Protect Children from Abuse

Mutty Weiss Speaks as a Survivor of Child Abuse
Mutty Weiss Speaks as a Survivor of Child Abuse

One statement in particular struck me as Mutty Weiss spoke about child sexual abuse to a large audience at Congregation Ohr Torah in Edison, New Jersey. He said the worst experience for a survivor of child abuse is silence and protection of the perpetrator. Speaking to a group of supportive people, on the other hand, helps give a survivor his humanity back.

The talk was part of a series by the Orthodox Forum of Highland Park/Edison. In addition to the talk by Mutty Weiss, Rabbi Yosef Blau, Mashgiach Ruchani at YU and current President of the Religious Zionists of America spoke about his experiences with setting up programs and policies to prevent and educate about sexual abuse. Rabbi Blau had been involved in the Baruch Lanner case (which was only mentioned in passing at the talk).

Mutty Weiss described his childhood as one where his father, a teacher in a yeshiva, had unrealistic expectations for him. After attending a more modern yeshiva, he was sent to spend a week with Avraham Mondrowitz. At the time, Mutty said, he thought of Mondrowitz as the “coolest guy ever.” What happened that week, however, wasn’t so cool, as Mondrowitz treated him really well and then invited him into his bed at night. Mutty said he put the whole incident behind him until he was about 18, and he saw Mondrowitz again. He described the episode as pointing a gun to a baby; the baby doesn’t realize he should get angry be fearful. When at age 18 he finally told his mother, his mother couldn’t accept the story. But after a rosh yeshiva asked him whether he would trust his children to Mondrowitz, he realized there was something to his trauma.

Here are some of the questions he asked:

  1. What is the community’s responsibility to support survivors of abuse?
  2. What went wrong? How can this happen?
  3. How does one balance prosecution with due process for the molester?
  4. How can we better protect children?
  5. What is the role of law enforcement and mental health professionals?

Mutty Weiss strongly encourages parents to be involved with their children. As an example when someone asked him about internet protection programs, he responded: What kind of relationship to do you have with your child? He suggested using exposure to the internet as a way to open up dialogue with one’s child. One needs to respect a child’s feelings. Also, don’t just have one talk, have many. He suggested this video by Rabbi Benjamin Yudin, Talking to Our Kids About the Birds and the Bees: Sanctifying the Intimate.

I was impressed to learn he had spoken to Police Chief Stephen Rizco and Detective Joe Vassalo of the Highland Park Police Department to learn how they handle a child abuse report. Throughout the evening, everyone emphasized reporting possible abuse to the authorities. A social worker who sees abuse too often as part of her job in a New Jersey public school says she often calls DYFS and that is what one should do if one suspects abuse. Here’s what the Highland Park Police does with an abuse case: 1) the Middlesex prosecutor is called and a special investigator is put on the case. 2) Evidence is collected. 3) Highly-trained people assess the case. Even in our tiny borough, the police have had (unfortunately) to deal with hundreds of cases.

A few notes on Rabbi Blau’s speech: he mentioned a program set up in the Los Angeles area by social worker Debbie Fox to educate teachers and staff about signs of abuse. He also mentioned the recognition that mikveh ladies should and sometimes are trained to recognize signs of domestic abuse. There is a program approved by Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetsky regarding abuse, but it has not been implemented. In general, he said it would be OK to go to rabbis if they had more training.

More on this topic:

If you ever have the opportunity to hear Dr. David Pelcovitz speak, he is excellent on the topic of sexual abuse. He spoke in Edison a number of years back, and Rabbi Blau mentioned his name (Dr. Pelcovitz now speaks about these topics to smicha students – students about to become rabbis – at YU). One of the key elements of his speech was children have an instinct for something being wrong; it is our job as parents to make sure children understand and trust that instinct for dangerous behavior, instead of the child feeling that he or she is to blame.

Update: link to listen to the talk

24 thoughts on “Protect Children from Abuse

  • This is an important post with important information Leora…teaching your children without scaring them is so challenging…But this is something that needs to be discussed and we need to listen to and believe our children…they need a place to feel safe….Michelle

    • Thanks, Michelle. I figured spending some time writing up a post this morning is the least I can do. There were parts of the talk that are unique to the Orthodox Jewish community (the ways or lack of ways rabbis have dealt with the issue, manners of denial, fear of shame on the family and loss of marriageable matches aka shidduchim), and some are more universal. Unfortunately, abuse is found in all ethnic groups; learning that one shouldn’t abuse does not prevent the abuse.

  • This was an excellent post. I think the abuse of children is so terrible and it compounds the tragedy if children have no trustworthy adults to discuss it with and when they fear they won’t be believed.

    • Yes, it is so wonderful to have parents with whom one can confide, but unfortunately, many children don’t have that luxury. In many cases I think the parents love their children but don’t know how to help them. Teachers can play an important role in helping children (instead of the horrible opposite, which is being the perpetrators themselves).

      They did say that most child abuse occurs within the family, which means it is crucial that children have someone outside the family with whom they can confide.

  • Leora,
    Thanks for doing this. One thing I wanted to mention is that you talked about due process. I come from the victim advocate standpoint and I think it is rare that kids make these things up. So I think one thing we can all do is believe the victim and not put them through the standards of a court. The concerns of law enforcement are different from our concerns as people who have an ethical obligation to look out for those who are vulnerable. I now have a client (I’m helping her raise money for her nonprofit) whose client’s child has been and is being horrendously abused and people won’t believe the client. It is heartbreaking and it still happens.

  • Hi Leora,
    Thank you for all your kind words. I am glad that you are help spreading this important message.

    I just want to clarify a few things you commented about on your blog.
    I spoke with Police Chief Stephen Rizco and Detective Joe Vassalo, not Joe LaScola.

    When using the example of pointing a gun at a baby, the reaction would be fear not anger.

    Regarding Avrohom Mondrowitz, it should be very clear that he was NOT a Rabbi!

    Here is a link to the audio of the evening for your readers to download. It should work for only a few days.

    Please let me know if I can help you or your readers in any way.

    Thank you again!


    • Mutty,

      Your talking in front of an audience like that must have taken a LOT of courage.

      I made all those corrections, though in one case, I think ANGER is quite appropriate. I have written about anger in the past. But it’s your words, not mine.

      Since we live in the same community, I look forward to meeting you in person at some point.

      Thank you again for all your bravery in telling your story.

  • I am afraid that in some circles – I am thinking of the most closeted communities which may or not be Jewish, parents don’t always get the support they need from their community as there are fears that a legal action will bring a bad name to the community. This is obviously wrong. The child and his/her parents need all the help they can get in such circumstances.
    This is a very good post Leora; don’t forget to send the link for next week’s Haveil Havalim.

    • “fears that a legal action will bring a bad name to the community” – unfortunately true. What has been talked about over and over again is families should not be fearful to report abuse because it may damage some relative’s chance at a shidduch (a marriage match).

  • Child abuse is an issue in which the cycle continues through generations. It takes one strong mother (if she is not the abuser) to break that cycle and teach her children that it is not acceptable in any manner, and tell them that if they are put in that situation to come to her and let her know. The silence can be deadly.

  • Thanks for this post. The silence that many communities–especially religious ones–retreat to in the face of abuse is so destructive. I’m glad to read about the courage of survivors like Mutty Weiss and of communities like yours that are willing to listen to them. Anything that makes a child safer is truly a kiddush Hashem.

    • I know this is a supportive community – people were shocked to hear the social worker say she needs to report abuse too often in her job in a public school (not here, elsewhere in NJ). At this same time, I admire Mutty for opening up to such a large group.

      One has to start somewhere with this difficult topic – as you know, there are other issues that could use similar discussions. I hope our community will in some way train Jewish day school teachers to recognize abuse the way the public school professionals have been trained.

  • I just wanted to point out that what Mutty largely speaks of is childhood SEXUAL abuse, which carries a stigma all its own, especially in religious Orthodox communities. (I don’t think you mentioned the word “sexual” once in your piece.) Child abuse in general is horrific, but sexual abuse in these types of communities is wrapped in additional issues that make it even more difficult to report, to prosecute and to punish.

    Mutty’s courage and passion for this subject is unparalleled. He has taken a situation that brought him great pain and is attempting, with every speaking engagement, every article written, to bring awareness to this heinous subject and perhaps, to save a life. I know that he has already been successful on all those counts.

    Thank you for spotlighting him in this way. He may not seek out personal recognition, but has made himself known as someone with passion, dedication and strength.

    • I added the word “sexual” in one place; at least that might be useful to a search engine (I think in terms of keywords).

      A follow-up post about WHY sexual abuse is particularly different/difficult in Orthodox Jewish communities would be useful. I don’t think I am equipped to write such a post, however (not even sure I am equipped to write this one, other than I heard the talk and took notes).

      It didn’t even occur to me differentiate between sexual abuse and violent, physical abuse. In my mind, I was concerned that I wasn’t differentiating between sexual abuse within the family and outside the family.

      Thanks for commenting on this post.

  • I’m reading this late, but wanted to comment that this is probably one of the most important posts you’ve ever written. Mutty Weiss is a very giving person to be sharing his experience in order to help others going through similar situations…

    • Baila, no, you’re not late. I feel like I was just the reporter – this is Mutty’s story, one he shares with too many unknown people. Telling his story can (hopefully) help children today, and it can certainly help adults who are survivors of child sexual abuse feel that their story is no longer silenced.

  • Protect children from any form of abuse, but also protect them later on, when they dare speak up about it.
    I wrote a book about multiple forms of child abuse I was subjected to. Now, I am called a liar, I’m harassed, receive foul comments and emails, and have come to the point where I give up. Stopped my blogs, left all sites I belonged to.
    G-d forbid that Mr. Mutti will be silenced.

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