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:
- What is the community’s responsibility to support survivors of abuse?
- What went wrong? How can this happen?
- How does one balance prosecution with due process for the molester?
- How can we better protect children?
- 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.
- Combating Abuse: A Model That Works (about Debbie Fox’s program)
- From Boy Scouts of America: Youth Protection and Adult Leadership
- More on Mondrowitz from Ha’aretz
- Jewish Survivors of Sexual Violence Speak Out (a blog)
- Jewish Press: Saving Our Children From Abuse
From the article:
Orthodox children who have been sexually abused likely lack the vocabulary (not just literally the words, but also the concepts) to express to an adult what has happened to them. A concept such as pedophilia is almost certainly never explained to an Orthodox child; neither is the blamelessness of a pedophile’s victims. An overwhelming emotional and moral confusion can numb young abuse victims for decades – indeed, the majority of victims never disclose.
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