Asbury Park Press
August 23, 2010
For too many years, cases of child sex abuse in Lakewood's Orthodox Jewish community have been handled internally by religious leaders rather than by law enforcement authorities. Consequently, victims have been denied justice.
Ocean County Prosecutor Marlene Lynch Ford has called this unacceptable status quo "the wall of silence." Despite the promises of religious leaders to work more closely with law enforcement, there is evidence of a widening rift within the Orthodox community.
As reported in Sunday's Asbury Park Press, some believe that a father who reported the possible sexual abuse of his 11-year-old son to police, rather than seeking permission from rabbis to do so, had committed "a terrible deed."
Nine Lakewood rabbis signed a proclamation this summer instructing people to bring allegations of abuse to a rabbinical tribunal before going to the police. Nonsense. These tribunals lack the investigative wherewithal and any judicial authority to handle such cases.
It could be argued that those who would espouse such a course of action are missing any sense of justice. But more to the point, the crime of child sexual abuse is so vile, by any standard, that there should be no negotiating on how the Orthodox community handles it.
According to state law, the crime must be reported to secular authorities.
The Prosecutor's Office must continue to hammer home the fact that this failure to report such crimes is in itself illegal, notwithstanding the so-called cleric-penitent privilege.
Surely, most in the Orthodox community understand that adults are entrusted to keep children safe from harm.
Statistics show that child molestation is no more common in Orthodox communities than elsewhere. But when sexual abuse is covered up or seen as unworthy of reporting to secular authorities, the damage to the child — and to the credibility of the faithful — is incalculable.