Sex Abuse Scandals and Ultra-Orthodox Jews: Is the Internet the Problem?
Hynes claims that he must continue to work through Agudath because the ultra-Orthodox are “worse than the mafia,” a reference to the community’s common practice of intimidating victims and meting out its own forms of justice. The press, especially Jewish presses like The Jewish Week and The Forward have taken activist roles. Paul Berger in The Forward (May 29, 2012) reported that they, along with other media outlets, filed a request under New York’s Freedom of Information Act for the release of the names of all those accused via the Kol Tzedek program. So far, the DA’s office has denied those requests.
Hynes claims that he can only protect the victims if he works with “cultural sensitivity.” And yet, do other perpetrators who go through the DA’s office get the same kind of culturally sensitive treatment? Are other communities or institutions able to set the terms of prosecution or withhold names of the accused? Clearly not. Only the politically powerful are able to use “culture” and insider “cultural liaisons” in order to protect the authority of communal leadership.
Why Is the Cover Up Tolerated?
How, I have to wonder, can the community stand for this cover up? I spent years in a Hasidic girls’ school and in Hasidic homes, where most children seemed cherished and protected. Indeed, there is much about Hasidic childrearing that is admirable. How and why would community leaders use their political power to put ultra-Orthodox children at risk?
I have a few theories that speak to the shifting relationship between the ultra-Orthodox leadership and the world in which they find themselves today. First, there are different values at work, values that are in direct conflict with the liberal state’s emphasis on the protection of the individual, especially the child. The good of the community–that is ultra-Orthodox Judaism–may trump individual suffering, especially when the crimes involve the taboo topics of sexuality and sexual deviance. I suspect this is generational as well, with older ultra-Orthodox Jews (those who are most often the community leaders) unfamiliar with and unwilling to engage the language of sexual abuse. One of the stark portraits drawn of Gentiles, especially for children, is of a lack of modesty and explicit sexuality. Such talk about sexuality is thus deemed goyish(Gentile) and not becoming for Jews.
Young Leiby Kletsky’s murder last year is a piece in this puzzle. As writers Shulem Deen on Unpious.com, Matthew Shaer of New York Magazine, Judy Brown at Jewish Week and others have noted, the community is so concerned with protecting its children from secular and goyishe popular culture that they often close their eyes to deviance and danger within. Not to mention that, more broadly, the moral universe children are taught includes black and white distinctions between Jews and Gentiles, moral and immoral. Immoral observant Jews rattle this universe.
Even the perception of sexual abuse victims, particularly those ultra-Orthodox who decide to leave their communities, is becoming less black and white. Many have gotten support at Footsteps, an organization founded by Malkie Schwartz in 2003. Footsteps helps those who break with their “insular” communities, offering “educational, vocational, and social” support for its members. This has helped to alter the perception among the ultra-Orthodox that those who leave their communities, especially those who were sexually abused, are what the community often calls “bums.” Seeing some who have left go on to college or become writers or even activists creates a more complex picture of those who choose another life over the “truth” of Orthodoxy.