By Shmarya Rosenberg (Failed Messiah blog)
January 31, 2013
The Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations (Kedassia) ripped Channel 4's documentary on haredi child sexual abuse, calling the report, which aired last night, and attempt to "defame" the haredi community. It also criticized Channel 4's use of anonymous sources from inside the haredi community. “Our community does not need Channel 4 to remind us of our duty and responsibility to protect our children. They are our future, and we do all we can to protect them from these unspeakable crimes," a UOHC spokesman told the Times of Israel.
“For a number of years, we have worked with the local authorities and, where appropriate, the police, and we have robust procedures in place within all our schools. Let us now hope that Channel 4's attempt to defame us does not discourage victims from coming forward to seek the help and guidance of our Child Protection Services,” UOHC's spokesman continued.
The UOHC also claimed that the documentary “has done nothing to assist, and may have damaged, the chances of bringing abusers to justice.”
Are the haredi complaints valid?
For the most part, no.
As the Channel 4 report made clear, haredim who break ranks and call police are harassed by the community and often forced to leave it entirely.
Those of us who follow this issue are familiar with the type of harassment these whistleblowers receive, from their children being expelled from haredi schools and parents' being fired from community jobs, to threats of violence, extortion and actual violence committed against them. So it is not surprising that haredim would be afraid to come forward on the record and allow their names and pictures to be used by the press, which is why the haredi whistleblowers were not named in last night's report, and that is why their faces were not shown.
Enter the Times of Israel, whose London reporter reports the haredi complaints but chooses not to speak to anti-child-sexual abuse activists or journalism experts to balance them.
The Times of Israel also does not report that Channel 4 reported in that documentary that it checked with the local government council in an area of Manchester to see if any haredi school had reported a staff member suspected of child sexual abuse to social services or police from 2010, when such reports became mandatory by law, until last month as the documentary was being edited. The local council replied that none had done so – even though Rabbi Osher Westheim is caught on hidden camera discussing an active case of suspected child sexual abuse by a teacher at a haredi school in that local council's area during that time frame. (This is found at 28:44 of the video.)
Does this rebut haredi charges of bias? Yes, it does. Does it make haredi claims regarding their supposed open cooperation with police and social services suspect? You bet it does.
Should the Times of Israel readers have been told about Channel 4's information received from the local governing council? Of course. But they were not. All they were told about was Westheim's claim of cooperation with police and social services and his claim of making quiet attempts to settle some cases himself, including having pedophiles pay victims damages – in one case, $5,000.
A Jewish Studies academic, Yaakov Wise, tells the Times of Israel that the report will have no impact because haredim don't watch TV. Wise also complains that the Channel 4 report missed the key issue, which to what passes for Wise's mind is not child sexual abuse coverups. Instead, Wise thinks the haredi community's move to the right over the past two decades there and its increased self-imposed social isolation is the real story.
While I agree it is an important story and that it impacts how child sexual abuse is handled in the haredi community, Wise's premise is factually wrong. Were there more liberal haredi rabbis in power two decades ago there who were more open to reporting child sexual abuse? Perhaps. But there were other haredi rabbis there who were just as opposed to reporting child sexual abuse to police or social services as UOHC head Rabbi Ephraim Padwa is now. And Wise – who appears to be Orthodox himself – brings no proof that the handling of child sexual abuse cases was significantly better 30 years ago other than his alleged personal experience.
The Times of Israel 'broke' the story of the letter written by UOHC a couple days before the Channel 4 report aired clarifying its position on child sexual abuse reporting.
That letter talks about a special committee set up by UOHC to handle allegations, was reported uncritically by the Times of Israel, never noting – or probably even understanding – that the letter was clearly telling haredim to report these crimes to UOHC's committee, which would evaluate the evidence. If the committee thought police or social services should be contacted, it would consult with the UOHC bet din (religious court). It would decide whether police and social services should be notified.
For years, haredi rabbis have covered up child sexual abuse allegations by ordering their followers to report the crimes to them, not to police.
It is the major issue of the anti-haredi-child-sexual-abuse movement, a totem that has been reported on by almost every major newspaper in the western world.
Yet the Times of Israel omits it from today's report and from it's 'exclusive' report on the UOHC letter.
On the other hand, Channel 4 accurately reported the contents of the letter, pointing out that it still told haredim to report crimes directly to the rabbis.
Also, earlier Times of Israel reports clearly took information posted by a British blog, IfYouTickleUs, and used it without attributing its source.
Sof sof, in the end, to report on haredi child sexual abuse and to not report what is the most important part of the story, what is the focus of the Channel 4 report itself, and what is a clear rebuttal of haredi charges against Channel 4, is inexcusable.
Children are being raped and sexually abused.
Channel 4 has accurately, clearly and ethically documented haredi rabbis' behavior that prevents these crimes from being promptly reported to police and social services.
Perhaps one day the Times of Israel will learn how to do that.