not have the ability to police and deal with child molesters. We can't - it's above our pay grade."
In a statement from the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations - the organisation headed by Rabbi Padwa made clear: "The Jewish Community considers the safety and protection of our children as paramount."
It went on: "We work and will continue to work with police and social services..to build trust and to create a system which does address and resolve allegations of abuse within our community."
However it conceded that some in the community would "simply not be comfortable participating in a police investigation."
From everything we've learnt over the past months, that could change if the rabbis themselves came forward and said publicly that victims should take their complaints to the police.
As yet, it seems something the Charedi rabbis seems unwilling to do.